Caroline Hoogenboom: Beaufort’s ‘belle of the barrels’

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By Lanier Laney

You don’t get much more local than Caroline Hoogenboom. Descended from several generations of disguised Beaufort natives, she grew up in two famous houses on the Point: Her grandmother’s house, Tidalhom, and her parents’ beautiful home on the water across the street.  You also don’t get any more international than Caroline, who studied for years in France and now works for a top French company and jets all around the U.S. weekly for them.
Caroline started by studying to be a sommelier and a wine maker after getting an undergraduate degree at Emory. She did her wine training in France starting with a sommelier-conseil degree from the Université du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse. Then she realized she was more interested in the wine making side so she apprenticed herself at a number of different wineries in France, Italy, Australia and California. After that period, she returned to school in France to get her Master’s Degree in Enology from the Université de Bourgogne at Dijon IUVV.
Caroline must have chosen the right places to study and train because two years ago, after 10 years working as a wine maker,  a wine that she helped develop at a Napa winery got 100 pts. from Robert Parker.
But she missed the South and her parents and grandmother and wanted to be closer to Beaufort, so she has recently relocated to Atlanta, where her husband of three years is a Computer Network Security (which basically means he works for companies to help fight hackers and cyber terrorism). Says Caroline, “The South has always felt like home to me, plus I love the weather. For me, home is where your spirit comes to a deeper level of rest. I am a bit of a restless spirit, so it’s nice to know that Beaufort is still that home to me.”  She added, “Beaufort is special among towns. It has a lot of highly capable people that are intelligent and worldly and ready to bring their energies to improving our town. There is such variety here. We have the charm of a small town with all the necessary spices that go together to make it complex and interesting — hard to forget and hard to leave. That’s how Beaufort gets in your blood.”
That’s why Caroline was pleased when approached by Tonnellerie-Ermitage, France’s best wine barrel making company, to be their primary U.S. rep for their barrels to wine makers.
Says Caroline, “At Ermitage, we custom make barrels to the specifications of the wine makers. Perhaps that is why it is helpful that I am a wine maker myself because it allows me to better understand the needs and preferences of my clients. I handle barrel sales for Napa and Sonoma as well as for the East Coast. This means that I work with the wine makers (many of whom I know very well) to help them select the best oak barrels, sourced from specific French forests, for their wines.”
Caroline’s work takes a lot of energy and flexibility. And she says, “You have to love to travel, and extracurricular activities begin to revolve around amassing and using sky miles. In one week I might be at a tasting in NYC, at a meeting in Virginia, then at the office in Napa! It is fun but quite taxing. It probably sounds glamorous to be jetting around at that pace, but during the busy season I probably spend more time at airports than I spend with friends.”
Caroline’s philosophy behind wine making is clear. She says, “I believe that wine is a beautiful natural product and my goal is always to bring balance. For example, with oak barrels, it is so important to select the right barrel for the profile and style of the wine. When this is done without a heavy hand, you find balance in the blend and balance in the finished wine. It’s a joy to taste. For me wine, in the greater sense, is the concept of connecting with the earth through the creation of a product that can then be shared and enjoyed. It is a joyful union of science, art and reverence for the past.”
This reverence for the past and connecting with the earth to bring out the best of its bounty are valuable lessons Caroline learned growing up at Beaufort’s knee. This now grown-up native “jet setter” will always find her way back home and be welcomed here.