1. Similar to your business partners, you no doubt have a story of how you came to be involved in the wine industry. However, your skill set would suggest you got here differently. Simply put, what is your background in wine?
The 2022 harvest season will be my third as the assistant winemaker. I jumped in to help my Father Ron Feist with the 2020 harvest. I am a commercial architect, and my primary clients are restaurant owners. My workload completely stopped during the Covid shutdown – no one wanted to open a new restaurant. I didn’t have a clue of what I was getting into, I just thought it would be great to spend time with my dad. My role up until this point with Hill Top Oaks was a helping hand during harvest and event planning. After my first harvest, I fell in love with wine-making. To pursue my passion, I enrolled at UC Davis’s 2-year program to become a certified winemaker.
2. In your experience, what is the most fun part of winemaking?
Cap Management is by far my favorite task in winemaking. I know now that it is the second most important decision we make (when to harvest is the first). Yes, there is lack of sleep, and my arms are exhausted, however, it is the wonderful aroma I smell when I open the door to the production room first thing in the morning. We do cold soak our grapes for 2 to 3 days at 60 degrees before we start fermentation. Our wines are a Bordeaux style, our batches of wine are small and fermented in macro bins covered with a fermentation sheet. Since we are so small, we always use the punch down method for cap management. I love gently punching down the crusty cap and submerging it into the juice. I love watching the must get darker and deeper red as the days go by. To me this is where the magic happens.
3. Having an architectural background, I am assuming you were instrumental in the remodel the old cattle barn?
My husband Mark and I both did. It was fun converting the old barn where he raised cattle during his youthful 4-H days into a Winery. We took off the old horizontal cedar siding and replaced it with a beautiful clear grain cedar. We replaced the windows and roll-up doors with ones with a wine-red color and added raw steel awnings over the doors. The old cattle stall floorboards and cedar walls were sanded down and kept in place. To add a touch of elegance I replace the existing lighting with beautiful rustic chandeliers having crystal champagne bubbles. We took the old hay loft and made it into a private cozy tasting room for our wine club members. Such a fun project to design.
4. This may seem like a loaded question, however, if you were to choose amongst the wines that Hill Top Oaks has to offer, which one is your absolute favorite?
My favorite is our Butterfly Chardonnay. When we first started, we only made Bordeaux style red wines. I am a big smooth buttery chardonnay fan so when we had the opportunity to purchase great chardonnay grapes, Ron Feist took on the challenge. Each year the juice ages for 8-9 months in a new French oak barrel. The first year we bottled our Butterfly Chardonnay we got a double gold award. Yes, definitely this is my favorite and my second is our Bear’s Bubbly also made from Chardonnay grapes.
5. Now that you are hands on in the wine production do you have any plans for new varietals to introduce to the public and to future competitions?
My father and I are working on a Rosé wine made from Grenache. The grapes are grown by our neighbor and so far it’s tasting great. We will release this wine in the winter of 2022. We are also going to release a new GSM Blend (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) at the same time.