VINE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

Owner-wine­maker Jayson Wood­bridge of Hun­dred Acre Wines did ev­ery­thing his way, and he was right. So what’s next? By June Lee

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Jayson Wood­bridge of Hun­dred Acres

Jayson Wood­bridge’s at­ten­tion is very firmly on the myr­iad hawker foods he could be eat­ing… if not for the pesky Sin­ga­porean jour­nal­ist at­tempt­ing to ask him well-worn ques­tions about Hun­dred Acre. “I rarely do press in­ter­views, but I like magazines and life­style stuff. I love life­style – houses, cars, boats, food and wines,” he drawls, larger than life, a lit­tle sar­donic, def­i­nitely im­pa­tiently. At one point dur­ing the in­ter­view, he ex­its his chair, leav­ing me to think per­haps he’s de­cided to end it early.

“THE GREAT­EST CRITIC IS ME”

It’s not of­ten a bonafide rock­star of the wine world – one whom the press has called con­trar­ian, flam­boy­ant, driven, ge­nius, volatile and even ar­ro­gant – makes him­self avail­able for in­ter­views. Wood­bridge, a for­mer investment banker who started Hun­dred Acre Wines in 2000 and has racked up 22 per­fect 100-point scores from The Wine Ad­vo­cate since then, does not need the me­dia. De­mand for his Hun­dred Acre wines far out­strip pro­duc­tion, driv­ing prices to four dig­its on the sec­ondary mar­ket. There’s no fancy marketing, no wel­com­ing cel­lar door with the bells and whis­tles, and def­i­nitely not much love for crit­ics and strangers. “If I don’t know you or re­spect or have some un­der­stand­ing of what you do, it’s a no,” he says, of the hun­dreds of calls he gets a month.

But for those who are given a peek of Jayson Wood­bridge, unabridged, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. This is the same guy who named his vine­yard af­ter the for­est in Winnie the Pooh af­ter all. Three of his vine­yards are chris­tened, in some way, af­ter his kids. The open­ing para­graph from Homer’s Odyssey, of a man’s sin­gu­lar quest, is printed on ev­ery bot­tle la­bel. Did I men­tion he loves cook­ing, pos­sess­ing a com­mer­cial wok and par­illa in his home kitchen, and even has a recipe for a mean Thai green curry on Youtube? Lunch ar­rives, and he es­chews the beef short rib for the del­i­cately tooth­some Inaniwa udon. I re­alise that Wood­bridge has high ex­pec­ta­tions of ev­ery­one, but es­pe­cially of him­self.

THE GAM­BLE

There are many cult wines and cult wine­mak­ers in Napa Val­ley, in vary­ing amounts of suc­cess. Wood­bridge is one of the more re­cent ones with a gen­uine cult fol­low­ing, but more im­por­tantly he is the only owner-wine­maker who ob­sesses over mak­ing the wine him­self. Apart from some con­sul­ta­tion in the early years from ter­roir ex­pert Philippe Melka (whom he calls his “wine Yoda”), Wood­bridge has re­lied on an un­canny com­bi­na­tion of his own knowl­edge, con­vic­tion and a very devel­oped palate.

To­gether with wine­maker wife He­len, they own three vine­yards in Napa Val­ley mak­ing Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon and one in Barossa, Aus­tralia mak­ing Shi­raz. All fruit is grown on estate, and what­ever is not used is de­clas­si­fied and dis­carded – the last six vin­tages in Aus­tralia in­cluded. Wood­bridge was one of the first to im­ple­ment shade aids and mis­ters in the vine­yard to pro­tect crops dur­ing ad­verse weather, and goes to great lengths to en­sure he gets the fruit he wants. This in­clude yields lim­ited to one bunch per shoot, mul­ti­ple passes dur­ing har­vest­ing us­ing a well­trained, vet­eran team who has con­sis­tently worked with him, and fer­men­ta­tion by block and clone at his ded­i­cated win­ery, The Ring, lo­cated at Ark vine­yard.

The Kayli Mor­gan vine­yard is the first in Wood­bridge’s estate, planted in 1996 and with first vin­tage re­leased 2000. Be­ing pre­dom­i­nantly clay over gravel, it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that it was planted with Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, un­like say Petrus, as re­marked by Lisa Perotti-brown. Ark vine­yard on the slopes at the base of Glass Moun­tain – which got its name from black ob­sid­ian rock – is planted to a com­plex pat­tern of clones, root­stock, and blocks in a nearly 180-de­gree arc. Few & Far Be­tween is planted with a bit of Caber­net Franc along­side Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, and com­prises grav­elly loam. Its prime lo­ca­tion above Eisele vine­yard (now in the hands of Chateau Latour’s owner) lent to its name, but F.E.W. also hap­pens to be one of his son’s ini­tials.

Find­ing time to visit Sin­ga­pore – which he last vis­ited 20 years ago – would have been im­pos­si­ble a few years ago. In 2017, Wood­bridge sold off his other brands, Layer Cake, Cherry Pie and If You See Kay (say that out loud) in favour of slow­ing down af­ter many hec­tic years travers­ing the globe mak­ing wine. Hav­ing turned 56, he ex­presses want­ing to spend more time with He­len, fish­ing in her home­town of New Zealand or ski­ing in Switzer­land where they have a home. Hav­ing proven him­self re­lent­lessly over the past 20 years, it would seem he’s al­low­ing him­self to smell the roses – but per­haps not for long. I man­age to sneak in a last ques­tion to Wood­bridge on his fu­ture plans, and dis­cover there are sev­eral projects be­yond Caber­net that he is fa­mous for – alas, which I can't re­veal for now. Which­ever the case, you know ex­actly how Wood­bridge will do it – his way.

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