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THE BUZZ: After two seasons studying with Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard's Jeff Emery and a stint at a Berkeley brewery, Denis Hoey's winemaking career is taking off.

The Apprentice Makes His Mark/h2>

Hand-crafted wines from Denis Hoey's Odonata label are attracting attention

By Christina Waters

ONCE YOU RECOVER from the beauty of the label, you find yourself intrigued by the name. Odonata, the biological order containing dragonflies and damselflies, now contains one more complex creation: wine. Admitting that the name came to him during a romantic afternoon in the vineyards with his wife, winemaker Denis Hoey reminded me that dragonflies are a constant feature of the California winemaking landscape.

"Dragonflies and damselflies are everywhere in the winery, in the vineyards," he grins, flashing inch-deep dimples. So the elegant name stuck. A UCSC graduate in business administration, Hoey was put in touch with Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard winemaker Jeff Emery in 2004. "And two weeks later I met my wife," he recalls of a life-altering month.

In classic mentor/apprentice style, Emery took Hoey under his wing. Originally intending to become a firefighter, Hoey pivoted quickly into winemaking and has never looked back. After two harvests with Emery, Hoey followed his graduate student wife up to Berkeley for a season, working for Bison Organic Brewery, where he "learned about clean fermenting practices"—technique he now applies to his scrupulous winemaking operation.

"I started small with my first crush in 2005—1 ton of grapes, which turned into 65 cases of wine," he recalls. Now, by his own admission, he's "caught the disease." Odonata production currently stands at 1,500 cases, with three vintages on the market.

Local vineyards—"mostly organic or biodynamic," he contends—form his exclusive sources. This year he'll be making a chardonnay from Meyley Vineyard grapes and a grenache from Gilroy grapes. In addition to his flagship 2008 grenache, a 2007 durif and a 2008 chardonnay, Hoey will release his first pinot noir this week. "Six whole cases!" he exults.

Hoey confesses that he likes to work with small lots of grapes. "I can source small vineyards and buy up their whole harvest," he explains. "Then I get to play with the wine, do it all myself. I want to see what I can do with small batches." So far his efforts—notably the supple, full-throated grenache—have attracted expert attention. The 2008 Grenache just took a Gold Medal at the Orange County Fair. I can see why this wine shows well; I'm smitten by its initial perfume of white pepper, berries and something earthy that finishes up with tobacco. "That's from the 5 percent syrah," he says. "That gives foundation to the fruit."

As he works to ramp up to larger production, Hoey plans to keep his focus on Rhones. "I'm really in love with the Uvas Creek area around Gilroy," he says. "And I'm really excited with the syrah grapes I'm getting from Zayante Vineyard."

Look for a long-lived new pinot noir from Hoey—that is, if you can score one of the few bottles he made in 2008. "I'd really like to make a grenache blanc," he muses. Here's hoping he does. But for now, the handmade micro-lots of Odonata are giving Denis Hoey a growing reputation in a rarified field.

THE ODONATA TASTING ROOM is shared with Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard at 334A Ingalls St., Santa Cruz. It's open to the public the first Saturday of each month, noon–5pm. 831.566.5147 or

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