Nurture to Nature
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
By Kimberly Horg | Photos by Carol Oliva
In the late hours of any given evening, Charles Hendricks would expect to receive a visit from his father, who was in need of his assistance. When the Orange County veterinarian got calls in the middle of the night about a pet in need of emergency services, Hendricks served as his teenage vet tech, helping his father nurse his patients back to life.
Hendricks would not follow in his father’s footsteps, but the miracle of healing became instilled in him at a young age. While attending UC Davis to become a veterinarian, he took an elective course in wine making, just for fun. It encompassed the things he enjoyed—nature and the outdoors, with intellectual qualities. From then on, while he knew veterinary science would not be his chosen path, he drew upon his love of nature, applying it to grapes.
“What I liked about medicine was the mechanics of it, seeing an animal work right again, get it out of pain,” he says. Hendricks applied this approach to winemaking, allowing grapes to develop to their best potential in a climate that allows them to flourish. It became a problem solving game about nature, and his job would be to figure it out.
In college, Hendricks liked science but not math, so he talked his counselor into allowing him to combine two majors—viniculture and enology—into one. Cutting out math classes worked to his advantage, because he learned physiology of wine instead and ended up earning his Bachelors of Arts in Viniculture.
A pioneer, Hendricks tried out new methods with his peers in the emerging California wine industry during the early 1980s. The winemakers of that time pushed the limits and tried new ways to make wine. “When I got out of school, we were all conducting experiments,” he said. By using climate and Mother Nature to their advantage, they could select ideal grapes for planting in particular regions of the state. He mixed varietals and tried new ways to make blends, which became wildly popular in the 1990s. Hendricks is proud to be part of that wine movement because his generation made the taste of wine a priority.
When he realized that small wineries could not afford large bottling equipment, Hendricks decided to start a mobile bottling business. Loading the equipment into a van and driving around California to bottle wine for small wineries was more than a unique idea—it gave him the opportunity to survey vineyards throughout the state—60 to 70 a year. “Traveling gave me a good perspective of what was going on in the wine industry,” says Hendricks. It worked to his advantage later in his career, earning him expertise on where to hand-select the best varietal grapes in California—a skill he uses to make his single vintage wines. He hand-selects the finest grapes and combines them with premium French oak barrels to balance the flavors.
Making wines that express the flavors of the area makes Hendricks proud of his craft. And people can taste the difference, the sense of terroir. Because they are 100 percent varietals, each wine reflects the unique character and pure expressions of where they are from. Hendricks’ hands-off style allows for natural development, letting nature guide the wine making; the less tampering, the more each vintage reaches its full potential, without added sugars during fermentation.
After the mobile wine bottling business. Hendricks worked first as an experimental enologist for Robert Mondavi Winery and later as assistant winemaker at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma. He learned all aspects of wine making, from driving a forklift to maintaining a bottling line. At one point, not wanting to say “no” to any job opportunity, he managed wine making for several wineries at a time.
While making Pinot for Barnett Vineyards, his career took a turn when he obtained a large amount of grapes and started making his own wine. In 2001, he started his own winery with a former work associate and opened a tasting room in Yountville. The winery is named after his daughters, Hope and Grace.
Says Hendricks, “It’s been a fascinating journey.”