JOHN HILLIARD – WINEMAKER & PROPRIETOR, HILLIARD AND BRUCE WINERY
WINEMAKERS & PROPRIETORS: JOHN HILLIARD & CHRISTINE BRUCE
Though husband and wife team John Hilliard and Christine Bruce grew up near one another in Houston as children, they didn’t meet again until after both had firmly established creative careers as adults. Christine was a horsewoman and a musician, and left Texas to study classical piano at Boston University before transferring to the Berklee College of Music. There she fell in love with the contemporary jazz music scene and began working as a professional keyboardist upon graduation. As a young man, John Hilliard studied finance and pursued a career selling maritime insurance, until deciding to follow his dreams of painting full-time. He was director and president of Diverse Works, a Houston-based arts organization, and a committee member for both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Glassell Artists in Residence Program. He later took over his family’s shipyard business, where he grew the company from one shipyard to four in just a few years. After they met, the couple took wine tasting classes together at Rice University, and earned certifications as Master Gardeners from Texas A & M and the University of Arizona. They bought a ranch together outside of Houston so Christine could continue her equestrian practice. Cultivation seems to come naturally to both of them, and it wasn’t long before they had not only a thriving garden with every possible vegetable that might grow in the Houston climate, but also a small breeding operation for Arabian horses.
John and Christine left their home in Texas in 2002, after purchasing the 101-acre Hilliard Bruce ranch in the Sta. Rita Hills. Christine wanted a ranch where she could expand her business of breeding Arabian horses, and John was open to new adventures after surviving two life-threatening illnesses. With a love of wine and an eye for precision and design, they planted 21-acres to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, using their own background as gardeners, along with key advice from some of the industry’s best viticulturalists. To further their winemaking experience, they took courses at UC Davis Extension Program, Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program, and the Grayson County College Viticulture and Enology Program.
Today John and Christine are intimately involved with every step of running Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, from viticulture and winemaking to sales. Christine heads Hilliard Bruce’s Chardonnay production, while John focuses on several Pinot Noir bottlings.
LARRY SCHAFFER – OWNER / WINEMAKER, TERCERO WINES
Fast forward four years . . . and Larry begins his new career in earnest as the Enologist for Fess Parker Winery, a well-respected winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Why Santa Barbara County? The winemaking community is willing and wanting to help each other, but more importantly, it is simply an incredible place to raise children!
Fast forward another year, and Larry is ready to ‘take the plunge’ and start buying grapes to make his own wines! It’s scary and challenging at the same time – no matter how much you read about it or do it for others, it’s quite different when it’s ‘your own baby’ . . . But it’s also a way for Larry to ‘marry’ his past with his present – to use his sales/marketing skills along with his technical winemaking skills to see what he can produce . . .
Camp 4 Vineyard - Santa Ynez - This vineyard, located in eastern Santa Ynez, was planted in the fall of 1999. It is comprised of approximately 250 acres of vines, with a plethora of varieties planted, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, counouise, carignan, grenache blanc, viognier, marsanne, rousanne, and more. The warmer climates and loam soils of this site have already shown what they can produce for leading wineries including Fess Parker, Epiphany, Tensley, Alban, Curran and more. We source grenache, mourvedre and grenache blanc from here.
Larner Vineyard - Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos - The southern most vineyard in Ballard Canyon, a north/south canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley, is Larner Vineyard. This vineyard was created when Stevan and Christine Larner bought their 133-acre ranch in 1997, fulfilling a dream of owning a vineyard with their children. A Hollywood cinematographer whose credits include "Roots" and "Winds of War," Larner had lived in Italy and so planted a little Malvasia Bianca, one of his favorite grapes, along with the Rhone varieties more typical of the region. They planted approximately 60 acres in the nearly entirely sandy soil. The site and wines produced from their have garnered a tremendous amount of attention from leading reviewers, newspapers, and magazines. Leading wineries that purchase grapes and produce wines from here include Jaffurs, Herman Story, Paul Lato, Bonaccorsi, and many others. We currently source both syrah and grenache from here.
Tierra Alta Vineyard - Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos - This vineyard also lies along with Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley, but is the northernmost vineyard along the canyon. It's soils are somewhat varied, with bits of limestone, but it's mainly gravely loam. It is a beautiful vineyard to see, seemingly rising up to the sky. We purchase syrah from this wonderful vineyard.
Thompson Vineyard - Los Alamos - The steep hillsides and south facing exposure of the Thompson Vineyard ensures complete ripeness and produces an amazing concentration, robust dark crimson color and equally rich flavors. The Thompson vineyard consists of 37 acres planted in Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Gris, but it is known primary for its Estrella Clone of Syrah. The grapes from this vineyard produce chunky and fruit-driven wine in its youth and, with a few years in bottle, develops complex animal notes and subtle Indian spices. The level of viticulture (from Jeff Newton and team) is amazing with the soils depleted of nutrients and the vines rarely crop over 2.5 tons per acre even in the most robust of years.
Watch Hill Vineyard - Los Alamos - Planted in the late 90's and maintained by Coastal Vineyard Care, one of the leading vineyard management companies in the state, this vineyard is planted on a rather steep south-east facing hill. The soil is sandy loam, and the climate is rather cool, with the fog oftentimes settling into the area at night and through mid mornings. It then heats up nicely during the day, leading to grapes that have dark colors and great natural acidity. We currently purchase grenache from this vineyard.