Ashley Hepworth came to Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 1999 with a palate honed by working in restaurant kitchens, including the celebrated Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. The experience also exposed Ashley to wine – she became friendly with Charlie Trotter’s sommeliers – and ultimately led her to apply for a harvest intern position at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. She got the job, and after working the harvest of 1999 she stayed on as a cellar worker, a “from the ground up experience” she says she wouldn’t trade for anything. From there Ashley went on to positions at the winery as a lab technician and enologist, and in 2004 she was named associate winemaker, overseeing all day-to-day winemaking operations.
In 2005 Ashley had the opportunity to expand her winemaking horizons when she took a “mini” sabbatical to work a harvest in Bordeaux at Chateau Angelus in St. Emilion. She earned a Winemaking Certificate from the Viticulture and Enology Department at the University of California at Davis in 2006, and in 2008 she was promoted to winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with some great winemakers at Joseph Phelps, and I’ve learned a lot from each one of them,” says Ashley, who credits the winery’s founder, Joe Phelps, with establishing the overall philosophical approach which guides the winery today. “He always pushed the winemaking team to explore, to do better. There was no limit. He always said ‘don’t stop at good, make it great.’ Even though he’s gone, we have a team that understands that really well.”
Ashley’s approach to winemaking at Joseph Phelps is deceptively simple: let the vineyards and the vintages speak for themselves. “Our estate vineyards give me such quality and purity of fruit,” she says. “There’s a consistency to our wines, but it’s not because of a recipe, it’s because the vineyards are so solid.” Still, Ashley is very much in favor of vintage expression. “We don’t want every vintage to taste the same.”