May 15, 2021 by Vicki Denig
Our 1:1 Interview with John Hurley of Origin Wines
This past week, the Argaux team sat down with John Hurley, co-founder of Origin Wines. Get the inside scoop behind their 2020 Origin Santa Cruz Mountains Rosé, our featured bottle in this month’s Shades of Rosé!
How did you and Jason, your business partner, meet?
Jason and I first met back in college while attending the University of Pennsylvania. We became such good friends and had always talked about doing something together. Over the years, we both realized that we loved the idea of bringing people together, cooking, etc.
I moved to California right out of college and began spending time in wine regions, and Jason had been diving deep into the wine culture in New York. He actually made his first wine in his West Village apartment with grapes purchased from the North Fork! I started to get to know a lot of winemakers out here and was really interested in the culture of wine: the agricultural aspects of it and the way in which it brings people together. He and I both noticed that the wine industry can be pretty old school and traditional, so we started talking about how to bring a fresh take to it.
What did you come up with?
We really started diving into the idea of making historic wines for a modern time, both from a brand perspective and experience perspective. We started to meet a ton of viticulturalists and suppliers, and before we even had a name for the company, we signed a contract to buy several tons of grapes for a very exciting wine that will come out later this year. From there it was history! We’re now in year two of Origin Wines.
How did you decide on Origin as a brand name?
There were a lot of different signs that Origin was the right name. It pays homage to the fact that we both have very different origins, as do the people who drink our wine. It’s a way to tell our own story, yet also create an empty vessel for those to create their own moments and persona around it.
Tell us a bit about your vineyard sourcing, farming, and winemaking practices.
We wanted our wines to have a natural texture and feel, from the brand to the winemaking, so sustainability was of utmost importance to us. Many sustainable farms don’t have organic certifications because of the politics and costs around it, so we really focused on sustainability.
We looked to Santa Cruz, as there are some really special things happening down there. The quality of the wine and the sustainability aspect is strong! We were lucky enough to find a few different vineyards (we don’t own any vines at this stage of the brand yet) that were working in ways that we supported. Plus, the climate here is incredibly special. There’s a strong coastal influence and many vineyards can be dry farmed. It’s hot, but not as hot as Napa.
Our viticulturist, Trudy Fox, is amazing. She’s known as the vine whisperer in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She helped us navigate some of the top sites to get high quality fruit, then we brought a similar mentality into the cellar. We’re in the winery as much as possible, learning and getting involved. We’re making our wines as naturally as possible without sacrificing quality. Sometimes in the natural wine world, you’ll see quality sacrificed for the sake of the movement.
Can you elaborate on that?
In my opinion, you can make really high quality natural wine from really high quality fruit. If your fruit is low quality and you layer low-touch methods on top of that, that’s when you’ll end up in a hairy place. We’re working as sustainably as possible, straight down to the packaging. Everything is harvested by hand, native yeasts are used, and we bring as many natural aspects to the process as possible.
Tell us the story behind your wine label and its artist.
Sticking with the theme of being historic yet modern, we found our artist, Robert Alvarez, down in Austin, Texas. I saw his art and thought it to be the perfect blend of the two—it’s minimalist, but super grounded in history. Most of his art has influences from Greek mythology, so that was a big part of the decision, on top of the fact that it’s beautiful. Then, we went through the brand building process and honed in on the concept of duality, which came from the fact that Jason is on the East Coast and I’m our West Coast representative.
So in short, the rosé’s label has a few meanings to it. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s actually representative of where the wine comes from. You can also see the duality from Lester Family Vineyards, where we source fruit, featured on it. The site is located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, right at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The area is surrounded by Redwoods and eucalyptus trees, and there’s an outlook that looks over the horizon of the ocean. When you stand there, you look down on the vineyards and see all of these things.
What’s the terroir like at the Lester family vineyard?
It’s kind of this incredible. You have a lot of coastal influences, and the salinity is felt in the wine. The soils are sandy loam, and the vines have to work hard. Our rosé is produced from 100% Syrah, which we harvested rather late (this past year on October 9th, to be exact). Much of California’s “rosé fruit” is picked in August, but here, we have so much sea influence and many cooling breezes, that we can pick it later without it being sweet. There’s a depth and a complexity here that you don’t often find in other shades of rosé. It’s a combination of where it comes from: the climate, the soil, etc. You get something pretty unique. Most rosés aren’t made with 100% Syrah, either!
The wine is definitely darker hued, more than most rosés from Provence. It’s such a complex wine. We’ve been calling it the ultimate foodie wine! We’ve had it with everything from cheese and charcuterie to burgers. There’s a lot of layers of flavor here.
For sure! We had it last weekend at Bells breakfast barbecue. We went through 24 bottles of it! It was just perfect—the acid, the brightness. It was even able to stand up to brisket.
What’s your total case production?
In 2019, we only made 50 cases, which comes out to just one ton of fruit, so it was really small. During our first year, we were learning a lot, mostly about our brand, our customers, and our own story. We were lucky to have a great response from the first vintage! We even got some good scores, even though that certainly is not what we’re in this for. We moved production up to 150 cases this past year, so it’s still really tiny. We’ll plan on going a bit bigger this upcoming year, but our focus is still on quality and only using the best fruit possible. People seem to like it! It’s fun seeing how people pour the wine, where they enjoy it, and how they set up their own little scenes amongst family and friends.
So last question then—what’s your favorite food with the rosé?
That’s tough! Last night I had it with a homemade fajita bowl, and it paired super well with the spice. I know y’all had talked about having spicy Thai takeout with it the first time you’d tasted it, so it’s safe to say that it’s great with spice. But you can still do something a bit heartier, like brisket or burgers, as the wine has enough acid to cut through the fat. I like to say, complex flavors in food go great with complex rosé!
Origin is our feature wine for Shades of Rosé this month (May 2021). We’ve still got some bottles left! Free shipping on six bottles or more, plus case discount with purchase of 12 or more.