Acoustic, Textural, Whole
Minnesotan by birth, German by orientation, Oregonian by location, Bill Hooper is a Riesling obsessive gone pro. His passion for the cultivar—and the zeal and erudition with which he farms it—has him poised to produce some of the most exciting Riesling wines in the Northwest.
Bill has worked in wine since 1998, first in retail, then in importing and distribution in Minneapolis. In 2010, a consuming passion for German wine and culture led Bill, and his family to sell their possessions and move to the Pfalz region of Germany to complete a wine apprenticeship. There he worked for three different wineries while studying viticulture, viniculture and enology at the agricultural research school in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. He remains the second American to graduate from Neustadt in its 113-year history.
In Europe there is no distinction between vineyard and cellar work; a winzer (vigneron) is required to learn and practice both, unlike the American model where these jobs are typically separate. Bill was fortunate to spend part of his apprenticeship at Weingut Odinstal, which has emerged as one of the top Biodynamic producers in Germany. Here he solidified his farming and winemaking philosophies under the tutelage of Andreas Schumann, who himself apprenticed under the famous Hans-Günter Schwarz of Müller-Catoir.
In 2013, Bill and his family sold everything again and moved to Oregon just prior to harvest. There he worked for Brooks and then started on with a vineyard management company while he sought out vineyards to produce his own wines, starting in 2014, with three different Rieslings and 400 cases. In 2016, Bill quit all other employment to focus full-time on Paetra, where production now stands at 1,200 cases.
Crucially, Bill spends roughly 90% of his time farming his vineyards and tending his vines and 10% making wine and selling it. He believes that the techniques he employs in the vineyard show the greatest impact on the style of his wines. His approach is simple: be as thoughtful and innovative in the vineyard as possible and be very minimalistic in the cellar. Bill believes that understanding the grapevine’s natural tendencies is essential to achieving the goal of producing ripe, healthy fruit, rendering it unnecessary to correct or manipulate the wines in the cellar.
One example of Bill’s exacting vineyard work is how he avoids a Riesling-petrol flavor in his wines, which is considered a fault in Germany. To do this, he enables adequate canopy air-flow and loose-clustered bunches to minimize rot, and also enough shade on the bunches so as not to produce the thickening of the berry skins and these unwanted diesel aroma-compounds that are associated with high temperatures and sun-exposure. These two seemingly divergent ends can be achieved by pulling lateral shoots in the fruiting-zone to free up space while leaving the main-shoot leaves to keep the berries cool throughout the summer, thus preserving fruit and floral aromas. He does this by hand, which takes about 40-50 hours per acre instead of the 30-60 minutes per acre that mechanized defoliators require.
Hooper also uses a very complex cover-crop program, employing some 30 different plants, plus an array of biodynamic techniques to optimize the health of the vineyard biome, all with one goal in mind: perfectly ripe, succulent fruit.
Bill’s goal is to produce complex, long-lived wines in a traditional German style, but on American soil. He says, “I insist on farming and making the wines myself because I think it gives me more control over the eventual style and because I can make better, more informed decisions about how to marry both aspects. I get to write the screenplay, produce and direct the whole program, and hopefully that ends with a more authentic wine that speaks to the work that my family and I put in. This is very much a family business, in that my wife and children help in the vineyard and my wife even designs the labels. I hope that our hard work shows!”