Calaveras County recently lost a giant in the local winemaking industry.
Local winemaking pioneer Chuck Hovey, of Hovey Winery, passed away on July 30, at age 64.
In an Aug. 8 press release honoring Hovey’s life and work, the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance included statements from those who knew and worked with him.
“Chuck was definitely one of a kind, not only in his winemaking expertise, but his dedication to family and friends,” Calaveras Winegrape Alliance board member Gay Callen said. “Over the years, I came to appreciate and honor the friendship and passion he had for life and his ability to craft award-winning wines.”
It was that passion for winemaking and his friendly nature that unified those in the local industry.
“He brought so many of us together in our Calaveras community and was always encouraging better winemaking with all of the new varietals that he was able to introduce to our area,” Callen went on to say. “He was a very talented man, with many interests, and always had a great story to tell. He will be remembered as one of the best who participated in the pioneering of our winemaking industry.”
While Hovey dedicated his career to winemaking, he was a man of many interests.
“His second passion was music, that’s for sure. He was an amazing drummer … He had a small cottage in the backyard that we just used for the drumset and a loft that he built for me when I was a kid,” Hovey’s son, Kyle Hovey, said. “That was his meditation. After work he’d go down and just blast music, and play the drums.”
Hovey also loved to spend time water skiing, cycling and cooking.
“We got outdoors a lot growing up. Mostly getting outdoors for him meant either going on long road bike rides or going water skiing,” Kyle Hovey said.
Through a lifetime of work at local wineries, Hovey played a huge role in shaping the county’s thriving modern winemaking industry, according to the Hovey Winery website.
Hovey’s work in the wine industry began in 1977 at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines in San Jose, where he spent six years as a cellar master.
In 1983, Hovey took a position at Stevenot Winery as assistant winemaker after falling in love with the Sierra foothills during a brief trip through the area. After working at Stevenot for five years, Hovey was promoted to director of winemaking. Over the following years, the winery gained national recognition, winning over 500 medals at major wine competitions and receiving many favorable reviews in major publications and newspapers.
Hovey introduced a number of innovative varietals to the region, including Tempranillo, Albarino and Verdelho.
“He was instrumental in getting Calaveras Wine Country on the map … Everybody else saw what Chuck was doing, and then the industry exploded about 15 years ago,” said Tom Bender, a local wine expert, in the press release.
During his time at Stevenot, Hovey also mentored several influential Calaveras County winemakers, including Scott Klann and Kate Boyle MacDonald.
“Aside from being one of the most kind and compassionate people I have ever known, Chuck really understood that mentoring young winemakers was essential in order to expand and improve our local wine industry,” Klann said.
When Stevenot was sold by its founder, the late Barden Stevenot, Hovey left to work as a winemaker and consultant for several wineries, including Gianelli, Inner Sanctum and Hurst Ranch in Tuolumne County.
In 2007, Hovey introduced his own label, producing his first vintage in 2008 – a 2007 Chardonnay. This was followed by many more vintages over the years.
In 2012, Hovey opened a tasting room in the former home of Albert Michelson on Main Street in Murphys, fulfilling a life-long dream of producing high-quality wines in the Sierra foothills under his own label.
Sadly, in the summer of 2015, Hovey suffered a massive stroke while camping at Lake Pillsbury in Mendocino National Forest. He never fully recovered. With Hovey unable to continue to operate the winery, a group of friends stepped in to carry on his work.
“Team Hovey” purchased an interest in the winery, and took an active role in business operations, production and marketing. The group is committed to honoring Hovey’s legacy by continuing to produce high-quality wines in his signature style.
Kyle Hovey has many fond memories of growing up around the wine industry in Murphys.
“I think my fondest memories are of when (my father) was working at Stevenot, and as a kid I’d go hang out there all the time, not only to learn about the winemaking process and all of the really cool chemistry involved … but I would also explore all of the hills, and all of the roads around there, and he would go explore with me as well, so I have lots of good memories of exploring that area, the old Stevenot Winery,” he said.
Kyle Hovey sees similarities between his father’s love of music and his love of winemaking.
“His natural skills for the drums and his natural skills for winemaking were both very similar,” Kyle Hovey said. “He never really had any formal training in music … but he was just an amazing drummer. The same with winemaking as well; he never had any formal training in it, but here he is, getting international awards for his wine, and being sent all over the world for wine tasting. Whatever he chose to do, he really excelled at.”
Kyle Hovey said that his father’s accomplishments had much to do with his positive attitude.
“The reason my dad got to be so successful, and why he was so influential, was because he exuded positivity, even when things were dark … It’s really what made him who he was,” he said. “He would want everyone looking at the positive side of things here. He was really happy for the great community that we have in the whole Calaveras-Tuolumne area. We’re all blessed to be a part of this, and we can thank him for a lot that he contributed to this whole community.”
This fall, members of the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance and industry professionals throughout the Sierra Foothills Region plan to gather to honor Hovey in a celebration of life event.