“Growing Up Cline”
An Interview with Hilary Cline
By Lisa Gmur, CSW
Cline Cellars was originally founded by Fred and Nancy Cline back in 1982 in Oakley, California after Fred received a small inheritance from his grandfather. Cline continues to farm their historic vineyards in Oakley, where Rhône grape varietal flourish, but in 1991, Cline relocated the winery to a 350-acre historic property in the Carneros District of Sonoma Valley.
Fred and Nancy have retreated from the reigns but today a Cline offspring, Hilary Cline, is helping run things there as well as overseeing another wine project she founded that launched a few years ago called Gust.
Gust is the second-generation offshoot of Cline Family Cellars. The brainchild of Hilary and her sister Megan, the project was launched to tap the potential of California’s most exciting new wine appellation: the Petaluma Gap, recently recognized as superb for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.
We talked with Hilary Cline about everything from Gust, growing up Cline to her new role spearheading the family’s wine operations.
Pictured Left: Hilary Cline and a glass of Gust Chardonnay
Growing up in a really big California wine family must have been really cool. Please fill our coffers.
I was so lucky to be surrounded by a community of people who were passionate about wine and had a strong connection to the land.
I have such good memories of time spent with my six siblings on our Catapult ranch in Petaluma specifically—the land used to be home to Pomo tribes, so we would spend hours searching the vineyards for obsidian chips and paddling around in a little boat in the reservoir there.
My father Fred was very adamant about teaching us the names of all the grape varieties he had planted as well—so would quiz us on those on the way to school.
It definitely took leaving the area for college and after to realize what a special place and situation I grew up in, and it made me all the more grateful to be back here.
I absolutely love that. Both searching for obsidian chips and being quizzed on grape varietals. What a supercool childhood. Do you remember your first taste of wine?
My first memory of liking wine was for sure when my siblings and I discovered our Late Harvest Mourvèdre as kids. I think I was about 10, but it was sweet, and tasted like dessert so I declared it my favorite wine ever.
I think being picked at 35 brix definitely help influence that opinion—happy to say my palate has evolved since then, but still love a good late harvest wine.
I am pretty sure all my kids fell for the late harvest nectar first too! So where did you go after high school? What did you do?
My parents were great about letting each of their children explore their own interests and let us come back to the family business on our own, if and when, we were ready. I was really interested in languages in college and was able to do a Fulbright after school in Russia.
I always wanted to do literary translation, but to be fair wine is probably much more exciting and the product pretty much transcends language, so I likely landed in a better spot!
Wow! So cool. Wine and the wine industry definitely have a language of their own. Did you ever officially study wine?
I didn’t formally study wine but have worked with some super talented people in the industry and have been able to learn so much from them. The best education I had was working outside of my family winery—I worked a harvest in the cellar at Sojourn, and did a year as a viticulture intern with Pernod Ricard in New Zealand and here at their California properties.
Can’t beat hands on training and you could say yours was pretty fabulous. Okay, so we are all so in love with Gust here at The MWG but we are totally wondering where the name comes from?
We very much wanted to come up with a name that spoke to the unique growing conditions in the Petaluma Gap, but also felt true to the fresh approach Megan and I wanted to take with these wines. I think Megan was the one to come up with the name though!
OMG! Love it! Shout out to your sistah!
Both Megan and I had our eyes opened to the potential of the Petaluma Gap outside of our family vineyards—Megan was working as a sommelier, and I was working as a harvest intern at Sojourn. We both came across some beautiful Pinot, Syrah, & Chardonnay hailing from the area—and realized these vineyards were just two or three miles down the road from our family’s.
Finding wines from the area that we were blown away by inspired us to see what we could do with our family’s plantings. Thus began the process of starting Gust, and bringing in each block of these varieties separately and grading the quality of the vineyards and wine produced.
We narrowed it down to our favorite most pure expressions this way, and continue to evaluate our selections every year to ensure consistency of quality.
Anything in the hopper for Gust?
With the vineyards we’ve selected for Gust, we do have room to grow, but want to make sure we’re prioritizing quality over trying to grow too fast—we’re in it for the long haul so only want to work with the absolute best fruit from our vineyards in the Petaluma Gap.
In the meantime, we’re putting the work into farming and maintenance in the vineyards to be able to grow further down the road.
Gust Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap
- 91 Wine Spectator, v2017
Gust Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap
- 95 The Tasting Panel
Gust Syrah, Petaluma Gap
- 90 Wine Enthusiast, v2018
Sounds like a fantastic plan. What do you think the most interesting thing is about Gust?
These wines are made from very special vineyard sites, that have never before been produced as singular bottlings. The vineyards neighbor some of the most prestigious vineyards in the Gap, and we are very much trying to convey through the wines the special climactic conditions of the area.
Your job has recently expanded. What’s your favorite part?
I love being able to work with my family everyday—they are hilarious, creative, and smart and make even the mundane parts of the job fun and worthwhile.
And what’s the most interesting and unique part of your job?
I love traveling to promote the wines. That part of the job has brought me to states and cities that normally wouldn’t be on my radar as a tourist, and its inspiring to see what interesting and exciting things are happening in the culinary world across the country.
So, I am guessing you like to travel?
I love to travel. The most educational and eye-opening experiences in my life have been traveling, and I try to do it whenever I can!
Do you have a favorite getaway spot?
I love heading out to the Sonoma Coast for a quick getaway, and always try and fit in a weekend at the Boonville Hotel whenever I can!
Such a cool spot! Do you have a favorite date activity?
I love going out to Hog Island to get oysters by the dozen, then shuck them at Dillon Beach alongside wine and a fire in their pits. SO fun!
Any pets to keep you company on your beach outings?
Yes! My dog Augie who’s such a good bud and vineyard dog.
Thinking there may be a Hilary wine vessel in the future. Do you have a favorite grape varietal?
Market research is one of the best parts of the job—again impossible to narrow it down too far, but I recently joined the board of the Rhone Rangers and have been really enjoying digging into California Rhones a little more and enjoying that a lot.
How about a favorite cuisine?
Part of what’s so fun about working in food and wine is not having to choose a favorite, and constantly exploring new and different cuisines! I will say we’re really spoiled with excellent Mexican cuisine in California.
That’s for sure. How about a favorite food & wine pairing?
Again, so hard to narrow it down to just one as in our industry we’re always experimenting and discovering new pairings. I do think keeping an open mind about pairing and not sticking to too many hard and fast rules is the way to go.
Without a doubt! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.
So fun! Thank you.