Julia Hoyle

Winemaker Julia Hoyle is tall and lanky, with generous features and an animated face whose expressiveness vouches for her love of her art.  She moves with ease and grace among the barrels and vineyards of Hosmer Winery where she was appointed winemaker in January. The first time we met, she was fearlessly straddling the top of a twenty-foot-high stainless steel vat at Sheldrake Point Winery, deep-cleaning, prepping it for the coming year’s juice. She seemed equally fearless in the face of heavy equipment in motion. Winemaking can be dangerous work.

Philadelphia born, Hoyle has traveled the world in search of learning, good works, and wine, ultimately returning to the Finger Lakes, where she had studied French and women’s studies at Geneva’s Hobart and William Smith College. She spent time in Senegal, where she studied sociology and then taught fourth grade at Dakar’s International School, and with her husband, Red Newt winemaker Shelby Russell, she has traveled through France as the two acquainted themselves with that country’s wine and food.   

During her college years she began her vintner’s path, working in Fox Run Vineyards’ tasting room, and it was there that respected winemaker Peter Bell took her under his wing to become her winemaking mentor.  It was there that she met Russell, who was also working there. She also spent a harvest working with winemaker Vinny Aliperti at Atwater Estates Vineyards. Then, in the midst of her three-year tenure as assistant winemaker to yet another mentor, Dave Breeden at Sheldrake Point Winery, she took a sabbatical to work a season as a night-shift winemaker at Yalumba Winery in Australia’s Barossa wine region, eventually returning to the Finger Lakes to continue her work with Breeden. 

“Everything I’ve learned,” she said, “is through mentoring, asking the right people the right questions.” Remarking on the rare and happy culture of collegiality among Finger Lakes winemakers, she said, “There’ll always be people like me, like Kelby.  As regions mature you lose some of that, but there are really great winemakers here who are willing to share information.”

At Hosmer, whose wines have been hailed by the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal, her short-term aim is to wrap her mind around the Hosmer portfolio.  While Hosmer has long been known for its luscious Cabernet Francs, longer term she’d like to see the Riesling side of things take off. “Riesling’s going to be the big thing,” she said. One Riesling she’s excited about is their Patrician Verona Riesling, named for one of Hosmer’s  vineyards. Because Hoyle stops that wine’s fermentation by chilling the wine outside, then adding sulfur to kill off the yeast, it will be a little sweeter than some of the winery’s other Rieslings.

She’s working on a Cabernet Franc too, and she and Hosmer are developing a new product, possibly a higher-end reserve. “I found about eight barrels that I thought were wonderful, and pared it down to four that worked well together.” Great wine is all about the vineyard, until it comes time for blending, and therein lies the true winemaker’s art.

Most of the reds, she said, will spend a fair bit of time in oak, developing their tannin profiles and textures, including the Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and a hybrid red the winery uses in its estate blend.  Their Lemberger, from a grape sometimes known as Blaufrankisch, that also does well in the Finger Lakes, remains unoaked for a fresher style that is a little more fruit forward.

She is also working on a sparkling Cayuga-based wine, and a rosé made from Pinot Noir. Both are made in the methode champenoise – the traditional French Champagne method that allows wine to ferment until all the sugars have been consumed by the yeast, discharges the yeast from the bottles’ necks, adds a dosage of the wine and perhaps some sugar, and then corks and cages the tops of the sturdy bottles for a further fermentation in glass, and that’s where those delightful bubbles come in. They also make a bubbly raspberry wine by the less time- and labor-consuming crémant method.

She dreams of getting to better know the seventy acres of vineyards, working along with owner Cameron “Tunker” Hosmer, and she has recently hired a “cellar rat” helper, Hannah Schockner, and is showing her the ropes over the summer, while things are still relatively calm before the harvest.

How has this sociology and women’s studies graduate risen to winemaker in one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the country? Winemaker Peter Bell said simply, “She gets the gestalt of winemaking. What separates a good aspirant winemaker from a task-oriented cellar hand is that they get the whole idea of this ensemble you’re conducting.  It starts as a little quintet, winds up as an 88-piece orchestra. She has native intelligence, motivation, and communications skills, and by that I mean talking AND  listening.  She’s personable and tops it off with a big grin.”  He added, “Winemaking is all about joy.  The drinking of wine brings joy, and by extension the making of wine should also provide joy.”

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