I had the recent pleasure of getting to know winemaker, educator and researcher, Hillary Sjolund. We basked in the sun over lunch at Emmer & Rye and I got the whole scoop on her story and Sonoris Wines.
The word sonorous is defined as something “giving out or capable of giving out a sound, especially a deep, resonant sound, as a thing or place”. Play on the spelling, and there ya’ have it. This seems to be a perfect pairing with the bold style of wine Hillary seeks to make. In creating a Sonoris style, she looks to the type of wine that she likes to drink and what exactly is that? “When I drink wine, I want a mouth full of wine, that’s just me.” She is after wines with concentration, age-ability & a complete, round mouth-feel. The name has even more meaning, however. The word makes Hillary think of the voices of those who have inspired her in her life and brought her to be the winemaker that she is today. She expresses her appreciation for the important people in her life through her winemaking, hence the name of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Burney’s Blend,” named for her grandfather (whose photo is on the label, too).
Before I talk about what we can expect from Sonoris Wines, I want to tell you about how Hillary ended up a winemaker. Always a bright and promising student, Hillary travelled from her home in Northern California to Texas to attend summer internships at Baylor U Medical school while still a high school gal. Before graduating she had been admitted to several well regarded medical schools including UC Davis. Oblivious to the fact and history that UCD has with wine, it came down to the wire and Hillary said, “Uh, I’ll go there!” While selecting the courses for her first quarter she needed to fulfill an agricultural requirement and after inspecting her options, the intro to winemaking stuck out to her. So it began. Except for that whole approval and support of the parents thing... kinda crucial when you’re attending a school such as UCD. Hillary gave it all she got and started a cellar hand position at Pine Ridge Winery in Napa. Upon starting work there, she was taken on a tour of the expansive barrel caves. Just imagine: an underground, 7/10 of a mile long cavernous, still & quiet interior in the side of a mountain that is filled with oak, old and young, and ageing wine. She walked through and I quote, “I just breathed” and then there was no turning back. She worked hard in both school and work and won her parents’ support. After graduating Hil worked at Pine Ridge, then here in WA at DiStefano Winery and has now struck out on her own.
To be released this spring, we can look forward to a bold and rich Petit Verdot from Blue Mountain Vineyard that is softened by a splash of Merlot from Red Mountain Vineyard, a Cabernet based blend, a Merlot based blend and a Sauvignon Blanc.
In addition to crafting wine she spends time teaching an online winemaking program run through Missouri State University as well as teaching enology and winemaking theory for Lake Washington Tech. She also spends time (does she have more hours in her days than the rest of us??) in her laboratory at Charlie Hoppes' Fidelitas facilities performing research and analysis of grapes, must and beyond.
Meet Hillary just once and it’s apparent that this is a woman who knows what she’s doing, loves it but refreshingly, does not take it too seriously. From someone who could’ve gone on to become a thoracic surgeon but opted for the wine biz, “We’re not curing cancer or saving babies here people, we’re making wine.” We’ll let you know as soon as you can get your hands on some Sonoris wine.