William Hatcher Wines
We don't usually post the same text as the winery does on its site, but Bill Hatcher is so witty, we just had to put his ruminations on Hatcher Wineworks here:
"Not having paid attention on Career Day, my occupational choices upon leaving my fourteen year post as Managing Director of Domaine Drouhin in 2001 were winemaker and accordion repairman. Doing a bit of market research, I found that Oregon was already saturated with accordion repairmen (2) but there weren’t nearly enough winemakers (250). Thus, Hatcher Pinot Noir came to fruit in a manner of speaking.
To ginger the challenge, Deb and I decided that we should test the design limit of a thirty-two year marriage in becoming business partners. Thus, Hatcher Wineworks was conceived to create further amusement for their friends, penal labor for their children and, oh yes, the A to Z and Hatcher labels.
With every bottle you purchase, one dollar will go toward the Hatchers’ marriage counseling fund.
More About William Hatcher Wine
The raison d’être of my approach is that blending will almost always produce an more complex and varied wine. To that end, we select vineyards for their signature constituents…one perhaps for the brightness of fruit, another for its aromatic qualities, another for the structure it brings. As with painting, the finished work strives for a layering, fusion and harmony of elements.
In creating the 2002 blend, only 16 of the 26 barrels produced were selected, the remainder going to A to Z. I imagine that this ratio will be continue to be the norm, not necessarily meaning that one third of the production will be of lesser quality but that to create the ideal balance of constituents, some very good wine must be culled as well.
2002 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
The debut offering is a blend of four vineyards: Goldschmidt, Stoller, Aurora and Linda Vista, the latter two belonging to the Ponzi family.
The vintage was nothing less than glorious, arguably the best Oregon has ever enjoyed. Flowering unfurled under languidly warm skies unpunctuated by the familiar mid-June rains that so often perversely accompany the Portland Rose Festival. The summer was warm but tempered by the cool ocean winds that find their way inland each evening. Decisively, Indian Summer lingered into the last days of October permitting a leisurely picking schedule to the highest of elevations.
The resulting wines are a harmonious marriage of the Valley’s signature red fruit underpinned with crisp acidity and firm structure. In warmer years such as 1994, 1998 and 2003, the red fruit characteristics dominate as acidity transpires with the Columbia Gorge winds of September. In later vintages such as 1993 and 1999, there is a predominance of black fruits and more muscularity to the wines. The 2002 vintage strikes the balance with grace, elegance, seemingly endless length and focus.
With respect to Hatcher, in a June 30 Wine Spectator feature on our family’s lifestyle, Harvey Steiman described the wine as “silky in texture with pure raspberry and cherry flavors.” I would concur.
There were 391 cases produced.
A to Z Winery
A to Z Pinot noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot blanc are the creation of a partnership between several of Oregon's most respected winemakers. Bill Hatcher, formerly manager of Domaine Drouhin, and his wife Deb have joined the business with their friends Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis. Sam was winemaker at Archery Summit until last year, and Cheryl is co-winemaker at Chehalem. (Sam and Cheryl are married).
Founded in 2002, the initial idea behind A to Z has proven so popular, we project as many as 15,000 cases of A to Z wine will be produced from the 2003 harvest. The success of the wines, delicious blends of grapes from all over Oregon, stems from their generous and rich flavors and prices well below wines of similar quality.
Bill, Deb, Cheryl and Sam choose from vineyards across Oregon to find the best blends- thus the A to Z name. Vineyards from "A to Z" are evaluated to find the best grapes for each wine. The owners' long experience with Oregon winemaking and relationships with many vineyard owners provide a depth of material for their creations.
The success of the "A to Z" products has put Bill and Deb's Hatcher Wineworks label on hold. The A to Z wines are found described as either A to Z winery or Hatcher Wineworks in articles and wine reviews, so we will continue to emphasize the name "A to Z"(as per Bill's request) while occasionally acknowledging the Hatcher Wineworks connection.
Wine Report Visits with Vinous Veteran Bill Hatcher
Managing Director of Domaine Drouhin Oregon for the past 13 years, Bill Hatcher has seen from the inside how the state's wine industry has grown-up. Now, as he moves on to new opportunities, Bill shares his unique-or as he says, heretical-opinions on wine as art, craft, business, and passion.
The story has been told many times about how the French came to Oregon, and how their presence helped bring global credibility to Oregon's winemaking status. But merely being here did not ensure a lasting impact. For that, Domaine Drouhin had to accomplish two others things consistently well: make great wines, and manage an Oregon wine business.
The two things went hand-in-hand. Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO in the local parlance) established an enviable reputation as a highly visible and involved member of Oregon's wine community, and the quality of their wines continuously added to the reputations of both Maison Joseph Drouhin and Oregon.
Key to DDO's success was Robert Drouhin's early decision to hire Bill Hatcher as the business's Managing Director. A poet as well as a businessman, Bill brought to DDO both the artistic sensibility that respected the craft of winemaking, and the day-to-day pragmatism of running a business. Now, after a long and successful tenure, Bill has decided to leave DDO. Recently, he sat down with the Oregon Wine Report to talk about what he's learned.
This has been a great experience for me," says Bill Hatcher as he leans back in his chair and with a swooping gesture toward the window, takes in a swath of Domaine Drouhin vines. "I've spent thirteen years in this magnificent setting . . . I've learned so much . . . I've worked with such wonderful people and made enduring friendships. . . many warm memories reside . . ."
He stops speaking for a moment, and then continues. "But there comes a time for everyone in any situation to move on."
And Bill has moved on. This April was his last month at DDO; at press time he was not yet in a position to discuss what he was moving on to. But, he said with a smile, "I'm looking forward to being able to take my own stupid ideas and see if they work!"
"Stupid" is not an adjective that leaps to mind (no matter how facetiously used) when listening to Bill present his views of the state of the wine industry.
"Heretical," by his own admission, is nearer the mark. "I have deeply held beliefs about this business," he says, "that sometimes are thought of as sacrilegious because they challenge the mythology."
Bill states his "heresy" in its simplest form: "Wine is becoming a branded business. The world of entitlement has passed. The rules that applied twenty years ago, and the niceties of the business are being aggressively challenged."
For Bill Hatcher, the world of wine-and the Oregon wine industry in particular-is at a critical juncture. "The challenge today for Western European producers, and for Oregon as well, is to recognize the importance of brand, marketing, and competition in what has become a global wine business."
He explains further: "Twenty years ago winemaking was still an
art form. It was passed down almost ritualistically within families.
today that knowledge has been codified and disseminated to allow someone
now to go out and hire a winemaker, not unlike one can a software engineer.
This may sound blasphemous to the artistic sensibilities of winemaking,
but in their own right, those who design software would equally
What this has resulted in, Bill believes, is that quality wine is now simply the price of admission to compete.
"Because there is wide understanding of successful viticultural methods and winemaking technology, it is now possible to cope enologically and viticulturally with more difficult conditions-whether warm, cold, dry, or wet-in global regions thought heretofore to be marginal for wine production," he says.
"In short, there is no longer an excuse not to produce good wine."
This dispersion of wine expertise is forcing dramatic changes in how the wine business is managed, says Bill. Most notably, increasingly large companies are competing in a global marketplace with a wider range of wines. Given the leveled playing field of quality, winning in the market, for these global companies, is a matter of marketing. And as product quality becomes less differentiated, the differentiation of value to the customer-real or perceived-becomes more dependant upon brand identity.
"For Western Europe, and regions like Oregon," says Bill, "the challenge is not to abdicate one's patrimony and aesthetic, but rather to translate these attributes into perceivable value to the customer." In other words, help the customer understand the value in the wine they are buying.
To illustrate his
point, Bill cites how the market perception of Australian wines has
changed over the years. "Fifteen
years ago Australia was thought of as capable of only producing a $6
Lindeman's Chardonnay. Now you see Penfolds rated a 95 by the Wine
Spectator and selling for $120 a bottle."
A New Competitive Wine World
"So, how do you compete against a region, or even companies within a region, with millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars to spend to condition market perceptions-and the ability to deliver the real wines that back up their marketing claims?"
Too often, Bill claims, the approach is to deny that the rules have changed. "Some wineries believe that as long as they continue to make fine wine, it will sell itself."
That has only been true in the past, says Bill, because competition was sparse. And it may continue to work for awhile as old reputations cling. But it won't work in the long run, thinks Bill, because producers who don't "communicate their values in the marketplace" will be squeezed out by larger or more nimble competitors.
"Nothing drives me crazier," says Bill, "than to hear a winemaker complain that 'they just don't understand my wine'. The simple reality is that few people are willing to invest themselves in appreciating what the market-right or wrong-defines as idiosyncrasy. It's wine, not James Joyce," he concludes.
From the consumer's point of view, Bill says by way of illustration, it is difficult to decide how to risk their money on an unfamiliar wine. "A consumer looking at a row of Chardonnays in the $15 to $30 range has no idea how to choose-except that they know they liked that Jacob's Creek over there, so that's what he or she ends up buying."
In buying the wine they know, says Bill, they may have passed up a more finely crafted wine that cost more, and which might also deliver more flavor and experience. But this hypothetical consumer may never know that because the power of, say, the Jacob's Creek brand was too effective, and the risk/reward ratio of the unknown wine is just too high.
> "I believe that in the long run, unless they adapt, it will become more and more difficult for smaller regions like Oregon-and even Burgundy and non-mainstream parts of California-to compete because branded products are going to grow. Economics is the perfected form of Darwinism."
If he is right, then what hope does Bill see for the craft producer of fine wines-which includes mostof Oregon's wineries?
"Don't misunderstand," protests Bill, "I don't believe our best wineries have to compromise their craft to compete. The underlying qualities that create grace, nuance, and finesse are what makes wine so wonderful. In fact, these are the very things that we have to become better at marketing in order to thrive, if not survive, in this new world of mass branded, increasingly homogenized wines."
"The partisan response," he continues, "would declare it unthinkable that 'me-too' refinery offerings could ever displace finely shaded wines on the consumer's palate. Then again, forty years ago no one would have predicted the demise of roadside diners with their myriad regional nuances at the hands of monolithic fast food chains."
"Unfortunately," Bill laments, "a lot of wineries would still
prefer to believe that all you have to do is plant your vines and make a few
basic commercial decisions in order to have a successful wine business."
Market the Uniqueness for Success
The answer, Bill believes, is for quality producers to embrace brand marketing in the same way that the big commodity wine producers are doing-but to focus their messages to consumers on what is special about their wines: brand the nuance that makes them unique."Wine professionals can talk about how the subtleties of a $75 bottle of wine make it better than a $20 bottle, but to a consumer, those differences are often marginal," says Bill. "They don't necessarily translate into value to the consumer."
So, he says, the craft winemakers must develop a strong marketing appeal. An appeal that is commensurate and reflective of the wines they produce, in order to induce consumers to buy their offerings rather than the heavily branded produce of the global wineries. "Better winemakers," he claims, "will sell a certain amount of wine just on the pull of their name, but at some point inertia is insufficient to keep the product in orbit."
The trick is to persuade the next consumer to the marginal values that differentiate the craft producer's wine in quality and cost. What gets confused in Oregon, Bill thinks, is that "what passes for marketing is merely advertising." And advertising alone, says Bill, does not constitute a marketing plan. "You can buy the finest steelhead gear, but if you fish in the park frog pond, you won't catch anything."
"What Oregon does have, is an image from afar that it is one of the last pristine places." This, combined with its reputation for wineries that are small family businesses focusing on quality artisan wines, provides, in Bill's view, a unique platform for differentiated marketing.
"I'm not denying the importance of the art and craft of winemaking," cautions Bill. "It is the sine qua non. However, I steadfastly believe that you have to find a balance between preserving the art form and making it commercially viable."
Preserving the Art; Marketing the Value
Bill sums up his marketing vision this way: "It is to preserve the art in winemaking while at the same time communicating its value as perceived worth to the consumer. For example, most bottled water is purchased for intangible reasons, convenience, image, etc., whereas twenty years ago the idea of a two dollar bottle of water in a gas station convenience store was ludicrous. Similarly, who would have thought twenty years ago that you could sell a cup of coffee for three bucks, let alone create a worldwide chain of stores to do so?"
Bill believes that craft winemakers-in Oregon and throughout the specialty wine regions of the world-must bring new sophistication, resources, belief, and will to their business and craft. "Not to be submerged by these market forces," he points out, "but rather to ride the crest of the wave."
"Our thinking must become more sophisticated about how to market our products," Bill explains. "We must cultivate the resources and the mindset to think in terms of the marketplace. That means knowing who our customers are, or could be, and why they (would) buy our wines. How much is attributable to the intrinsic qualities of the wine itself, how much to the image the winery projects, how much to the public personality of the winemaker and so on. It also entails an understanding of market trends with their associate risks and opportunities. And, it involves strategic partnerships such as those fostered by special bottlings, preferred customer premiums or key retailer/restaurant alliances that project the brand."
The risk, as Bill sees it, is that if such principles aren't applied, "then we allow the wine business to become a commodity business, and treasures like Burgundy and Oregon risk being compromised into something that will become that much more 'white bread.'"
"If," he continues, "in twenty years people have forgotten the wonderful nuances of these wines, we will all find ourselves drinking pretty much the same McWine, differentiated only by extra oak or extract, like double cheese. Nuance will be a mere redolence, like the memory of the best piece of apple pie in the world at that little café in Bakersfield."
Concluding his convictions, Bill cautions "I'm not claiming to be an oracle; I'm simply defining a problem that's wholly apparent. I'm not saying 'here is the way we need to market this industry;' rather, I'm saying, 'we need to identify what makes us different-both as a region and as individual producers-and craft that message just as we craft our wines'. The answer is neither singular nor is it static; we need to continually remind an increasingly distracted marketplace of ourvalue."
And lest anyone think that Bill is giving up on wine in his life after DDO, he has a heretic's final thought: "You'll probably have to burn me at the stake to get rid of me."
Here's our initial article about Hatcher Wineworks, from January 2003:
Bill and Deb Hatcher have founded Hatcher Wineworks, at this point a "virtual" winery operating out of several Yamhill County facilities. Bill was formerly manager at Domaine Drouhin Winery.
Their first product, produced in partnership with friends Cheryl Francis (Chehalem) and husband Sam Tannahill (Shea Vineyards winemaker and former Archery Summit winemaker) is A to Z Pinot Noir 2001.
The philosophy of A to Z, as descibed to me by Deb Hatcher, is that a Pinot noir blended from several top sites for Pinot grapes will produce the best wine. While single vineyard Pinot noirs often gain high ratings, the idea behind A to Z is to use the best of many vineyards to blend a very special wine. At under $20 and wonderfully complex and lively, A to Z seems to prove the hypothesis.
noir is blended from wine from several Yamhill and one Washington County vineyard, Deb declined to name the exact vineyards... but we might guess that there is some Shea, some Archery Summit, some Chehalem, and some DDO wine in the brew. That's just Avalon's speculation, however, based on the winemaker's former and present connections.
"...A to Z (89 points, $19), a 2001 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir made from purchased wines. Just now being released on the West Coast, the wine has a firm texture, and it glows with cherry and berry flavors, picking up some nice floral and spice notes." - Harvey Steiman, The Wine Spectator, (posted on the web 10/03/02)
"...gorgeous Pinot Noir that is one of the best under 20 dollar offerings that we have tasted this year!!
Stylish aromas with nice purity and clarity of fruit. Violet, raspberry and mineral dominate the nose, and the texture is chewy, generous, smooth and supple. Spicy tones carry from front to back and the lovely finish is well-structured and chock full of nice red fruit influences. Excellent drinking for over the next 3-4 years. Kudos to this all-star team for offering a great Oregon Pinot for a great price!" - Bryan Shuttleworth, The Cellar Door (posted on the website 9/16/02)
"Sam Tannahill, Cheryl Francis and Bill and Debra Hatcher are the faces behind the A to Z label. Sam had a seven year stint as a winemaker for Archery Summit, Cheryl has been making wine at Chehalem for many years, and the Hatchers had been with Domaine Drouhin for thirteen years. With this new project they put on a negociant hat, bought finished wine from reputable producers (who exactly is top secret info.), and blended them. The result is an elegant pretty wine with subtle spicy aromas and high toned red fruit. Medium-bodied with depth and a classy finish, this is very tasty Oregon Pinot Noir." Jon Kennedy, Great Wine Buys, October 2002