Issue 30

Introducing Jean Hoefliger and the JH Collection to Omaha

Introducing Jean Hoefliger and the JH Collection to Omaha

I returned home to a familiar sight: a UPS hang-tag on my back door. I’d been dutifully waiting on the package I knew was coming, but had decided to run a quick errand; the shipment had been not-delivered in a narrow fifteen-minute window. In the background of my mind, Murphy muttered smugly: “told you so”. Now I had to hunt the driver down. This definitely isn’t how I expected to start the day. Usually, my shipments get delivered on time, but even if they don’t, they’re never far behind the intended slot. I knew I should’ve listened to my friend when he told me that I should try a shipping company like CSA Transportation, (find more here) instead. Apparently, they’ve always been efficient with their deliveries, and have never required their customers to “hunt the driver down”. I think I’ll consider this for the next time though. So, anyway, I struck out, knowing I didn’t want wine sitting in a dark brown truck on a 90-degree day in July no matter how well it had been packed in ice. I caught up with him around UNMC. He saw me coming, and by the time I reached his vehicle, he was handing me the package. “Just missed you?” he asked smiling. “As usual,” I replied with a wink. “Sign here, Mark.” I try not to give the UPS guy too much grief. Wine isn’t light, and he delivers an awful lot of it to my house.

I loaded the package into my car gingerly, wedging the oversized case between the base of my son’s empty car seat and the back of the driver’s seat, the AC still running in my burgundy colored sedan. I’d been gone for about fifteen minutes. Excitedly, I drove home, eager to begin my, er…”research” for this article. When I arrived at my house, there was a hangtag from FedEx waiting on my front door, right above the sign that says “Deliveries: Please come to the back.” I completely lost it.

I met Jean Hoefliger in Napa a few years back, at the Alpha Omega winery on Highway 29 where he makes their excellent wines. There, in the company of friends, we spoke for several hours about wine, of course, but also the world in which we live, the good things and the bad, and the role that wine can play in it. Like Jean, I believe that wine brings people together; there is something intimate about sharing a bottle of wine; it immediately creates an environment in which screens and distractions are unwelcome.

“You’re Swiss,” I said playfully to Jean, “So, let’s talk about Donald Trump.” In the summer of 2016, nobody could have predicted what was about to happen; I still wasn’t totally convinced that Trump wasn’t just punking us all. But Jean’s response was brilliant. “Wine is much greater than me,” he began thoughtfully. “In modern society, wine has a social role to play.” He spoke of what wine could do in bringing people around the table to talk, and how important it was to talk in a political climate such as ours, rather than to close doors and shut out people who don’t think the way we do. The idea resonated with me. But all politics aside, Jean’s wines got my attention that day, and have held it ever since.

Presently, the JH Collection wines are available at the Omaha Wine Company. I suggest you swing by OWC and try them out. They willalso be represented at the OWC fall show, scheduled to take place on November 19, the weekend before Thanksgiving, but if you can’t wait that long, you can swing by now to obtain them. The following are my thoughts on a few of the mind-blowers in an utterly amazing ensemble.

AXR Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

An exceptional wine and well-balanced despite its youth, the fine tannins string together in long chains to offer tremendous structure without being overbearing, while the flavor profile is made up largely of black cherry, herbal notes, and subtle cedar. An easy drinker, it’s drinking wonderfully right now, but is equally age-worthy. This is one to look out for. Web:

The Debate 2013

Ironically, there’s really no debate to be had about these wines at all. A collection of three single-vineyard, 100% varietal Cabernets that have consistently earned astonishingly high praise from the likes of Robert Parker and, less significantly, me, these are some of the best Napa Cabs on the market, full stop.

The Missouri Hopper Vineyard has a nose that I could smell from three feet away, and an intense, inky body with brooding deep purple fruit character laced in bright reds. Ultra fine tannins that coat the mouth, the wine is leathery and bold, with some real staying power on the finish.

The To Kalon is slightly richer on the assault than the MH, but no less elegant. Robust and familiar, the baking spice lingering behind the intense and lush black fruits sets it apart. A quintessential Napa Cabernet, and evidence as to why this vineyard’s fruit and this vintner’s wines are both so highly coveted, I savored this one for quite a while.

The Dr. Crane is the most feminine of the collection, in my opinion, with subtle hints of lavender, dark chocolate, and mint lingering behind deep purple fruits, making this the smoothest of the three Debate Cabs. My wife, who recently has lost interest in big Napa Cabs in favor of more petite blends and Strongbow cider, asked for a second glass. High praise indeed.

The concept that wine brings people together to talk is deeply embedded in The Debate. Each bottle comes wrapped in headlines from that vintage, the 2013’s bearing headlines reminding us of the legalization of gay marriage, the Boston marathon bombing, and more. In a world in which cowards attack others from behind computer screens, wine encourages shared space and eye contact, face to face conversations, and civil discourse. These are indeed difficult times to live in – who couldn’t use a glass of wine? Web:

Decades 5 Petit Verdot 2012

Wow. Just freaking wow. I opened this bottle to review it, yes, but also to celebrate the christening of my wine cellar. We’d put up a massive 12′ x 10′ rack, equal to storing a thousand bottles and requiring five of us and several attempts to get it into place. In gratitude, and because I desperately wanted to try it anyway, I made this bottle the first one ever opened in my cellar. Deep and brooding with impeccable balance, five years in the bottle has done nothing to tame the intensity of the dark black and purple fruit profile. Hearty notes of smoked meat mingle with more delicate, floral notes. An impressive barrel regiment, 26 months on new French oak, rounds it out, offering tremendous structure, character, and depth. Web:

Michel Rolland 2013

The eponymous label of a world-renowned oenologist, this wine is what you would expect as the brain-child of two talented wine world rock stars. Deep, sensual, and rich, it’s not at all surprising that this wine begs for food. Of course, I was happy to acquiesce, and paired it with some spicy pineapple bratwursts from HyVee. Exceptionally smooth, bursting with notes of refined leather, dry black currants, hints of herb, and blackberry jam, this is an age-worthy wine that’s also drinking beautifully right now, and will for years to come. Web:

Theory Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Stunning! The combination of great winemaking, careful conditions, and terrific fruit make this a steal of a wine in my opinion. Wonderful and easy to enjoy, it pairs diversely and drinks well on its own. Notably, its one of, if not the, most affordable Cabernets in the JH Collection. You don’t have to be a Cab lover, or even a wine lover, to enjoy this one. Web:

Theory Zinfandel 2015

“Stylistically, we were trying to make a Zin reminiscent of the Zins of the ‘90’s. Crushed red fruits and spice, medium weight and lower than 15% alcohol,” explained Ryan Anderson, Jean’s partner-in-crime on the Theory label. It caught me off guard at first; for as long as I’ve consumed Zinfandels, I’ve grown accustomed to jammy, spicy wines with nearly as much alcohol as Port. This is something else, boasting a bright red fruit profile, unique from nose to finish. If you like Zin, you should try it. If you don’t think you like Zin, you should definitely try it. Web:

Inside the box of wine that I’d gone so far out of my way to acquire as to stalk my UPS guy, were all of the wines I mentioned above. Over the course of a few weeks, after putting a larger and less polite sign on my front door for the folks at FedEx, I reverently tasted through the case, savoring every sip of each new and unique wine. As I did, I thought back on wonderful memories with Jean in the Napa Valley, shared glasses with my wife as we discussed and debated our increasingly turbulent world – a world in which we are raising children, and felt a deep sense of gratitude that I have such opportunities as to drink great wine, raise children, and hold discussions with people I love, as well as people whom I must work harder to understand. Wine has a social role to play, my friend once told me. I’m glad that his wines can now play that role in Omaha.

Mark Gudgel

Mark Gudgel

Dr. Mark Gudgel is a wine writer and educator who holds credentials through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is working towards becoming a Master of Wine. His interest in wine was sparked on his honeymoon to Napa and Sonoma. Gudgel and his wife, Sonja, have co-authored several articles as well as a book on the wineries of Nebraska, to be released in the spring of 2017. Gudgel is a regular contributor to Food & Spirits Magazine and American Winery Guide, as well as the blog he maintains with his wife, Mark and Sonja live in Omaha with their children and their dog.

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