Top US winemaker Paul Hobbs made his name by divorcing himself from one of the world's most powerful wine companies and ignoring the advice of his winemaking professors. He tells Linda Murphy why

It’s very tempting to call Paul Hobbs the American Michel Rolland.

Like Bordeaux’s gallivanting consultant winemaker, Hobbs has his own successful wine brands (Paul Hobbs Wines in California and Viña Cobos in Argentina) and makes a significant living as a consultant for some three dozen wineries in California, Argentina, Chile and Hungary.

Hobbs, however, cites a couple of fundamental differences.

‘Michel’s approach is more laboratory and blending roomfocused, whereas mine is from the ground up,’ says Hobbs on a sunny August day in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, site of his winery and 5.6ha (hectare) Lindsay Vineyard.

‘I came to consulting by chance, but for Michel it was his business. Consulting wasn’t a priority, but I enjoyed it and learnt so much.’

Yet it was Hobbs’s 10-year consulting stint in Argentina (he began in 1989) for Nicolás Catena at Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza, that made the creation of Paul Hobbs Wines possible.

Hobbs’ first paid winemaking job was at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, in 1978. Working there until 1984, he had a hand in the creation of Opus One for partners Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

In 1985, Hobbs shifted to Simi Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, as assistant winemaker, eventually rising to vice-president/winemaker. He left in 1989 when its parent company, Louis Vuitton-Moët Hennessy, viewed his consulting work for Catena, near LVMH’s Bodegas Chandon, as sleeping with the enemy.