I recently met Jeff Smith of Hourglass Wines in Napa Valley and was intrigued by his background and the winery’s remarkable story.
Smith is a Napa Valley native, growing up in the valley next-door to many of the families who have transformed this wine region into one of the most elite in the world.
The family moved to St. Helena from San Francisco in 1964, where Ned Smith, Jeff’s father, became Napa Valley’s second ever real estate agent. But the family’s wine story doesn’t begin until 1976 when his parents, Ned and Marge, bought a six-acre parcel with the ambition of opening an inn, planting a grove of fruit trees and building a house. The inn thrived but the fruit trees didn’t.
As fate would have it, his neighbor happened to be Dan Duckhorn of the famed Duckhorn Vineyards. His father saw his steadfast success with grapes and decided to join in the planting with his favorite varietal, zinfandel.
Jeff Smith went on to college in San Francisco and then, for a streak, to play in a successful rock band. He returned to Napa Valley to work at the Robert Mondavi Winery where he would learn directly from Robert Mondavi. He also spent some times in the spirits industry, as SKYY Vodka’s second employee. During his five years at SKYY, it grew from a tiny business to producing 600,000 cases in annual volume, making it one of the fastest brand growths in American distilled spirits history.
After Ned’s death in the 1990s when a widespread phylloxera epidemic wiped out the zinfandel vines, Marge considered selling the family’s vineyards, but Jeff believed there was something truly unique and rare in them. Jeff, after consulting with Mark Kliewer, dean of viticulture at the University of California, Davis, replanted, but this time with cabernet saugivnon and christened the newly planted vineyard with the name Hourglass — a nod to the area’s unique geography.
His deep roots in Napa Valley and those iconic neighbors may be part of his story but it is Jeff’s profound knowledge of wine and his creative dedicated approach to winemaking that make his brand Hourglass one of the most sought-after in the valley.
- 2015 Hourglass Estate Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $43 retail)
- 2013 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $132 retail)