Julia Hoyle may have found her way into the wine industry innocently enough, looking for a part-time job while attending college, but she quickly found herself surrounded by great people and a curiosity for the business she couldn’t contain.
Hoyle started at the Fox Run Vineyards tasting room in 2009 and worked her way into the cellar where she took every opportunity to learn from veteran winemaker Peter Bell before she left in 2012. Julia moved on to Atwater Vineyards for the fall 2012 harvest season, which provided insight into operations at another prominent Finger Lakes winery.
Once harvest finished Julia’s sights were set on experiencing winemaking outside of New York and she soon found herself travelling to the Barossa region of Australia to work at the family-owned Yalumba winery. Don’t let the fact that Yalumba is family owned mislead you, chances are you are familiar with the name and often see their wine on shelves of your local shop because Yalumba produces roughly 750,000 cases annually.
For context, the entire Finger Lakes region collectively only produces an estimated 220,000 cases of Riesling.
At Yalumba, Hoyle was a night shift, white wine maker and had the opportunity to learn at a massive scale. Where at a small production winery a winemaker may only have the opportunity to taste and monitor a few fermentations a day, at Yalumba Julia had the responsibility for 50-150 ferments a day.
When asked about some of the key differences between this experience and her prior time in the Finger Lakes, Julia cited two things in particular. First, when working on a large scale, quick winemaking decisions are a necessity and when those decisions do not go as expected there is much more flexibility in how to adapt. Second, Hoyle noted that the growing conditions in Australia are so optimal that clean fruit was the norm day after day during harvest and Botrytis was encountered maybe once every decade.
Upon her return to the Finger Lakes Julia made her way to Sheldrake Point Winery where she remains today as the assistant winemaker helping winemaker David Breeden. Hoyle has wholeheartedly embraced her role at Sheldrake and believes she is among a great team. She has had the opportunity to own a number of projects at the winery to continue evolving as a winemaker.
Although Hoyle has her sights set on a head winemaking role at some point in her future, right now she is enjoying her time at Sheldrake and will continue to refine her craft. Here we asked Julia our “5 Questions.”
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
My family is from Philadelphia, and most summers we would come up to the Finger Lakes to camp for one week. My parents have long been fans of Finger Lakes vinifera wines and they would spend a day of vacation wine tasting. The usual route was over to Keuka Lake, often swinging by the West side of Seneca Lake on the way. The first wine I remember drinking was a Semi-Dry Riesling from either Hermann Weimer or Dr. Konstantin Frank on Thanksgiving Day. At my parents’ house, wines are typically saved for special occasions, and that bottle was no different. I was often allowed little sips to try different wines and Semi-Dry Riesling was the first wine that I remember. It has been a long-time favorite of mine.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I knew that I wanted to be in the wine industry after I got my first industry job. I was a junior at William Smith College studying French and Women’s Studies in Geneva, NY and had recently lost a waitressing job because I was going to more concerts than spending days at work-oops! I decided to apply for a job in the Fox Run tasting room the next week. I was hired by Dan Mitchell and immediately found myself surrounded by wonderful people who loved their jobs. After an encounter helping Peter Bell with a wine tasting for a French couple my interest was piqued. I discovered that I had an endless stream of questions. The wine that set off the switch for me was Fox Run’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Franc.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
Overall I think the New York wine community is doing things right, but there are areas for improvement. With the number of young women coming into the industry or already here, gender equality is an area that we need to turn a critical eye to. It is wonderful that the pool of interested and qualified workers is growing, but there are deep-rooted barriers making it harder for young women to enter the industry when compared to their male counterparts. I have had two negative experiences with two different Finger Lakes wineries in the early stages of employment applications due to my gender. And even beyond that, something is clearly out of balance when the question I am asked most is which tasting room I work in. Tasting room work is challenging and important to our industry, but is it so hard to imagine a woman driving a forklift or doing the daily rounds of punchdowns? I’ve stopped counting the number of times someone tells me that I drive a forklift like a man-what does that even mean?! We need to stop ourselves from making assumptions about a workers’ worth that are based off of their identity. The question being asked should be “Is this person qualified for this job?”
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
Cocktails have been a popular drink this summer, whether I am eating out or friends are at the house. My favorite aperitif cocktail at the moment is a stratosphere — a glass of mid-range sparkling wine with a splash of crème Yvette (violet liqueur). Beer is always a solid choice. IPAs with a reasonable amount of hops are often preferred after a long bottling day. My go-to beer this time of year is Bells’ Oberon, I just adore it. Most every night at dinner there is a glass of wine on the table. Sometimes it is a 15-year old Finger Lakes riesling, or, like last night, it was a 2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from Martinborough, New Zealand-the cellar at home is full of surprises!
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
Do I sound like most other Finger Lakes winemakers if I say riesling? It is such an amazing grape — how could it not be my choice! From the austere rieslings I worked with at Yalumba in South Australia (think Pewsey Vale and Heggies Vineyard) to the rich and textured ice wines I have had the pleasure of learning about with Dave here at Sheldrake Point Winery, Riesling is a grape that can wear many hats. I feel very lucky to have serendipitously landed in a wine region where this grape shines and can be a very real reflection of individual vineyards and winemaking techniques.