Turning a blind eye to the art of winemaking | AspenTimes.com

Turning a blind eye to the art of winemaking

Naomi Havlen

Pay attention to how David Hunt pours a glass of wine this weekend.His left hand will weigh your glass so he doesn’t overfill it; his right hand will be just at the mouth of the bottle, making sure he doesn’t miss the glass altogether.Hunt sees dark shadows and bright light, but has otherwise lost his sight due to a gradual deterioration of his retina. He hasn’t driven a car since 1982, played tennis since 1988 or read since 1989. All the while, though, his passion for wine has grown.Before you taste Hunt Cellars’ wine at the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, Hunt will tell you about the delicate nuances your nose is detecting in the bouquet, and then about the layers of flavors that are about to trip across your tongue before ending in a smooth, soft finish.It is an experience Hunt has perfected, gallon by gallon, at his Paso Robles, Calif., winery. Many winemakers blend their wine by the barrel – Hunt blends wine by the gallon, as he prides himself on a palate that notices the tiniest variations in flavor.Winemaking is a venture that Hunt and his wife of 27 years, Debbie, delved into in the late ’90s. His first passion was music – he wanted to become a professional songwriter, and still writes music occasionally and plays the piano frequently. The next phase of Hunt’s life was moving from North Carolina to California, where he made his fortune helping to popularize voice mail and home security systems in the 1980s.From there he began building offices, luxury homes and tract housing in Southern California. As his eyesight continued to deteriorate, winemaking became Hunt’s “retirement” venture.After taking oenology courses at UC Davis, Hunt jumped right in. Several of his 1997 vintages were lauded nationally and internationally, and the awards and recognition kept on coming. After 25 years of drinking, Hunt said half-jokingly, he had developed his palate to recognize wines by the vineyard or the year.”I think I have the ability to focus, and focus on exactly what I want to focus on,” he said. “I probably do have a more sensitive palate [than those with sight]. A lot of wineries make wine with science … I balance to taste. The color of a wine means nothing to me. I ask Debbie what color it is, and she says ‘red.'” Hunt Cellars has been an exhibitor at Food & Wine for the last three years, and Debbie and David are no strangers to Colorado. Until two years ago, David would ski regularly, including trips to Aspen to ski with guides from Blind Outdoor Leisure Development, now part of Challenge Aspen.”I would wear this neon orange vest that says ‘blind skier’ on it in big, bold letters. But somehow everyone on the mountain would still crash into me,” Hunt said with a laugh. “It worked like a magnet.”The Hunts also own a 57-acre ranch in Steamboat Springs that they bought in 1997, after many years of trying to find the perfect riverfront property in the mountains. Their original idea was to operate a high-end dude ranch in the West, Hunt said; he and Debbie once had the Elk Mountain Lodge in the Castle Creek Valley in escrow before it was bought with cash from under their noses by an Aspen local.Hunt is the sort of guy who likes a challenge – an obvious assertion, given that he’s chosen winemaking as a relaxing retirement activity.”You get this picture in your head of the house in the vineyards, maybe with a rocking chair, and watching the grapes grow,” Debbie said. Rather, Debbie and David’s journey has been filled with twists and turns. Fortunately, the couple is in it for an adventure.”Each year, Mother Nature deals you a new set of cards and you have to play the deck,” David said. “What was always mystical about the wine business was seeing elite, super-educated people talking about a wine for hours at a time. It got my attention to get into the industry, and it’s an ever-changing challenge.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com

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