Saturday, October 4, 2008

From the '46' to 26 acres of paradise

Among the images are Terry's wife Jennifer, a couple of views from the winery, and Terry and Jennifer strolling through their vineyard.
Been delaying the post of this story on former Eagle-turned-wine-entrepreneur Terry Hoage until it first ran in the Philly Daily News. He’s part of a series of Where They Are Nows that is focusing on former defensive standouts for the NFL franchise.

Hoage and his wife Jennifer run
Terry Hoage Vineyards out of Paso Robles, Calif., a Central Coast community that is increasingly luring the marketing folk’s from the state’s Liquor Control Board. His slight build as a player was deceptive; few players in the history of the franchise put more into giving a wide receiver or running back a licking than Hoage, who was among the team’s leading tacklers in 1986 and ’87 for Buddy Ryan and his famous “46” defense.

His vineyards spread out over 17 of the farm’s 26 acres, and Terry and his wife pretty much do it all: from the work in the vineyards to the label design to getting the word out on their eight wines. They produce between 2,000 and 3,000 cases a year, all of the names of the wines having some connection to his playing days. “The Hedge” refers to his time in college at the University of Georgia, “Skins” to his days with a Washington Redskins franchise that won the Super Bowl, and “46,” a Grenache-Syrah blend that recognizes what Hoage calls “one of the most complicated, dominant defenses I’ve ever played in.” Several you can find stores in Pennsylvania state stores. But not “46.” “I was kind of bummed that Pennsylvania didn’t pick up the ‘46,’” he said by phone. “I thought it would be a nice fit.”

What has turned out to be a nice fit is where they’ve wound up, Hoage said, coming out of his career in the NFL.

“We’ve very, very lucky that we landed unbeknownst to us when we came into a really wonderful wine region with a fantastic climate to produce really great wines of a different types of grapes. There’s a lot of Bordeaux grown here that does very well. It was originally known for Zinfandel. The Rhones were planted in the region , I’m guessing, for the first time in the ’80s maybe, in small plantings. Those have done well. We even have a couple of Pinot producers in the area, some of which do a nice job. So we kinda run the gamut with grape varietals. There’s Tempranillo, there’s all kinds of different varieties that do well here.”

Hoage called it probably the “fastest-growing region and getting the most acclaim. [Wine critic] Robert Parker kind of made the announcement a couple of years ago that this was the next biggest best wine region in the world and people have kinda started to jump on board with that. It’s nice to be in an area that even though it has been producing grapes for a long, long time and people never knew about it. Quality grapes have been coming out of this region for years. It’s kinda nice to be here doing this when there’s kind of a wave of recognition coming over the entire appellation.”

That, Hoage noted, is creating a bit of a dilemma for what has been always cultivated a laid-back personality. It’s not Napa -- and all the problems that brings – yet. “You know agri-tourism is definitely growing,” he said. “We’re not like Napa . . . our area is not to that point yet. We certainly we get a lot of tourism because of the wine industry. There’s a battle here in our county between pro growth and no growth and really kind of controlling the tourism, try to keep it sane. It’s really kind of the double-edged sword.. You want to invite people to certainly share in the experience that is the Central Coast, but in doing that not disrupt what makes this area quaint. I live on a dirt road. I’m a half mile from town but I live on a dirt road. I have wildlife all around me. I’ve got sweeping vistas and views from my property and I have a small tasting room. It’s just all kind of quaint and very agrarian, and if you were to pave everything and put in a bunch of stoplights, it kind of changes the atmosphere. So we’re trying to find a balance here. But, yeah, tourism is a very important aspect of making this a viable business. People enjoy coming to my winery, tasting my wines on-site, looking at the views and seeing the vineyard. It is a very pastoral setting.”

He talked some about his memories in Philly: the 1988 playoff game vs. the Bears that’s better known as the Fog Bowl; playing on one of the NFL’s best-ever defenses; looking up, he said, to see everyone in the stands watching a fight in the corner of the stadium and ignoring the game for the moment.

He’s has been back since; once, five years ago, his son came to Philly as a member of a wheelchair basketball team that was based in Los Angeles. The national tournament that year was being held at Saint Joseph’s. Hoage said he arranged a tour for the boys through the Eagles’ NovaCare Center – “which was really nice, it wasn’t quite like the dungeons of the Vet” -- and Lincoln Financial Field. Then they headed down to get a steak in South Philly.

“I was a little worried about taking these, probably 12 kids, in wheelchairs. These guys in the cheesesteak places are a little impatient sometimes. ‘Whaddya want, whaddya want?’ These [kids] had never even had cheesesteaks. But it was amazing. We pulled the vans up and we’re trying to unload these kids and people just started coming out and helping and stopping traffic. Lined them all up there and they all got their cheesesteaks and they all had a great time . . . It wasn’t necessarily the experience that I got everytime I was down there. But people went out of their way to make sure these guys have a good time.”

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