Thane Hawkins has gone by the title of winemaker since 2007 but you can find his name at IMDb.com. Known for his work on such blockbusters as “Monsters, Inc.” and “Shrek,” Hawkins segued full time to wine and established a tasting room for Hawkins Cellars in Dundee, Oregon in 2011.
“I was working in the graphics animation industry and looking for a creative outlet that was tactile and physically-oriented that you could touch and feel,” Hawkins recalls. “I never envisioned [winemaking] as a career but the evolution was fate-based, I think.”
The summer before enrolling at Vancouver Film School in Canada, Hawkins saw “Jurassic Park” and it made a huge impact on his career thoughts. It just so happened that a program associated with the film school would be honing in on computer animation. A three month internship in New York City led to a job with Blue Sky Studios — one of 10 companies focused on visual effects and computer animation in the early ’90s. From there he worked with Pixar on the second and third all computer-animated feature films ever created, “Antz” and “Shrek.”
“It was incredible to be on the leading edge of a new medium,” Hawkins says. “It was just really interesting and a lot of fun.”
But the great outdoors were calling and Hawkins took advantage of long stretches of time off to pursue an emerging interest: wine. Through the winemaking and viticulture program at Chemeketa Community College he gained book experience and working the 2007 harvest gave him the hands-on skills to be hired as assistant winemaker for Methven Family Vineyards in Dayton, Oregon.
Over the next five years, Hawkins juggled winemaking with animation but, in the end, the earth had a greater pull than his computer screen.
He sees the blend of creativity, problem-solving and science as similarities between winemaking and animation but that’s where it ends. According to Hawkins, winemaking also takes a sixth sense of where to go with the wine and what it needs. He’s constantly challenged by the fact that there is only one shot every year and then patience is required until the next harvest.
In June, Hawkins added one acre of estate grapes with the opening of his gorgeous tasting room in Underwood, Washington, located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Winemaking is currently split between his Underwood location and Methven, with a goal of moving completely to Underwood for the 2019 harvest. Hawkins also has his sights set on buying some smaller vineyards in the Underwood area to have more estate fruit to work with.
Vineyard owner and business partner, Debra Michelson, is also Hawkins’ girlfriend. The two met about seven years ago and, sharing a love for the outdoors, spent quite a bit of time in the picturesque Gorge.
“We thought this region has so much potential and it’s relatively unknown and there’s not much opportunity these days to get in on the ground floor,” Hawkins adds.
As a designated scenic area, tasting room permitting is difficult to obtain but the breathtaking views from Hawkins Cellars is all the reason anyone needs to empathize with policymakers.
As for Hawkins’ role in Washington wine, he intends to increase his Washington grape sourcing to showcase the diversity of the land. “The benefit of not having a large estate is that I can choose what I think are the best sites for those varietals and buy fruit from there,” he says. “It can take a little more work and effort but the results are worth it.”