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I love people who are proud of their roots. It's not the reason I chose Still Waters Vineyards as our featured winery this quarter, but the fact owners Pat and Paul Hoover are proud of theirs makes me even more proud to have them in the Ruby Shoes Wine Club. They fit, perfectly, with everything I had in mind when I started Ruby Shoes Wine Club.
You mid-westerners may not know this, but Bakersfield isn't exactly known as the epitome of California beauty. In fact, when people who live on the coast of California say they are from Bakersfield, they often have to put up with some ribbing. (Can you relate Iowans and Minnesotans? How many of you have dealt with ignoramuses who think Iowa is all hog farms and corn fields and Minnesota is frozen 365 days a year?) Well, Patty and Paul are from Bakersfield and proud of it. And Paul may be even more deserving of kudos for that pride than Patty.
There are more than a dozen zip codes for people who live in and around Bakersfield, and he is from the one that takes the most flack. "I'm proud to be an '08-er damn it!" says Paul. He is actually from a section of Bakersfield known as "Oildale" with a zip code of 93308. The town consists largely of what the name implies, oil fields. But it, and the rest of Bakersfield, is a huge center of agriculture as well and it's likely the beginning of the story of how Paul Hoover became the winemaker extraordinaire that he did.
Paul met Patty ("A girl from the fancy side of town...." Paul teases.) when she was 15, and he was 16. They've been a team ever since. Paul's grandfather was a rodeo cowboy and drove mule teams in the oil fields. His nickname was "Hooks Hoover" because he knew how to "give 'em the hooks" when riding the livestock or trying to keep them moving in one direction out in the fields. Paul's dad was in the oil biz too, and Paul spent his high school years and some summers in college working on a drilling rig too. But his dad encouraged him to try another kind of field when he turned 18, and whatever it was, should include college. So Paul and Patty headed off after respective graduations to Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo (which I'm proud to say is my alma mater.)
Paul studied agriculture and had every intention of going into the business with one of the biggest ag companies in the state, probably the country. Paul interned with Boswell farming in college. (If you haven't read The King of Cotton, you should. It's a great read.) Then, as is often the case, a twist of fate came into play and eventually led to Paul being able to blend his ag degree and roots with what would become a passion about wine.
Paul took a job bartending to allow he and Patty to marry and live together in college. (Yeah, people actually did that back then, got married first.) That led to a job at the San Luis Bay Inn, a gorgeous resort above Avila Beach. Larry Shupnick owned it then and took note of Paul and his work ethic and within a few years, a 20-something Paul was managing not only the Inn, but a string of properties owned by Shupnick and partners. But Paul was a beer drinker, and knew very little about wine. So instead of a raise during one review, Shupnick gave Paul a "wine allowance" and encouraged Paul to study up. So he and Patty did, spending it on the most expensive wines in a cellar that was named by Wine Spectator as one of the 100 best in the United States.
It wasn't long until Paul, as an Aggie at heart, saw the connection between good grapes and good wine. He started making some at home. He is a family man first and turned down jobs all over to stay in San Luis Obispo County and be part of his children's lives. That meant 4-H, county and state fairs, and all that came with it. And as a 4-H adviser in that process, he started entering his wines at the fairs for fun. It wasn't long until people started to take note and it was clear Paul had something going.
His then 7th-grade daughter, Stephanie, came up with the name "Still Waters" because they were lake-lovers, and as a family they were always looking for still waters to fish and ski and relax on during family downtime. You will still see an old family photo of Paul and Patty's son Ben fishing off a rock on some of the Still Waters wines. Patty runs the business end of things and helps throw the weddings, parties and events at their amazingly beautiful winery. "The ability to be partners, in life and in our business is a huge reason for any success we've seen." says Paul.
There's a lot that came between Paul's early awards and the 75 acre vineyard he now owns (He bought the hilltop piece from Dr. Donald Young of Iowa years ago.) and where he produces award-winning grapes and wines for outside Paso Robles. I highly encourage you to ask him to fill in the blanks when you get out there. But today he is one of the most respected vintners in the state and as true to his roots as ever.
Paul is a farmer first. "It all starts with the grapes." he says. "You just can't make good wine with bad grapes." He doesn't have sights set on being one of the big guys in the wine industry. He likes to be involved in every part of the process of winemaking and that's tough to do if you go big. He produces about 3000 cases of wine himself, and sells grapes to labels you likely know of for their high-end wines. He has a waiting list of people wanting his grapes but he still saves about 25 tons of fruit for home winemakers like himself in the hopes of helping someone else who appreciates the relationship between the land and the end result. The Dusi family of Paso Robles did just that to help him get started.
Everything Paul produces is estate wine. He doesn't have a distributor nor does he ever want one. So the only place you can get Still Waters wines is through Still Waters, friends of Paul's, and through Ruby Shoes. We are proud to have him as part of the Ruby Shoes Family and to call the Hoovers our friends. You should be too.