A Story in a bottle...
The history behind Hidden Oak Winery is a unique one, fashioned through a love of the land and built on family, hard work and tradition. For example the name “Hidden Oak Winery” was born from the land. Before grapes, there were Almond trees on the property. When clearing the Almonds a small Oak Tree stood hidden. It was encouraged to grow and prosper among the grape and today it stands over 50 ft. tall.
Owners, Mike and Martha James may be relatively new to winemaking but the industry has quickly taken notice of their label. This has led to many awards and reviews truly uncommon for such an unlikely upstart.
Work and reward...
“It’s been a lot of work,” says Martha. “It wasn’t always a bed of roses.”
The James’ labored in the vineyard and proudly produced their first harvest in 1997! “We learned that it goes beyond picking the grapes at peak of ripeness.” Mike explains. Together Mike and Martha ensure that the pH and acid levels remain consistent but also the grapes must be tasted to find that elusive flavor that tell them that the grapes are ready for harvest. Yes they go around the vineyard munching away.
Next came the tentative steps into winemaking and their inaugural release, though it was merely intended for the enjoyment of friends and family. Soon they were being encouraged by many who had tried their wines to make them available commercially. They started with Merlot and quickly expanded to Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Zinfandel and blends from the different varietals grown on the property.
The Hidden Oak way...
The philosophy of winemaking at Hidden Oak is a bit different. Mike specifically aims for the wines to be “ready to drink as soon as the cork is popped. To achieve that, the wine must barrel age until ready. This could take 3, 4 or even 5 years before it is deemed ready for bottling.
This method allows the wine to be much smoother and drinkable.
Winemaker Mike spent his first career working with computers, specifically maintaining mainframes. Among his many clients were NASA and California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In retirement, Mike and his wife Martha planted 22 acres of grapes in 1996 on the recently purchased 80 acres. An early indication that their crop might contain something special came from Ken Volk of Wild Horse Winery. He told them what they were beginning to suspect themselves- that their prime soil is the type wineries often covet.
A short while later, one of the James’ neighbors expressed a similar view, that their land might just be ideal for winemaking. That man turned out to be Nat Sherrill who founded Sherrill Cellars in Woodside back in 1973. A retired winemaker himself, Sherrill loaned his enthusiasm and know how to guide the James through those early stages.
Through classes, seminars and working with other winemakers they quickly learned how to make the best wine possible. Mike and Martha know the quality of the land is behind everything that they do. Farmers first, winemaker later. “Without the great soil that we have, I could not make great wines”, Mike says. There is an old saying in winemaking, that you can make great wine from great grapes but you cannot make good wine with bad grapes. Bottom line, it’s all in the vineyard!
“I make wine to suit my palate” says Mike “if I don’t like it, I assume that other people won’t either. I’m very critical. If I don’t like it I won’t release it.”
A Family Operation...
Hidden Oak remains very much a family operation with Mike and Martha overseeing every aspect of cultivation and production. Their daughters, Linda, Elizabeth and Diane have played a major role, including designing the label, crushing, bottling and participating in wine club events and helping to build a solid brand.