Daughter of Hi-Time founder wants to create O.C.'s best tasting room
It was probably inevitable that Cyrille Helen Hanson would end up in the wine industry. Her dad is a cofounder of Costa Mesa’s Hi-Time Wine Cellars, one of the area’s best places to buy wine, beer, hard liquor or practically anything else you’d need to make the perfect party.
“I don’t think I ever had a choice,” Hanson told me. “I think it was blueprinted into my brain.”
After years in the industry that took her far and wide, Hanson is settling into a new job that suits her many talents: she is running the wine, beer and spirits program at the Hotel Hanford, a new boutique inn in Costa Mesa.
Before returning to O.C., Hanson was a wine director and co-managed a retail store for Michael Chiarello’s NapaStyle in Yountville. She was also an import buyer for Vinfolio in San Francisco, where she managed imported champagnes as well as French, Italian, Spanish and South African wines.
Hanson’s passion started early.
“My epiphany happened when I was 12. I was allowed to taste a 1978 Chalone Chardonnay at a restaurant in San Francisco. I said, ‘Wow, dad, this is really good! I’d definitely drink this instead of Coke.’ My mom said, ‘Oh no, not another one!’”
Not many people know that Hi-Time started modestly as a small convenience store, Hanson said. But her father’s love of wine drew him down another path.
“He was in the army in Europe, and he had wine with his food. He told his brothers, ‘Guys, this is where we need to go.' They started traveling to California wineries and bringing wines into the store. And that was it.”
Cyrille studied international relations at Claremont McKenna College but quickly realized it wasn’t for her. “I wanted to travel,” she said.
Hanson picked up a lot of her wine knowledge along the way. “I did a lot of reading, a lot of cooking, a lot of tasting. I was fortunate to have older, good-quality wines to taste through my dad buying and selling private collections.”
Hanson, whose mother is French, appreciates Old World wines for their ability to age well, but she thinks California’s wines are improving.
“I think for a long time (California winemakers) concentrated so much in the instant gratification factor. It’s not what I want in a wine. But it’s getting better.”
Hanson sees other promising trends in California wine-making. “I think people are looking for less alcohol. I think vintners are finally getting back to that more restrained and balanced style of wine-making and away from the over-extracted fruit bombs.” She’s a fan of up-and-coming regions such as Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.
Hanson also likes unusual varietals such as Picpoul, and isn’t doctrinaire about sticking only to the varietals characteristic of a region. “I love Windward Pinot Noir from the Central Coast. It’s not a Pinot area generally, but they make a really nice Pinot there.”
Cyrille has big plans for the Hanford, an old Holiday Inn that has been transformed into a sleek, Euro-style hotel. She’s proud of the restaurant and wine facilities, one of prettiest settings for enjoying wine that she has ever seen. “We have a really special area called the Wine Salon where we hold the more intimate tastings.”
The small room, dominated by a long table, seats up to 10. It opens up into the Living Room, which can handle 24 to 30. For large gatherings things can spill onto the patio. Altogether, the hotel can handle up to 60 people at food and wine events.
“They told me, ‘We want to make this place a focal point for wine,” Hanson said. “I have just about completed the wine list. I’m trying for something eclectic, but not too esoteric. And I’m offering wine at all price points.”
Hanson said she plans to create fun wine-and-food events, too. “I want to do a bacon-and-Pinot event – seven Pinot Noirs from around the world, together with seven different kinds of bacon.”
Held once a month, they’ll be called Guilty Pleasure Tastings.
Vintner dinners are also in the works, as well as evenings centered on olive oils and vinegars.
A good time to check out Hanson’s wines would be during Happy Hour. Scheduled to start next week, it will be on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. Hanson is offering 15 wines by the glass as well as flights.
The Hotel Hanford is at 3131 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa. 714-557-3000. thehotelhanford.com.