Chuck Hovey is one of the most prominent faces of the winemaking industry in the Sierra foothills.
Until recent years, that has been as a Calaveras County icon. Hovey spent more than 24 years making wines for the Stevenot label that arguably started it all in Calaveras, particularly Murphys.
Now Hovey, who left and became the winemaker in 2007 for Gianelli Vineyards in Jamestown, hopes to see a viticultural boom on the south side of the Stanislaus River. He spent most of the day Tuesday bottling Gianelli Aglianico and Barbera as well as his own label’s Tempranillo and Petite Sirah at the Algerine Road estate.
“There hasn’t been much focus on Tuolumne County,” Hovey said. “Jamestown is like Murphys in the early ‘80s. A lot of new people came in and there’s a lot of wineries now. It’s really changed. It’s exciting to see something like that happening here now.”
Gianelli stands alone as a tasting room on Jamestown’s Main Street now, but Brice Station Winery, whose estate is east of Murphys, will join them there this summer, Hovey said.
“Each new tasting room just brings more people,” he said. “Jamestown is a perfect setting ... it has a beautiful Main Street that’s right off of a major highway.”
Hovey knows a thing or two about making wines successful in the Mother Lode. The fruits of his labors include more than 500 medals and a reputation for making excellent wines from unlikely vines.
“There’s two things I like to hang my hat on,” he said.
The first is the lasting quality of the Chardonnay at Stevenot, repudiating the misheld notion that the foothills cannot produce a superior form of the French varietal, Hovey said. The second is leading Stevenot to become one of the first California wineries to grow Tempranillo grapes, a Spanish fixture previously unknown to the Golden State, that now flourish throughout Calaveras County.
Hovey returned to Stevenot following a four-year hiatus, coaxed back by Jon and David Oliveto, who purchased the label in February 2010 with one condition.
“He was one of the reasons we (bought) Stevenot,” David Oliveto said. “We thought bringing him back would make us a success as a winery. He has been making great wines for a very long time.”
The new regime at Stevenot still grows most of its grapes in Calaveras County, including a plot founder Barden Stevenot first planted, but produces its wines in Jamestown, Hovey said.
“You don’t have a guy like Chuck, you don’t have anybody,” said Ron Gianelli, who owns his namesake label. “When his signature goes on a bottle, he wants it to be very good.”
Hovey started in the wine industry a little more than six years before Barden Stevenot welcomed him to the place he fell in love with.
In 1976, the De Anza College biology major “turned 21 and went up to Napa Valley with some friends. It was just like a light went off,” he recalled. “I could make a living making wine. I dropped everything (including college) and picked up the phone and started calling wineries.”
He landed a job at J Lohr Winery in San Jose and earned the position of cellar master within two years. He went from assistant winemaker to the head honcho at Stevenot in 1988 after five years there.
Hovey worked with numerous Calaveras County winemakers at Stevenot, who later branched out to build the region’s prestige, including Ironstone Vineyards’ Steve Millier, Twisted Oak and Newsome-Harlow’s Scott Klann and Black Sheep founder David Olson.
“Stevenot was an interesting place in its heyday,” Hovey said, with a chuckle.