Great Tastes

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Thorn Hill Vineyards

Author: Stephen Ferry
October, 2014 Issue
Thorn Hill Vineyards
1234 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574
(707) 302-5168
Wines offered: Brut Cuvée de Prestige (Sparkling), Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Ice” Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, “Fire” Petite Sirah Port
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Fees: $10 and up
Reservations: Recommended for groups of more than six and for special wine and food pairing experiences
Pets: Dog friendly
When Thorn Hill Vineyards winemaker Amy Thorn opened her new downtown St. Helena tasting room in August, she became the only woman winemaker with a tasting room on the town’s bustling Main Street. The tasting room was recently awarded the last winery license currently available in the popular tourist destination.
Thorn Hill Vineyards is owned by Amy and her husband, Jack Thorn. So far, the couple has established production facilities in Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Lake County.
The chic new tasting room, nestled on the busy corner of Main and Hunt in the heart of the downtown shopping district, is bright, airy and inviting. It will feature Thorn Hill Vineyards wines that are produced from Napa Valley grapes exclusively. The family business produces small-lot, artisan wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Old Vine Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah Port.
Three Cabernets are made, including a Napa Valley, a Lake County and a blend called Three Sisters, which is 75 percent Napa fruit and 25 percent Lake and Sonoma county fruit. The wine lineup also includes a Brut de Prestige sparkling that recently was awarded Best in Class Sparkling Wine in the 2014 State Fair California Commercial Wine Competition. And serendipitous circumstances in the 2010 vintage created the opportunity for Amy to produce a late harvest Eiswein, a dessert wine produced from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes that had been frozen while still on the vine, creating concentrated flavors .
In addition to pouring wines by the glass or flight, the tasting room will offer signature wine and food pairings like cheese and charcuterie paired with chutney, or sparkling wine paired with truffled potato chips. Amy says, “Locals and wine tourists alike will be able to come in, relax, enjoy a glass or a flight of wine, and pair it with light bites from our commercial kitchen. There will also be mini wine cakes made from my own personal family recipe.”
Amy describes her approach to winemaking this way. “We follow the meticulous practices of small-lot, whole-cluster pressing, destemming, cold soaking, extended maceration, barrel-to-barrel racking and bottling without filtration. We don’t do single-vineyard bottling, but we vinify and age every vineyard separately, all the way up to blending. And we don’t bottle blends of several varietals—every wine we produce is 100 percent single-varietal and vintage dated. I achieve complexity and depth by using different clones of the same scion variety.”
She continues, “All clones are aged in separate oak profiles. We use100 percent French oak, and we match the unique flavor profile of the grapes with the right cooperage. When you get this combination right, you get something that’s really magical.
“The real fun comes at the end of the process: deciding how to blend. It’s almost like a painter using different colors to create a vision. I think it's important to honor what nature is giving us. Every year is different, even within the same vineyard, and I strive to be flexible from season to season to bring out the best in each year’s vintage.”
The entire Thorn family is involved in the bicoastal operation. Son Jonathan, 27, oversees the Lake County tasting room and nearby 50-acre Red Hills AVA vineyard. Daughter Rachel, 25, just graduated from college and works on marketing (including artful label design) as well as overseeing the operation of their Lancaster, Penn., tasting room.
The Thorns’ shared passion for winegrowing inspired them to look beyond their native Pennsylvania—to Northern California—for the perfect place to grow and make wine. After a 10-year search, the couple found 50 acres in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County that was perfect for their first vineyard. And so began the realization of their dream of producing great wines from fruit grown in California’s finest viticultural terroirs.
Jack recalls, “We were first attracted to the Red Hills appellation because of the three key components needed to grow award-winning wines: elevation, soil and weather.”
“If you want to make a world-class wine, you must have grapes that come from world-class terroir,” Amy concurs. She produces most of Thorn Hill’s current collection of fine wines from fruit grown in three world-famous AVAs: Saint Helena, Sonoma County’s Carneros and Lake County’s Red Hills.
The Thorn Hill Vineyards inaugural vintage was 2007, and the wines were released for purchase in 2010 through select state-run stores in Pennsylvania. They opened their first tasting room in Lancaster in 2011. A Lake County tasting room followed in 2012, located on Highway 29 between Lower Lake and Kelseyville.
“The greatest gift you can give as a winemaker is to create a bottle of wine that’s the purest expression of each varietal, a wine that’s a combination of nature and nurture,” says Amy. “The greatest gift you can receive is when people drink it with appreciation.”


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