Ashley Hepworth, Winemaker, Joseph Phelps Vineyards

08/05/2010 06:47

Ashley Hepworth, winemaker at the world-renowned Joseph Phelps Vineyards was kind enough to devote some time to answering a few wine questions for our readers.

A bit of background. Her interest in wine began in college in Durango, CO, then continued on in Chicago where she worked under the chef Charlie Trotter. The fine dining experience led her to continue her pursuit in wine and led her to accept a "crush" position at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 1999. After some hands-on cellar experience she was promoted to lab technician and then to Associate Winemaker. In 2008 she was promoted to Winemaker and works alongside Damian Parker and lives in St. Helena.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards is widely known for its Insignia wine. In 2002 Wine Spectator ranked it the #1 wine of the year. Lesser known about the vineyards is the work done to help make Syrah more popular in this country. 


What was the first memory you have of wine?

My sister had a “wine and cheese” party for her graduation from High School circa 1985

What was the first wine that you considered to be good wine?

Joseph Phelps – seriously! I came to the winery for a visit in 1994 and fell in love with the wine!

Do you think it's the taste of a good wine or the experience while drinking the wine that makes it good?  Why?

Both! Certainly a mediocre wine can taste better with friends and great food while tasting it alone it could be a disaster. Then a well made/grown wine to me will always taste good on its own but even better with friends/family and fantastic food

How big is your cellar?

Not sure maybe 180 bottles?

What is your favorite varietal (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)? Why?

Syrah, because it is so interesting and different in each region throughout the world that it is grown.

What is your favorite region for wine (i.e. NapaValley, MargaretRiver, Montelcino)

St. Emilion and Condrieu

What is your favorite vineyard or brand?

Probably Yves Cuilleron

Do you have a favorite bottle? (varietal, region, year)

A vintage champagne

What wine are you saving for a special day?

A bottle of Gaja that Mr. Gaja gave to me in 2004

Where do you buy the majority of your wine?

Trade or purchase when traveling. Acme fine wines in St. Helena

Have you ever had an organic wine?  Did you like it?

Yes, organically grown wine = good, Organically made wine = please add some sulfur for heavens sake

What is the most you've ever spent on a bottle of wine?


What was your favorite wine experience (or one of your top experiences)?

Tasting 2003 Chateau Ausone at Chateau Ausone out of barrel – it is the best wine I have ever had – I love this place/wine

What one wine do you recommend for our readers to try?

Papillion by David Phinny

What is an up-and-coming wine (or winery) you think is a good value right now?