Originally from Denver, Ashley Hepworth arrived in Napa Valley via Chicago, where she had worked for two years as a chef.
“I was really fascinated with wine,” Hepworth said. “I wanted to learn more about it.”
In 1999, she applied for a harvest job at Joseph Phelps Vineyards and afterward, “I happily accepted a full-time job in the cellar,” she said.
Today, Hepworth is winemaker at the business.
What do you like so much about wine?
The dynamic. It changes every year. Even if something is bottled this year, in 10 years it will be something different. It’s a living, breathing thing.
What’s a common question or misconception you get about your business or work?
A lot of people say, “You’re so young. You’re a woman.” Well, there are so many young winemakers. There are quite a (number) of women winemakers in the industry. They are out there and highly regarded.
How old are you?
Who is your favorite peer in the industry?
Christophe Baron at Cayuse Winery in Walla Walla. He was one of the first people I met that really concentrated on Rhone varietals. I love his wines. They are beautiful, unique and concentrated. And very true to where they are grown. I like that he’s always experimenting and pushing the envelope.
What’s new at your business?
We have about 40 new acres of vineyards coming on board and the potential is amazing. They are in Stags Leap (district) and also in our south Napa vineyard. We call it our Suscol vineyards. I’m really impressed with what we’ve seen already. It’s an experiment, but this 40 acres has so much potential.
What is your background in science?
I got my B.S. in biology and minor in chemistry at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
What’s your advice to would-be winemakers?
Get as much experience as you can, whether abroad or locally. Start at the bottom. That was the most important thing I did at Phelps. Work in the cellar for at least a year at one place so you can see the entire life cycle of a wine for that vintage. If opportunity arises, take classes when you can.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
We are farmers, so we have the challenge of what Mother Nature deals us and the past three vintages have been tough in that regard.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I grew up making pottery. My mother was an accomplished ceramic artist and she had a wheel. Whenever she wasn’t using our potter’s wheel, I would.
What other business person(s) would you like to see featured in “10 Questions”?
Sara Chappellet, owner of Heaven & Earth in St. Helena.
Vincent Nadalie, owner of Nadalie Cooperage in Calistoga.
Dr. Ann Ernish, owner of her own chiropractic practice in St. Helena.
More from Ashley Hepworth
Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?
Andy Rooney. I love how feisty he was.
Al Pacino. He is my favorite actor. I love “Scarface” and “The Godfather.”
Fernand Point. He was the father of modern French cuisine.
What job would you like to try/not like to try?
Try: I would try to be a pilot.
Not try: I would not like to try being a big rig driver.
What was your first job?
Courtesy clerk at Alfalfa’s Natural Foods Market in Denver, Colo. When I was 16, I was courtesy clerk of the month — I was so excited!
What’s the worst job you ever had?
Honestly, I have always enjoyed what I chose to do.
What’s on your to-do list?
Climb part of Mount Everest, run an ultramarathon, see the Tour de France live, heli-ski in British Columbia and visit Morocco.
Whom do you most admire in the business world?
Yvon Chouinard, owner of Patagonia. He is a great businessman and created a brilliantly run company making well-made, environmentally sound items. His book, “Let My People Go Surfing,” is a sum of his sound business practices.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in your lifetime that you haven’t yet?
To help less fortunate families eat healthier, I want to someday put a veggie box on all of their doorsteps and teach them practical and healthy ways to cook. It is a crime that fast food is cheaper to eat than fruits and vegetables.
If you could change one thing about your business, what would it be?
That planting/redeveloping a vineyard wasn’t so expensive.
What was your childhood ambition?
To be a chef.
If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
In St. Emilion, France, drinking 2003 Chateau Ausone.