A New Spirit in Napa

The wine world is changing. A new generation of winemakers is breaking rules — lots of them. (Check out this amazing story in the NY Times.) They’re also trying something that’s not done enough in competitive places like Napa: helping each other out and talking best practices.

Kendall Hoxsey, fifth-generation steward of her family’s 1,000-plus vineyard acres planted across the Napa Valley, is an example of wine’s new vanguard. She’s the business manager of Yount Mill Vineyards, part of Napa Wine Company, which is the ninth bonded winery in Napa, tracing its roots back to the early 1900s.

Kendall, 29, is part of a group called “NG,” or the next generation of wine. She and about 20 colleagues get together regularly to talk about new ideas, what others are doing, etc. It’s a small but growing movement, reflecting similar shifts toward collaboration in other wine-growing regions.

In Paso Robles, cult giants like Saxum’s  Justin Smith are lending their expertise as consultants. The recent subdivision of the Central Coast’s biggest wine region into 11 new AVAs was achieved without much arguing or controversy — quite a feat, especially if you know how rancorous and political it can be to draw borders around wine-growing regions.

Even in France, iconoclasts such as the late, great Didier Dageuneau revolutionized many aspects of a tradition-bound wine scene, from marketing to viticulture. There’s a growing sense worldwide that a new breed of wine lover wants fresh approaches and fewer rules.

For her own business, Kendall is borrowing a page from Silicon Valley and making a wine version of a classic start-up incubator. Her background is in history, and she infuses that approach into the making of the wine. Kendall attended Sonoma State University’s MBA program in Wine Business. Only two other universities offer this degree, one in France and the other in Australia.

Could the Hoxsey sisters and other under-40 wine industry leaders in Napa change the climate in America’s most prestigious wine-growing region, a place that has so much invested in certain traditions and customs of doing business? We certainly think so.