Hoquetus Wine Co.
Owner/Winemaker – Robert Gomez
What is your/your family’s story around your winery?
When we were still living in Seattle, my wife Bri and I began visiting Walla Walla on the weekends and started to get excited about the industry there. We moved to Walla Walla in 2017 and I soon enrolled at Walla Walla Community College to study enology and viticulture. I graduated with that degree in 2019 and worked harvests at College Cellars, Gramercy Cellars, and Grosgrain Vineyards. I also passed my advanced sommelier exam around this same time, welcomed a new addition to the family, and started the work to realize our own dream of opening our own winery, Hoquetus Wine Co. The winery name (also called hocket) refers to a song device first developed during medieval times but ultimately was embraced by 20th century composers. In this technique, each vocal part alternates to create a single melody. I also attended music school, so the relationship speaks to my musical background but also the dynamic of the fermentation and the winemaker both working in unison to create something harmonious.
How did you first become involved in the wine industry and what has your trajectory looked like?
My wine journey began in a small wine shop in Denton, TX under a great sommelier, Brook Ray, where I started learning the ropes of fine wine service. I relocated to Seattle for a musical project but continued working in beverage/hospitality with stints at Montana Bar, Lark, Tallulah’s, Vino Volo and finally Dino’s Tomato Pie as the GM/wine guy. After moving to Walla Walla and learning about winemaking, I moved into the production side of things. However, I do continue to keep the sommelier muscles exercised by curating the wines at Passatempo Taverna and The Drayman House (opening soon) in Walla Walla.
How long have you been making wine in Washington state?
Hoquetus Wine Co. opened its doors in 2020. My first harvest was 2017.
How did you first begin working with the grower?
I started working with Francisca’s Vineyard in 2021. I was looking for conscientiously grown Syrah from a compelling site and had heard great things about their vineyard. I instantly fell in love with their vibe and passion. They had moved here over 20 years ago from Oregon, planted several acres of Syrah and Viognier and take care of the vines with a love that is as inspiring as the grapes are delicious. I’ve made their Syrah in two vastly different styles: as an approachable early-release, carbonic-styled wine, and a whole-cluster structured, traditional red. The vineyard’s unmistakable signature is apparent in both which, to me, is a mark of a great vineyard and of excellent grape-growing.
What excites you the most about the wines you’re making?
What excites me most are the flavors we’re finding out here. Our goal has always been to craft wines of elegance, finesse and of course, deliciousness and our corner of Washington has been delivering in spades. We try to stay out of the way and let the vineyard speak for itself, with soft hands in the cellar and by choosing well-managed vineyards planted with the right grapes.
What is your favorite part about the Washington state wine community?
Washington state is more exciting than ever, especially in terms of diversity of wine styles and grapes grown. I love the experimentation happening right now in Washington and the ability of our region to do so many different things well.
What excites you the most about what the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
I’m really excited about new varieties being planted and more growers employing organic methods. As far as winemaking goes, I love the upward trend towards freshness, restrained use of oak, lower alcohols, and minimal intervention.
What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Internationally speaking, grower Champagne & fried chicken sandwiches. Wash, rinse, repeat. Locally, Syrah and lamb burgers.
Owners, Francisca's Vineyard – Francisca Van Heezik and Tim Rogan
What is your/your family’s story around wine grape growing?
We decided on a vineyard to keep us outside, healthy, and to fulfill a passion to get back to our roots. Tim grew up in Indiana where he worked on a farm from when he was 14 until he was 20. He can still sense the fresh aroma of the earth being turned over in the spring and the excitement of harvesting corn on a cool fall day. Cisca lived in Holland in a 200-year-old farmhouse, where the house and barn were one structure, and she cared for chickens, goats, and a horse. Now fast forward, in 2000 we selected Walla Walla as a place to put roots down because it appeared to be an up-and-coming wine region. There were 28 wineries in the Walla Walla valley when we arrived. Besides being the right climate for growing Syrah and Viognier, we soon learned Walla Walla is the friendliest place we have ever lived. The wine industry here is unique in that our best supporters are the others in the wine industry and our circle of friends are truly an amazing group of caring and loving people. And to top all this off, when someone tells us how much they enjoyed the wine that was created from our grapes, it is like the icing on the cake.
How did you first become involved in the wine industry?
In 2001, we decided to plant 4.3 acres of Syrah (mainly by ourselves!) on a loess-covered site located in the southside of the Walla Walla Valley. It is an ideal site for growing and ripening Syrah. It’s not so hot that sugars develop way ahead of flavors or too cold such that fruit doesn’t ripen.
How long have you been growing grapes in Washington state?
How did you first begin working with this winery?
Robert Gomez heard about our vineyard and the quality of Syrah we produced and contacted us to see if we were interested in working with him. Robert described the style of Syrah he wanted for Hoquetus Wines and together we agreed that Francisca’s Vineyard Syrah could do the job. In 2021, Robert started out with a small quantity of fruit. Every year since, Hoquetus has increased the amount of Syrah grapes. One of the spin offs of being a grower are the relationships and friendships that develop with the winemakers. Robert pays attention to every detail and has a clear sense of the style of wines he wants for Hoquetus. However, he also has this gleam in his eyes and this smirk of a smile that signals he is enjoying working with us.
What excites you the most about the grapes you’re growing or the techniques/equipment you’re using?
We are most excited about the wines that are produced from our grapes. We are committed to following sustainable practices for all aspects of operations in the vineyard. The final cherry on top of the sundae is tasting the final Hoquetus Syrah with Robert.
What is your favorite part of being a part of the Washington state wine community?
We love that our most loyal supporters are other vineyards owners and winemakers. Everyone is rooting for everyone else to produce the best grapes/wines they can and work together to bring that hope to fruition.
What do you think the future holds for Washington state wine? Where are we headed or what trends are you seeing?
There has been a lot of uncertainty caused by over production. To me it is amazing how quickly the agriculture industry adapts to changes and I am confident the necessary contraction will happen fast. The wine industry needs to leverage our successes while making the necessary adjustments to balance supply and demand and to meet consumer expectations.
What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Syrah with short-ribs, tri-tip, or lamb shanks.
Crew Boss, Francisca's Vineyard – Jose Alcantar
What is your background, how did you come to work at the vineyard?
I grew up working with my mom and dad in California vineyards. After hearing about the Walla Walla valley from friends who moved here from California, we moved our family to Walla Walla. I have over 30 years of experience working in vineyards.
How long have you been working in this capacity?
I have been working at Francisca’s Vineyard for 10 years and have been the crew boss for the last eight years.
What excites you the most about working in the vineyards?
It is such a joy watching all the components of work that I do transform into a well-managed and maintained vineyard. It’s a great feeling knowing that the vineyard is producing high quality fruit.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Pruning the vines in March is probably my favorite part of the job. Pruning is especially important because it determines the balance between soils, canopy, irrigation, and fruit quantity/quality.
What fact can you share about your job that wine-drinkers might not know?
I probably touch each vine seven or eight times each growing season. There are approximately 5,500 vines in the vineyard. That is 38,000 to 44,000 actions per year to make a necessary adjustment to the grapes to produce the best crop we can.