Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Hartford Family WineryRestaurant Insider
June 27, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Hartford Family Winery director of winemaking and general manager JEFF STEWART
When you hear about Jackson Family Wines, the first name that comes to mind is Kendall-Jackson. Not only is that one of the vineyards, but it’s also one of 40 different brands from vineyards and wineries in California, Oregon, France, Tuscany, Australia, Chile and South Africa.
The winemaker for Hartford Family Winery, Jeff Stewart, and I shared a meal paired with his wines at Surf Lanai in The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki, where Micah Suderman, bi-plex director of food and beverage, had chef Shingo Katsura prepare dishes for us. I was able to learn more about the wine brand, and I also learned that you can get a degree in winemaking!
AL: How did you get into this industry?
JS: I grew up in Lake Tahoe and had a chemistry teacher that had gone to UC Davis. He wished he had studied wine-making instead. I was amazed that there was a curriculum to earn a degree in making wines. I enrolled and earned a bachelor’s in winemaking/grape growing, a little bit of business and other courses, and started working in Napa Valley in 1986.
AL: Hartford Court is one of the many brands that make up Jackson Family Wines. Tell me the more about this brand.
JS: Hartford Family Winery is a highly acclaimed family-owned artisan winery that was founded in 1994 by Don and Jenny Hartford. We are an offshoot of the bigger Jackson Family Wines company. Jenny is Jess Jackson’s eldest daughter and employee No. 2 for the company back in 1982. Jenny’s daughter Hailey has recently taken over as president of the winery. It is truly a family that passes down their legacy.
Hartford Court and Hartford Wines are made at Hartford Family Winery in Forestville, California, in the heart of Russian River Valley. We are a small winery that does a large variety. We bottle over 40 wines in a year and 36 of those are probably less than 300 cases each. They come from very distinct vineyards all over the Russian River and Sonoma Coast, and we branch out to Anderson Valley and Mendocino, up to Oregon, down to Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and kind of everything in between. We are always looking for vineyard sides that we consider high personality, the taste of the place … something that is distinct and unique. They have a single vineyard focus of chardonnays, pinot noirs and old vine zinfandels.
AL: You are the first I have met who has a degree in winemaking. What does that mean?
JS: It means that you take a lot of chemistry courses, basically the pre-med route. You have a lot of chemistry background with the grape-growing courses; horticulture, a great deal of plant science and understanding how things grow is a large part of what we do. This is an interesting degree that allows you to focus on grape growing or winemaking, but it’s critical to have the knowledge of both. Especially as a winemaker, you really need to be as adept with the concept of growing grapes as you are with making wine.
AL: Let’s talk about some of the food items we tried.
JS: A lot of our wines are very food friendly, it is something that we focus on and it’s inherent to the grapes and vineyards that we work with. Any of our wines would pair nicely with these dishes. The three I have chosen are on the wine list, so guests are welcome to order these dishes and pair them with my recommendation.
Ahi Poke ($22) with inamona, ogo, sambal, ginger and wonton chips is paired with our Hartford Court 2019 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a blend of multiple vineyards, little special places that come together in one bottling. This has a fruit intensity. Russian River Valley is known for its fairly cool climate, a big maritime influence, lots of cold air and fog rolling in. That drives a fruit intensity in the wines with a bright acidity.
Garlic Shrimp ($29) is served atop creamy polenta and a fried lemon. We paired this one with our Hartford Court 2013 MacLean’s Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir — this is actually named after the Hartfords’ son. This vineyard sits right in the middle of a forest of redwoods, pines and scrub brushes, and the vineyard picks up some of its characteristics, so you will taste is a spicy character.
Braised Short Ribs (call for cost) are also served atop creamy polenta, roasted mushroom, pickled red onion, short rib sauce, crispy kale and everything-but-the-bagel topping. I chose the Hartford 2013 Outer Limits Vineyard “True” Sonoma Coast Syrah. This vineyard is located on the Sonoma ridgetop, very close to the ocean. You will taste hints of black fruits, black current flavors and tannins. The dense and spicy syrah is a nice complement to the short ribs.
AL: Where are you able to find these wines?
JS: We focus on having a presence here, as Don and Jenny spend a lot of time in the islands.
You can find them in many restaurants such as the Surf Lanai here at The Royal Hawaiian. We also have a few brands that you can find in your favorite local wine shop.
AL: Any last words of wisdom?
JS: There is no right or wrong with wine and food pairings. It’s each individual’s opinion. It is what you like to drink and what you like to eat — it’s as simple as that.