It’s tempting to try to categorize a winery by its choice of grapes grown and bottled, its geography, or its age and history. But when examining a wine producer through cloudier lenses like terroir, or the always complicated notion of authenticity, it might be more effective to look at what a particular winery is not. Hedges Family Winery is not making wines that pander to consumer and market trends. It is not indulging in a cult of personality around a star winemaker. And the second generation of family ownership is definitely not taking an easy path toward success.
What remains, after you chip away all the bits and pieces of what this winery, this family, is not, a picture comes into focus of forward-thinking and hard-working people, dedicated to a small parcel of land in a remote part of the world - the Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington are not exactly the most accessible place - creating some of the most intriguing, responsible, and delicious wines to be found on the West Coast. Their earliest successes came with exporting Columbia Valley Cabernet to Sweden in the late 1980s, after a call from that country to source wines unaffected by the global spread of radiation after the Chernobyl disaster. Production quickly scaled, and their first vineyards were planted in Red Mountain as part of the first wave of development in that AVA.
A second generation entered the picture in the early 2000s when Christophe Hedges, son of Tom and Anne-Marie, came to work with the family’s winery after selling his construction company. His sister, Sarah Hedges Goedhart, joined the business a few years later to work alongside her uncle making the wines, and assumed full responsibility for production as head winemaker upon his retirement in 2015. Christophe, carrying something of his French-born mother’s old-world mindset, encouraged a new outlook on farming, and spearheaded the effort to transition toward biodynamic farming. While organics, biodynamics, and now regenerative farming are all the rage across the wine industry (unfortunately, often in word rather than in practice), Christophe started his family’s property along this path nearly 20 years ago.
Biodynamics, and the difficult to achieve certification from Demeter, meant taking a holistic approach to land management and strict reliance on natural preparations for the vineyard - no Roundup allowed here. There were struggles in the early years, problems that couldn’t be resolved with a simple fix in a single season, and required the Hedges to think in longer timeframes. It was a challenge to find that patience, when a single application of an herbicide or pesticide might have solved the immediate challenge. Red Mountain AVA, with its sandy soils, abundant summer heat, and ideal southwest exposure, lessens the disease and pest pressure from what a vigneron in Bordeaux or the Loire Valley might face, but the commitment to biodynamics still took several years to play out in the vineyard, eventually reaching a point of balance between the grapes, the soil, the cover crops, and the wildlife found amongst the vines. Over time, for example, populations of praying mantis and predatory wasps came in to balance the insects that might cause damage to vines or fruit.
Red Mountain grapes, due to the heat, long hours of sunlight, and powerful winds deliver powerful flavors from a small and thick-skinned berry. This part of eastern Washington is, by definition, a desert, meaning irrigation is necessary for the vines, but it also creates large temperature swings from night to day which preserve acidity in the ripening fruit. That acidity translates to the finished wine as a brightness and elegance which balances the density of the fruit.
The wines are treated in the cellar with as much care as the vineyards, and handled lightly so as to allow the expression of a true vintage signature. For those looking for the details, that means no fining or filtration, and minimal reliance on sulfur at pressing or bottling. For many, these meet definitions of a naturally made wine. These bottles speak loudly of their authenticity of vintage and place, always telling a compelling story, and are worth returning to year after year.
The family produces wines from their Red Mountain vineyards under the Hedges Family Estate label, but also offers a line-up of value driven bottlings from the broader Columbia Valley AVA under the “CMS” heading. At any price point, the level of care and quality is evident - a recently tasted 2019 Columbia Valley Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah blend showed complex aromatics and a length on the palate that rivals its estate counterpart, but at less than half the price. The 2018 Hedges Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon shows real depth and elegance, a polished tannin structure that invites a second sip (or glass). Hunt for any bottlings from the Hedges family on a thoughtfully constructed wine list for excellent value, or grab a bottle from your favorite retailer to open for date night at home this Wisconsin winter.