Hawk & Horse Blog

By Guest blogger Anneli Rufus

We all have aspects of ourselves that we find a bit embarrassing. I don’t mean the physical stuff. Or those cell phone pictures we never should have sent. Or that Hanson sweatshirt hidden in your bureau drawer. I mean intrinsic tastes that we can’t change.

For me, it’s this: I dislike wine. What could be more uncool in a native Californian who writes about the food-and-drink scene, has spent long sunny months in France, Spain and Italy and lives within sight of the Napa Valley? Call me an unworldly hack, but I’ve tried and tried and yet nearly all reds, whites and rosés taste alike to me — and I find that taste harsh. I think I’m not alone in this. I think more of us dislike wine than want to admit it. And that’s our “inconvenient truth.”

Having been told by wine experts that the more I sipped, the more sensitized my palate would become, I was dragging myself around a “wines of Spain” gala in San Francisco one day, feeling like a rank imposter, when I happened upon a sherry booth. My first sip of Pedro Ximénez was like stepping off a cliff into a magical radiant room-temperature pool of enchanted electric honey. Suddenly I realized: I do like wine. Sweet wine. And sweet wine is wine.

Wine snobs tend to dismiss, discount and disrespect sweet wines — because, in their eyes, anything sweet smacks of childishness, and anything so simply sumptuous and uncomplicatedly easy to like can’t be trusted, thus (to them) sweet wines are the vinicultural equivalent of Kool-Aid. But sweet wines have held crucial roles in world civilization since ancient days: Used in religious rites, praised in poetry, these are the liquids of prayer and love.

Thus began my sweet-wine quest. In the ensuing months I sampled Marsala in the Sicilian seacoast town for which it is named. Also in Sicily, I discovered passito — a type of concentrated naturally sweet wine made from exotic, golden-green Zibibbo grapes, aka Muscat of Alexandria, which are allowed to dry into luscious raisins before being fermented. At the Firriato winery on Mount Etna’s eastern flank, I tried airy L’Ecru passito, named for the straw whose hue it evokes.

At the Donnafugata winery on volcanic Pantelleria, an Italian island closer to Tunisia than to Italy (and where Giorgio Armani has a home-away-from-home), I sipped award-winning amber-colored Ben Ryé passito after touring the vineyards where Zibibbo were being harvested and the hot, windswept platforms where the grapes are laid to dry.

“Only the best grapes get dried,” Donnafugata’s technical director Antonio Rallo — who operates the winery with his jazz-singer sister José and their parents Giacomo and Gabriella — told me. “We’re not trying to capture the flavor of the fresh grape but rather to dry the grapes under the sun in the wind to create an aroma that is completely different from that of the fresh grapes. This is our philosophy: not to preserve the aromas of the fresh grape but to find the new aromas of the dried grape.”

Paired with sharp cheeses at Ristorante Cibus in the medieval hill town of Ceglie Messapica in Italy’s “heel,” I sampled Aleatico, a subtly sweet local red the color of garnets that is made at the nearby Tenute Rubino winery.

Home again and still pursuing my quest, I sipped Jewish ceremonial wine, Oregon ice wine, German Gewürztraminer, Portuguese Madeira and Port and fortified biodynamic Port-style Latigo wine made by California-based, family-owned Hawk and Horse Vineyards. Now I know: Sweet wines are the wines for people who think they hate wine. (Wine snobs probably like sweet wine too, but won’t admit it. And that’s their inconvenient truth.)

Do you like maple syrup? Freshly squeezed fruit juice? Bold, exotic kombucha? Apple pie, butterscotch custard, cherries jubilee? Then you’d probably like sweet wine, which offers all the simple, tingly-tangy excitement of those things — plus a fermented, barrel-aged je-ne-sais-quois.

Hawk and Horse winery manager Tracey Hawkins calls jewel-red, smoky rose-scented Latigo “a special favorite of mine. I crafted it based on my memories of the Ports I enjoyed on a visit to Portugal when I was in my very early twenties,” Hawkins told me.

“We make it in the traditional Port-style,” said Hawkins, “Harvest late with high sugars and then fortify with high proof. We use a very expensive, oak-aged brandy for our high proof because nothing less would do.” Hawkins uses Latigo in treasured recipes for poached pears, sweet-potato pie and flourless chocolate soufflé.

Aging the wine in new French oak barrels “gives it caramel notes and extraction. We get such a great response to the Latigo at tastings,” Hawkins said. “People who love Port end up loving it — and people who say they don’t usually like Port also end up loving it.”

How sweet.

Photographs by Kristan Lawson

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San Francisco, October 2013----Tracey and Mitch Hawkins, proprietors of Hawk and Horse Vineyards, will present their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Latigo at a book signing for Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook, on October 29 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Omnivore Books. Brothers Rick and Michael Mast will be coming from their home base in Brooklyn to speak and sign copies of the book, which has a foreword by Thomas Keller.

The event is gratis and there is no need to RSVP. Omnivore Books is located at 3885 Cesar Chavez Street (San Francisco 94131).

Rick and Michael Mast are the co-founders, owners and master chocolate makers of Mast Brothers Chocolate, pioneering "bean to bar" chocolate making in New York City. Sourcing cocoa with unique flavor profiles from around the equator, they roast the beans in small batches to create truly handmade chocolate, one of the very few chocolate makers to do so. At their flagship factory and retail shop in Brooklyn, their distinctive bars are wrapped in exquisite custom papers that they have designed and are sold at specialty food shops around the country and around the world.

In Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook ($40) they share their unique story and recipes for classic American desserts like chocolate cookies and cakes, brownies, bars, milkshakes, and even home-made whoopie pie. There are mouthwatering savory dishes as well, like Pan-seared Scallops with Cocoa Nibs and Cocoa Coq au Vin. With striking color photographs throughout, this cookbook celebrates the vision and allure of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the leaders of the American craft chocolate movement and the choice of the world's great chefs: Thomas Keller, Dan Barber, Daniel Humm, Alice Waters, and Alain Ducasse all choose Mast Brothers Chocolate for its purity and distinctive tasting notes. The Mast Brothers’ commitment to traditional craft makes their chocolate stand apart. Out of a desire to fulfill a dream and to make a statement about sustainability, they made headlines when they sailed twenty metric tons of cocoa beans harvested in the Dominican Republic to New York on a three-masted schooner. It was the first commercial import by schooner to the Port of New York since 1939. Photographs and the full story of the sail are included in the book. Founded in 1999 by the Boies and Hawkins families, Hawk and Horse Vineyards is one of the very few biodynamic estate vineyard wineries in California. Family-owned and family-operated, the ranch is a historic property in the Red Hills AVA of Lake County and specializes in estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Latigo (port). The winery’s current releases are the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) and 2009 Latigo (a Cabernet-based port-style dessert wine, $85 for a 750 ml or $45 for a 375 ml bottle).

A visit to Hawk and Horse Vineyards is a step back in time, to the white-fence-bordered pastures full of horses, a charming home-turned-tasting room with an antique Victorian bar, historic photos of the property and local memorabilia. Recently the California State Fair awarded Hawk and Horse Vineyards a Certificate of Excellence in Viticulture. The winery farms its 18 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot biodynamically. The vineyards straddle slopes from a 15% grade to 85%, at elevations up to 2,200 feet, situated in the Red Hills AVA of California.” The soil literally glitters due to the abundance of Lake County “diamonds,” tiny silica fragments which are the remnants of volcanic activity from the Mayacama and Vaca volcanic mountain ranges and nearby Mt. Konocti, a now dormant volcano. “Our family feels that a biodynamic approach brings you a wine which is a true expression of our sense of place,” explain Tracey and Mitch Hawkins. Hawk and Horse Vineyards has been Demeter-certified since 2008 and California Certified Organic (CCOF) since 2004.

The ranch is home to a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle as well as the horses and an enormous range of wildlife---from Red Tail hawks to bees, owls, bear, wild boar, bobcats, mountain lions and squirrels. Bird-watching brings glimpses of woodpeckers, bluebirds, herons, ducks and more. The property includes a plaque documenting the historical location of El Roble Grande, the largest Valley Oak ever recorded in California.

Located at 13048 Hwy. 29 in Lower Lake, California (95457, 707/942-4600), the winery welcomes visitors Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. or by appointment (www.HawkandHorseVineyards.com, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). The grounds include a picnic area; also offered are extended tours of the ranch and vineyard, by appointment.


Harvest! An unexpected spike in the weather last week ripened the highest elevation fruit faster than expected. Today we harvested Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon from our ten acre bowl at 2,200 feet elevation. This is beautifully balanced at 25 degrees brix. Harvest began at 4am. There is still a good deal of Cabernet in our 1,800 feet elevation bowl out. Looking like late next week for that block and the rest of the ten acre block. We will wrap up harvest with the fruit for our Port project - we will patiently await that slight raisining and concentration that makes our "Latigo" so delicious.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards