It’s a long way from the roaring crowds, frenetic pace and adrenaline rush of a Sunday afternoon in pro football to the quiet and deliberate routine of a Paso Robles vintner.
Terry Hoage, an All-American at the University of Georgia, who played for 13 seasons as a safety in the NFL and was on the Super Bowl-champion 1991 Washington Redskins, has been growing grapes and making wines with his wife, Jennifer, for 11 years at Terry Hoage Vineyards. Of all the contrasts between those two lifestyles, one stands out.
“I think the transition from football to wine is that I knew on a weekly basis whether I was doing well or not — I knew every Sunday,” Hoage said at the estate’s recently completed reserve tasting room near the main wine bar. “With wine, it’s three years before you find out if the things you did were things you should have done.”
The Hoages have announced they are rebranding the business, founded in 2002, as TH Estate Wines in order to remove barriers to their growth.
Hoage was a leader in Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense for six seasons, and he also played for the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals. At Georgia, he finished fifth in voting for the Heisman trophy in 1983. He retired from football after the 1996 season.
There are similarities between tending the vineyard and football that Hoage likes. “It’s outside just like football,” he said. “It’s hard work. It’s something you can see at the end of the day, when you’ve done physical stuff, what you’ve accomplished.”
He likes that both pursuits are mental as well as physical.
The Hoages have earned a string of 90-point-plus ratings from Wine Advocate and other reviewers for the Rhones they make from their 26-acre vineyard in Paso Robles’ Willow Creek appellation. They learned winemaking from Justin Smith, whose Rhone blends at Saxum Vineyards earned him recognition as Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year in 2013.
Smith advised Hoage that he could make world-class wines off the vineyard. “And I said ‘Well, I can’t, but you could. Would you show me?’” Hoage recalled. “And he said, ‘Sure.’”
For two years, the Hoages watched as Smith made their wines. In 2004, Smith told them it was time to do it on their own.
In the vineyard, Hoage turns to his college studies in organic chemistry and botany that led to a degree in genetics. As for the winemaking, “what I’ve found is that this is really an art more than a science,” he said. “It’s when you start to perceive the flavors that you made and how to put them together.”
The Hoages observed and taught themselves as they built the business. “Really, I would never recommend doing what we did to anyone because it was super chancy and we were just naive,” Jennifer Hoage said.
The estate wine names are double entendres that apply to Terry’s football exploits and winemaking. The Pick, for example — a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre — is football jargon for a pass interception and also refers to the best barrels of the vintage.
Jennifer Hoage said the couple knew from the beginning they would have to rebrand because of the existence of Hogue Cellars, founded in 1982 in Washington state’s Columbia Valley. Though the spelling is different, the Hoages had to enter into a trademark agreement that limited their case production.
The rebranding opens the way to grow and introduce a new label, Decroux, next spring as part of the TH Estate Wines family. It is a project Jennifer has taken on to make more delicate, cool-climate wines from Central Coast vineyards.
The initial offering will be two pinot noirs. One is from the Talley family’s Rosemary’s Vineyard in the Arroyo Grande Valley, the coolest of their sites. The second is from two Sta. Rita Hills vineyards: La Encantada and John Sebastiano. Future Decroux releases will include syrah and grenache.
The brand is named after Etienne Decroux, creator of modern corporeal mime who was Jennifer’s instructor in Paris after she graduated from a performing arts high school in New Orleans. She was in a school mime troupe, but after studying with Decroux, she chose a different path and became head of New Orleans Magazine’s food and wine section. The Decroux label pays homage to nuance of expression.
Hoage expects the new brand to eventually add 1,500 to 2,000 cases to TH Estates’ current production of 2,200. He also wants to introduce a label for national distribution that would not be sourced from estate fruit.
Terry said it was always their intention to get his name off the brand. His NFL story was valuable in getting started, he said, but “more and more, it’s just about the wine.”
• Contact Tom Bronzini at [email protected]