Charming, intelligent and quick-witted are three words I’ve heard people use to describe winemaker and creator of Lula Cellars Jeff Hansen. He is this and much more. Being of Italian heritage, his passion for the grape runs deep in the veins of his life and his winemaking style is a true celebration of his ancestor’s tradition.
Unfortunately, Jeff has recently passed on leaving us with his soul in his wines to remember him by. It is a true loss to all who appreciate the qualities of finely crafted wine and to a man whose infectious personality has graced all who visited his tasting-room and tasted his wines.
On a personal note: Jeff, my friend, I raise my glass to you and thank you for enriching our lives with your passion for life and for sharing the nectar of the grape known as Lula Cellars.
How did you get into winemaking?
My career in the wine industry started in February 1986 when I left Los Angeles and moved up to Napa Valley. Prior to Napa, I had been a product photographer in Los Angeles, and use to come up to the wine country to get away from the hectic pace in So Cal.
My first job was at Spring Mountain Vineyards, where I worked in the tasting room and gave winery tours. In 1987, I made my first homemade wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) from grapes I picked at Spring Mountain. I continued to make wine at home until 1990 when I started my label called Amici Cellars. In 2009, I sold Amici Cellars but still wanted to stay in the winemaking industry.
You said goodbye to Napa Valley, what happened next?
I had become familiar with the exceptional quality of the Pinot Noir grapes being grown in Anderson Valley. In 2009, I left Napa and became a resident of Mendocino County. From 2002 through 2008 I produced wines from AV under my Napa label. Now in 2009, it was time to do what I wanted to do, specialize in Pinot Noir and to launch my new label, Lula Cellars.
Do you consider your approach to winemaking different from others?
Yes, I do, because I plant the vineyards, grow the grapes and make them into wine. That is not always the case in our industry. By growing my grapes, it allows me full control of crop tonnage per acre, amounts of irrigation and when to harvest the fruit. All three of these functions have profound effects on the finished wine.
How involved are you in the vineyards?
I am dry 100% involved. I spend most of my time out in the vineyards and make all of the decisions throughout the growing season.
Do you have any varietals you prefer to work with?
Actually no, I don’t. I have made Zinfandel the longest, but the wine I produce the most of is Pinot Noir.
They both can be challenging!
Have you been influenced by any particular winemaker or region?
I have been fortunate to know three great winemakers; Dean Sylvester-Whitehall Lane Winery, Ken Deis-Flora Springs, and Jim Klein-Navarro Vineyards.
Napa Valley had the biggest effect on me as it is where I started my winemaking career.
What is your greatest winemaking experience?
It happened in the fall of 1988. I was making wine from a thirty-year-old Zinfandel Vineyard in Saint Helena. The rains came early, and most wineries picked their grapes prior to them reaching maturity that made wines that were thin and austere. I had an excellent vineyard manager, Fernando Delgado. Fernando convinced me to wait until after the rains had passed, which we did. The resulting wine was the best I have ever produced from a vintage that was considered sub-par!
Do you have any secrets?
Yes, the best things in my vineyard are my footprints. What’s in store for your future?
I‘m dry farming my new vineyards, which means the only water they will receive is from the winter rains. By doing so, the grapes reach maturity sooner without having high sugars levels which mean lower alcohol levels. And starting to make wines using the native yeast rather than cultured yeast. Very exciting!