Hoke Harden, Wine Educator & Trainer

Hoke Harden, Wine Educator & Trainer

This interview is an ongoing quarterly column in collaboration with Great Northwest Wine, and “turns the tables” on Pacific Northwest wine industry writers by asking them about their own profession. The Q&As are modeled on the Wine Industry Network Advisor series, which features national and regional writers and journalists. You can also read it on the Great Northwest Wine Website.

Hoke Harden left a career in academia to follow his muse for the past 40 years, traveling the world to see and taste the great wine-producing regions. He’s experienced many facets of the wine and spirits trade as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and educator.

In 1992, he joined what’s now the Brown-Forman Corp., working in sales, national brand marketing and ultimately as director of global wine and spirits education. During his career, Hoke consulted on restaurant beverage lists and private wine collections. He’s appraised wines, conducted auctions, judged at wine competitions across the country, written articles for manuals and magazines; lectured at Harvard and University of California-Berkeley and staged executive training sessions for business schools. He has worked with renowned chefs and culinary institutions.

He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators, a wine and spirits instructor for the Mt. Hood Community College tourism and hospitality program, a master level instructor with the French Wine Academy, a certified educator with the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac and wine educator for the Alliance Française de Portland.

our background is rather international. How did your youth influence your career path?

I grew up in the Deep South as an “Army brat,” then spent my teen years in Germany, where I got into the habit of visiting wineries. Then I found the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was a perfect “small city” with big schools and significant Euro-ethnic groups who tended to be comfortable with wines and spirits.

How did you first get involved in the wine business?

In the throes of an existential crisis, I decided to work in the wine business because it seemed to be an inexhaustible journey of both intellect and the senses. That journey has never stopped. Or even hesitated.

What led you to putting down roots in the Pacific Northwest?

I was a buyer for a Texas beverage chain. As wine director, I was invited to the Tri- Cities Wine Festival (in Washington state’s Columbia Valley) as a judge. I loved it and met a woman there. Two years later, she became my wife. I quit my job, moved to Seattle, first working for K&L Wine Merchants and then with Brown-Forman. The Pacific Northwest remained my home, no matter where I went.

What is your credo when it comes to working in the industry?

Provide sound, dependable and trustworthy information to trade and consumers in an objective way — and leave the decisions to the ones who drink the wines.

What led you to wine education and training?

The dire need for honesty and objectivity, supported by knowledge. At the start of the “wine revolution” in the 1970s, U.S. marketers, suppliers and salespeople controlled the message. They were not the least bit reticent to make up fanciful stories to sell the wines. My credo has always been to learn everything I can and transfer objective knowledge to the consumer.

If you weren’t teaching and presenting wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I am a teacher. Wine happens to be my chosen subject. I know other things and teach other things and want to do that until I keel over.

What wine business experience was most impactful in your career?

I was one of the Society of Wine Educators board members and on the team of advisors instrumental in creating their wine certification program in the mid-1990s. I also created the original SWE spirits certification program in the early 2000s to establish clear standards for the minimal level of wine and spirits knowledge for professionals.

You must have a favorite wine region or two. Where and why?

Tough question. Sonoma because I lived there and it epitomizes “wine country” for me.

The Rhône Valley because that alone would satisfy all my wine-drinking needs. Friuli because it so enchanted me and lingers still in some of my fondest memories. Finally, Roussillon, but only if I could be a rich American who can afford a soaking pool and/or air conditioning to escape the worst of the heat.

Name three wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with — past and/or present?

The late and sorely missed David Lake, Master of Wine and winemaker at Columbia Winery. His knowledge, perception and expertise were all of the first order. (Wine merchant) Harry Waugh, who is also passed. He was a true legend in the industry and one of the most vital men I’ve ever met. And mind you, I first met him when he was in his 80s. Finally, Gerald Asher (the British-born wine merchant-turned-writer).

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

In Rioja Alavesa, José Ignacio Domecq Jr. took me out to their vineyard along the Ebro. We gathered vine trimmings throughout the vineyard, then sat on the rocks by the river and watched José kindle a small fire and sear fine slices of lamb rubbed with local herbs and spices, accompanied by a reserva from that vineyard.

In Germany, small family winemakers are allowed to operate heueregins, which allow them to serve simple local meals with their wines. In Zell, we dined on fresh-caught trout from the Pfalz plateau, grilled en planche, with hand-made spaetzle and simple schmalzbrot accompanied by Mosel wines pulled cool and dripping from a medieval stone trough.

What’s your cure for a wine hangover?

Not a problem for me. I prevent them from happening by drinking water copiously (hydration) and beer at the end of the day. I also take antihistamines.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

Bollinger RD (recently disgorged) Champagne with greasy, crunchy potato chips on a beach in Oregon pretending to watch the sun go down. Sancerre Chavignol with Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese, preferably on the main plaza of Sancerre, but anywhere really.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

The one thing? That the love of wine is passion: the passion to know the place and the people who nurture and create the wines we enjoy. A wine company once used a phrase to describe their philosophy — “From the earth to the table.” That works for me as well.

What’s the most compelling story you have written?

What? Choose a favorite child? The most hits I ever got from an article was this piece on Château de Beaulon. Then there’s the article about one of my favorite winemakers — Alberic Mazoyer of Domaine Alain Voge.

What has inspired you to visit as many wine regions as you have?

I have an unquenchable desire to experience every wine region in the world. And then visit them again, because things change. Fine wine, to me, must show a sense of place. To understand — truly understand — a place, you must go there.

Does the average wine consumer need that? No. But I offer both information and opinions on wines; thus it behooves me to be as relentlessly knowledgeable as I can be.

CARL GIAVANTI is in his 15th vintage of working with West Coast wineries as a public/media relations consultant. His background includes technology sales, digital marketing, project management, and public relations for more than 25 years. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com)

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