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‘It’s All About Finding a Balance of the Inherent Beauty and Complexity of Wine,’ Says Nicole Hitchcock, Head Winemaker of J Vineyards and Winery, Winemaker of the Year | Wine Enthusiast’s 2022 Wine Star Awards

Nicole Hitchcock/ Photo Courtesy of J Vineyards & Winery

The Sonoma Winemaker brings together passions for food and wine and invites everyone to the table.

With relentless dedication, passion for problem solving and love of teamwork and collaboration, Nicole Hitchcock is the fourth winemaker in J Vineyards and Winery’s 36-year history. “It’s the creative pursuit of constantly refining my winemaking approach to make better wines every year that truly excites me,” she says.

Born and raised on the central coast of California, her passion for wine was ignited while working in restaurants with dynamic culinary and wine programs throughout the state. Hitchcock took the next step in her wine education and embarked on a winemaking career after earning her Bachelor of Science in Viticulture & Enology in 2001 at the University of California, Davis. After working harvests in Napa, Australia and Argentina, she landed at E. & J. Gallo in 2010, ultimately taking the reins as J’s head winemaker in 2015.

Hitchcock and her team now oversee six estate vineyards across Sonoma County, five in the Russian River Valley and a sixth in the West Sonoma Coast—all of which are sustainably farmed.

With more than 20 years of winemaking experience, she thrives on learning, experimentation and evolution. “I like to employ a traditional winemaking approach while embracing modern techniques,” she says.

Working with both still and sparkling, the extensive portfolio at J allows her to think about wine from many perspectives. “It’s all about finding a balance of the inherent beauty and complexity of wine with the artistry and skill you can bring to enhance it,” she says. Hitchcock believes that every vintage is an opportunity to discover new questions about wine.

Hitchcock has long championed diversity and inclusion within the industry. “I think there has been a big shift in the wine industry over these last few decades. There’s much more equality in opportunity and recognition for women,” she says. “When I started out in winemaking, this was still a very male-dominated field. I didn’t work with many women. I was fortunate to find opportunities, mentors and leaders that guided me in finding my voice.”

Although things are moving in the right direction, Hitchcock says there’s still more work to be done. In 2022, combining her passion for gastronomy and wine pairings, Hitchcock helped launch the “Shifting the Lens” program that featured three BIPOC chefs showcasing their unique culinary creations paired with J wines over separate two-week residencies.

“Diversity of experiences and backgrounds and stories makes us as an industry more creative and exciting. I think that it is essential to respect and learn from the traditions of the wine industry, but not to be afraid to push the boundaries and chart new territory. I cannot wait to see what the future will bring.”

You’re Invited: 2022 Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Award Winners will be honored in person at The Westin St. Francis on Union Square, San Francisco, CA

For event inquires or to attend, please contact Abigail Turrisi, Events & PR Coordinator,