Kathryn Hall (High Res).tif

Kathryn Walt Hall

Providing Product Value

Editors’ Note

Kathryn Walt Hall and her family have been grape growers in Mendocino County since 1972. In addition to managing the family vineyard from 1982 to 1992, Hall has held numerous other positions. She began her public career as Assistant City Attorney in Berkeley, California. She was President of an inner-city development company and Partner of Hall Financial Group, Inc. She cofounded the North Texas Food Bank, served on the U.S. House of Representatives Hunger Advisory Committee, and was the Director/Vice President of the Texas Mental Health Association. She has served on the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and as a Trustee of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. From 1997 to July 2001, Hall served as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria. She earned an A.B. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, a J.D. from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, and an M.B.A. in February 2008 from the University of California, Berkeley – Columbia Business School.

Company Brief

HALL Wines (www.hallwines.com) employs organic small-vine viticulture, precision winemaking, wild yeast fermentation, and microblock blending. The vineyard encompasses more than 500 acres of classic Bordeaux varietals. HALL produces 17 handcrafted wines including its signature HALL Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon.

What kind of wine do you offer?

Most of the wines we make are cabernets, and all of the wines we make are Bordeaux varietals, which are varietals typically grown in the Bordeaux region of France. The wines we make are the wines I love to drink. All of our wines have a style that is very lush, rich, and fruit forward with layered subtleties. And all wines are organic and done with a variety of lovely natural production techniques.

How do you balance quality with affordability in your offerings?

We made a commitment early on to provide value. We’ve all had a bottle of wine and felt we paid too much for it, which ruins the experience. So we want our wines to have value. Our prices range from $20 a bottle for our sauvignon blanc to $150 a bottle for our Exzellenz.

Have you created a vineyard experience at your winery?

We’re still fairly new, so when folks come to visit, we take them out and let them see the vineyards and get a feel for what we do. It gives us a chance to talk about our organic farming methods, which people really appreciate. We’re caretakers of these fabulous properties that we’re lucky enough to own. So we want it to be good now, but there’s also a responsibility to make it good for generations to come, and that means watching how we farm. It makes better wine, but it’s also the right thing to do.

How has the role of technology evolved in wine production?

At the end of the day, it’s all about how that grape tastes. This is an intangible that a machine, thankfully, cannot do. That’s why this business will always be an art. There are instruments that help us be more precise in grading and analyzing, but at the end of the day, it’s still the art of winemaking. We are much more advanced than we were in my dad’s day, and we’re making better wines, partly because we can more precisely analyze and more precisely farm the vine. But we also realize that with machine harvesting and all these manipulations, we miss some of the texture that a grape brings to the wine. You have to nourish it, respect its individuality, and not lump it in with a bunch of other wines.


A 2005 cabernet sauvignon from Kathryn Hall

Can you tell early on in the process when a wine is going to work?

There comes part of the art. It’s a process. That’s why we test the wine from the time we put it in the tank through the fermentation process – from start to finish. And there comes the benefit of analytics. We can watch how a wine is progressing, and we have the ability to control temperature, slow down fermentation, speed up fermentation, and do those kinds of techniques, but the art is in what drives the decisions of what to do when.

Are there opportunities to broaden your offerings, or will cabernet remain the core of the brand?

Cabernet will remain the core of the brand. It’s my favorite wine, and it’s what Napa Valley does best. Our goal is to keep our focus and keep on getting better.

Is being environmentally conscious a critical part of the business?

Responsibility to the community and to the environment is an important part of who we are as a company and personally. For example, I don’t want our employees to be around unhealthy chemicals when they work, so there is responsibility there. There is also responsibility to the community. We’re involved in local organizations that help the community, and we encourage our employees to do the same. We have a program encouraging employees to take up to 40 hours of paid leave a year to work on charitable endeavors of their choice.

Was this desire to give back instilled in you very early on?

I am so blessed. It’s spectacular here, and what goes around, comes around. If you take care of the environment you’re in, it comes back to you in a positive way.

Did you know at an early age this was going to be your career?

I always knew it. There is something so special about walking in the dirt. Just getting out in the vineyards and being there – they have such peace. I love it. I practiced law for many years to be able to afford to do this, but I always knew I’d be back.

Are you heavily involved in every aspect of the business?

I’m the proprietor, not the president or COO, so I delegate, but I’m involved. It has been a long time since I drew a line between my personal life and my business life – they’re sort of one in the same. The line is very blurry for me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way because this is my life.

If I were talking to people who have worked closely with you, and I asked what it was like to work for Kathryn Hall, what would they say?

I have a report card from first grade that says, “Kathy is a very smart girl, but she spreads herself too thin.” There are a lot of things I love to do, and I bounce around a lot. That would come up, but I also hope people would say that I listen, I give feedback, I’m fair, and I care about them personally and professionally.

Do you have a glass of wine every day, and do you need to alternate to keep them all happy?

I do. And sometimes I’ll have more than one, which keeps them really happy.