The Transparent Christophe Hedges

Jan. 2, 2019

Christophe Hedges has a minor in theatre arts from the University of San Diego. It is a fact that on its own is a trivial but makes all the sense in the world after we spent a morning with him over breakfast.

“Winemaking–farming–is an art form. What we do on our farm and with our wine is very much like the art of theatre,” Hedges explained. “When you watch a play, and then go see it the next night, it is going to be slightly different. There are going to be small changes, new pauses and a different energy than the night before. Wine is no different. Every wine, every bottle, has variation. It doesn’t matter if it comes from the same vintage or not. Wine changes in the barrel, in the bottle and in the glass. It is always changing, and that’s what theatre is.”

Hedges talks about his love affair of wine in an almost romantic way. At the same time, however, there is pain in his expression. It’s as if he is reflecting on a once brilliant relationship that is slowly losing its luster.

One moment, he’s reminiscing about the beauty of bio-dynamic wine as a pure being, alive with heart and soul. A moment later, he laments how some wineries are treating this thing of beauty like a commodity, killing it with sugar, dyes and sulfur.

“When you add so much sulfur to a wine, you’re lobotomizing it. You’re destroying every single living thing that is in that wine,” Hedges said. “At that point it’s not just Franken-wine, but dead Franken-wine.”

Like any rocky relationship, Hedges’ partnership with wine runs hot and cold.

Wine is what bonds his family together. His parents–Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges–started Hedges Cellars on Red Mountain in Washington’s Yakima Valley in 1987. Neither Hedges nor his sister, Sara Hedges Goedhart, joined the family business immediately. Eventually, both returned to their roots. Hedges Goedhart is now the head winemaker, while her brother oversees the estate’s sales and marketing as its general manager.

Hedges gushes about how wine is the purest expression of terroir. A bottled moment of time and place that can only happen when the wine is left unaltered by human hands.

There are also some things about the wine industry that Hedges wants to change, in particular, wine scores which these days largely measure industry excellence.

In 2010, Hedges led a very public campaign against wine scores and the critics who write them.

“It wasn’t a war that we could win, but it was a battle we had to fight,” Hedges said.

According to Hedges, wine scores can be misleading to consumers and do little but objectify a wine.

“How can you score a snap shot of a point in time?” questioned Hedges. “Wines change and evolve. That wine might have scored a 90 right now in a glass, but what about two months from now? Or what about 30 minutes later after it has had some time to breathe? It is impossible to attach a score to something that is still living.”

Hedges also sees wine scores having an adverse effect on the diversity of wines available to consumers.

“Everybody is trying to achieve a top score and it is getting to the point where there is now this idealized wine that everyone is trying to make, knowing that if it checks certain boxes, it will receive a high score,” Hedges said.

Another issue Hedges has with the industry is he doesn’t believe wines should be crafted and certainly not by a winemaker.

“I hate the term winemaker. Wine will make itself,” Hedges said. “In France, they call the person who works in the cellar, Chef de Caves. It is a no-glory title because wine should be the focus, not the person.”

At the Hedges estate, Hedges Goedhart holds the title of Head Fermentation Artist.

“It means she doesn’t do a whole lot except making sure that the wine is in the barrels, that things are clean, and she helps the yeast along. That’s Chef de Caves,” Hedges said.

One of Hedges’ main purposes now is being a champion of bio-dynamic agriculture, predicting that before too long, consumers will be shopping for bio-dynamic products the same way they searched out organic options a decade ago.

 “Organic is just a set of standards,” Hedges said. “Bio-dynamic is the hyper-intensive version of those organic standards, mixed with time and place and terroir. It is the poetic version of organic form.”

Hedges knows that his battle against carbon copy wines, misleading marketing and questionable quality isn’t going to be won overnight, but like before, this too is a fight he feels is worth fighting for.

“We have to bring transparency to this industry,” Hedges said. “We have to say the elephant in the room stuff and we have to keep at it.”

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