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Interview with Ron Feist

Ron Feist

1. The work and know-how that goes into creating a wine is no small thing, it takes years of practice, understanding, and mastery. That being said, you’ve obviously helped bring life to many different wines, so what is it exactly that makes the Hill Top Oaks product special?

What makes Hill Top Oaks products so special is the fact that all of our wines are handcrafted. Every step of the winemaking process is carried out by a family member of the Winery. There are dozens of steps involved in making quality wines. It is our unique process of conducting each of these steps personally, with high-quality wine as our goal, that allows for the incredible results our winery has experienced.

2. In your experience, for a clear idea of the stress that is involved in your craft, what has been the hardest aspect of winemaking year in and year out?

The goal being high quality for each virial we produce and with so many steps involved, the stress and challenge is to perform each step at the correct time, with the right chemistry, and with the appropriate quantities of ingredients. We have developed notebooks/logs for every key step in the winemaking process. Nothing is left to chance. Every decision is carefully thought out and executed. It takes a lot of work and thought to make sure each step is on target.

3. Similar to your business partner, Mark Davis, 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?

Being a Minnesota farm boy, agriculture has always been important to me. Wine is an agriculture process. I lived in the Napa Valley for five years and developed an appreciation for fine wines as a consumer. Winemaking is both an art and a science. Having a BA and MS in the physical sciences and teaching science for eight years gives me the chemistry and physics background necessary to work with winemaking. Mark Davis approached me because he knew of my science background. There is a tremendous amount of chemistry involved in making wine. My goal has always been to make high quality wine that I would personally like to drink, and which others would enjoy as well. The HTO team has done just that, as has been validated by the numerous awards we have won from qualified judges in several completions.

4. The Davis family played an integral role in creating and designing Hill Top Oaks. Did the family play a part in deciding on the aim of the finished products palate and aroma? If so, how did you all reach a consensus on the ‘ingredients’ to use?

Most decisions are as family. As a group, we decided which grapes to purchase, as you cannot make good wine without high quality grapes. We work together to process the grapes through the various steps of the winemaking process. Once we get the wine in the oak barrels, on a monthly basis, at least two of us work on the chemistry and at least two of us are tasting the wine to determine what , if any, adjustments we need to make. Our red wines are aged in oak for two years. This means quality control activities have taken place over 20 times in the life of the wine.   

About two months before bottling, family members and special guests bench taste the wines and get several thoughts and views on the quality and drinkability. Minor adjustments are made, if necessary, based on the input of several people.  We also have lab reports and sometimes data from competition judges available to us.

5. Hill Top Oaks is an award-winning wine. As your tasting room and production facility complete construction, does the team have any plans for new varietals to introduce to the public and to future competitions?

The future is sometimes hard to determine. We have focused the past few years on two different chardonnays, and about 4-5 reds. We are a handcrafted winery. Thus, we need to be careful we have the hands for each varietal to produce quality wine. Chardonnay,  Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel have been our award winners over the past few years. I think, for the time being, those are the wines we will stick with. Most wine drinkers find that one of these wines fits their taste. We will be adding Syrah to our list because of the availability of quality grapes near the Winery, though it won’t be available for two years. With the combination of grapes we have available, we could be adding a high quality blend or two in the future, especially since blends are becoming more popular with the wine drinking public. We will continue to enter the wines we make into competitions. It is important to know what a panel of judges think of our wines.

6. Perhaps more than anyone involved with Hill Top Oaks, you’re aware of just how competitive the California wine market is. What is it about this winery that sets it apart from competitors and could make it a prime destination for those traversing the wine country?

Selling wine is a very competitive business. It is yet to be determined how successful we will be in such a competitive world. It is my belief that the quality of our wines, coupled with the price we will be asking for, will makes Hill Top Oaks a great buy. Because I am an old man and have been drinking wine for many years, by experience, I know what quality wine is and I also know when you are just paying a lot for a name. When people come to our tasting room, they will taste the quality and see the price and know they are making a good buy and experiencing an exceptional product. As far as a prime destination, time will tell. We are at the top of a hill and not on a busy intersection.

7. 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 based on the drinking years. 2017-2018 it was our Zinfandel. In 2018-2019 it was our Cabernet Sauvignon and 2019-2020 is our Merlot. I am sad to say of these favorite wines only the Merlot is still available in a limited amount.

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