However, the roots of Behrens & Hitchcock are found in Folie Douce, the award-winning restaurant Lisa Drinkward and Les Behrens launched in 1991 in Arcata, California. While Lisa was developing an incredible, French-inspired menu, Les was busy cultivating a superb wine list and cellar which eventually received the Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence. In the course of creating the wine list, Les met many winemakers and received encouragement from several to begin making his own wine. The idea, which seemed almost nonsensical at first, quickly began to take root in Les' mind.
As customers of Les' frequent wine tastings at Folie Douce, Joe Bob and Lily Hitchcock learned of Les' winemaking idea and that Les was trying to raise the startup capital. Almost immediately, the wheels began to turn in Joe Bob's mind. If Les was really crazy enough to make wine, Joe Bob thought he just might be crazy enough to join in the venture. Joe Bob's background in business management - both in the corporate world and more recently as a business consultant and tax preparer - was the perfect complement to Les' winemaking. Joe Bob became General Manager of the winery and, together with Lily, handled the finance and administrative side of the business while also jumping into much of the "dirty work" of making wine under Les' winemaking direction.
The inaugural 1993 crush produced 175 cases and was indeed a labor of love. The two families quickly developed into a team dedicated to the common goal of making small batches of high quality red wine. Over the next three years, the winery expanded to 750 cases per year and took over a new building at Les and Lisa's home as well as a lot of Joe Bob and Lily's house which was used for case goods storage.
In August of 1997, they decided it was time to give up their day jobs and move the winery from Arcata to the Napa Valley. They rented a winery east of Napa where the winery grew even larger to 3,500 cases, but something was still missing. What they really wanted was a winery of their own. After looking at every winery, shack and vacant acreage available in the Napa Valley, they finally found their home on top of Spring Mountain. Les designed the winery, and together with his son, Sean, and lots of helping hands, built the winery in possibly record time as the 1999 harvest was only a few months away. The 1999 crush took place in an incomplete facility with only a generator for electricity. There have been significant additions, including two caves, as production expanded, but this always-under-construction winery, with their crazy dog and beautiful views, continues to be the beloved home of their passion for making small batches of handcrafted wines.
California is a winemaking colossus; by itself it is the fourth largest producer in the world. Red wine accounts for 56% of the total by volume, and red grapes 63% of total acres planted. In addition, a number of California red wines are heralded as being among the most prestigious and sought-after wines in the world.
While the state’s incredibly diverse geography, soils and microclimates allow for a wide array of styles, the key factor unifying California red wine is the abundance of sunshine and a long, consistent growing season. This leads to well-developed fruit marked both by impressive ripeness and balancing acidity.
The state’s most famous red wine region, of course, is Napa Valley, where Cabernet Sauvignon reigns as king. But California boasts a wealth of other impressive appellations. The much larger and climatically varied Sonoma County also produces world class California Cabernet, along with wonderful examples of California Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
Fine versions of Cabernet and Zinfandel hail from Paso Robles as well, which is also gaining fame with Rhone varietals like Syrah and Grenache. As for Pinot Noir, terrific examples can be found from AVA’s such as Anderson Valley, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands and Sta. Rita Hills. Wineries in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties are making wonderful Syrahs, and the Sierra Foothill appellations are proving to be an experimental hotbed, with Italian and Spanish varietals employed to great effect.
This of course is a mere sketch. The subject of California red wine is as deep and broad as an ocean, and absolutely a joy to explore!