Stephen Hemmert Wines
When people first try Stephen Hemmert’s wines, they’re usually delighted-and the a little incredulous. “People can’t believe it’s made in the high desert,” he explained.
While Antelope Valley is not known for wine, he’s on a mission to change that one glass at a time in his new Lancaster tasting room.
“When people come in the door, I want this tasting room to match the ‘wow’ of our wint,” he said.
So far it’s hitting the mark, thanks to the vision of his fiancé Nicole St. Julian, who is also his business partner. She runs the tasting room and has a way of making everyone feel like an old friend. He sees her as the secret ingredient to his success. “Behind every mediocre man is a great woman,” he joked. Though in all seriousness, he credits her with the fact that he launched a wine label. “She steered it from being a passion to a legitimate business,” he said.
The passion first took root some 30 years ago. After growing up in Tulsa, he followed his dreams west to Los Angeles where he hoped to become “rich and famous” as a musician. It wasn’t long until he stumbled into Sonoma and had his first proper wine tasting. “That was my a-ha moment. The light bulb went off and I thought: ‘I get this’,” he recalled.
That spark never faded. He spent years educating himself about winemaking and learning through trial and error at home. By 1997, it turns out he’d gotten pretty good at it. He entered his wine into a few competitions and won national and international silver medals. “That’s when I first thought that maybe I could do this professionally,” he added.
Life took him in another direction however. He ended up starting Sonoma Blue Coffee House in Studio City, which quickly became a favorite for locals-including celebrities like Paula Abdul, Tony Danza and Kelsey Grammer.
But when a Starbucks opened directly across the street, he, like many independent owners, could not compete. Though as they say, when one door closes another one opens. Winemaking came back into focus and, as luck would have it, led him to pour his wine at an event where he met Nicole. They soon became an item, and, with her encouragement and support, he decided to finally launch his label.
Today they have a small vineyard in Agua Dulce where they grow 425 Zinfandel head-trained vines-meaning they are grown to be more bush-like, instead of up on a trellis.
“The theory is that you get a smaller harvest that is more concentrated,” he explained. “The fruit tastes different, too. Because the grapes are not fully exposed to the sun, it tastes more like a cherry. It has this nice acidity to it. We also have a lot of pepper trees nearby, so it has a sublte spicy flavor.”
If Zinfandel isn’t your cup of wine, the tasting room offers about a dozen other varieties. But no matter what you sample, Stephen says you can expect the signature hospitality and some good conversation.
“Wine is a social drink, which is a big reason I opened the tasting room here in Lancater,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into making wine, but you have to give people more than that. They need something they connect with, so they can love and enjoy it. I believe that connection can happen in the tasting room. So, we’ve worked hard to create a place people want to be my hope is that now they come and share a special experience here.”