HEART SURGEON WITH HIS HEART IN FARMING
Heart Surgeon with His Heart in Farming
Wine Country This Month
By Dave Wilcox
Harvest is an exciting time at any winery, but there's been a special buzz this autumn at Jada Vineyard & Winery. Jada's 2008 vintage is its first being produced exclusively on site, thanks to the completion this year of a handsome, state-of-the-art winery and tasting room that overlooks the vineyards in the serene rolling hills west of Paso Robles.
"We're very excited about it," said Susan West, Jada's operations manager. "It's a totally different vibe. It's so alive."
Jada's roots can be traced back a little more than 10 years ago, when Jack Messina came west from Florida looking for property in Wine Country to grow olives. Those plans soon changed when a friend said Paso Robles was emerging as a world-class wine region. Messina fell in love with the area and purchased the 90-acre property in 1999.
Olive trees still line the winding dirt road leading up to the winery, and Jada bottles and sells gourmet estate-grown olive oil.
Messina, who maintains his practice as a heart surgeon in Florida — where his wife works as a nurse — now splits his time between the winery and the East Coast.
There's no doubt, though, that Messina is very much a hands-on winery owner.
"He's a farmer at heart," said consulting winemaker Scott Hawley. "You come across a lot of personalities in the wine industry. It's great to come across someone who's in it for the love of it."
It was a passion stoked during trips to Europe, including Burgundy and Tuscany.
Hawley, who also consults for other wineries and has his own label, said Messina is part of the winemaking process from the vineyards to the punch downs and bottling. Sixty acres of the 90-acre property are currently planted to mostly Rhone and Bordeaux varietals, with some vines planted more than 30 years ago.
But they are also in the second year of a program to replant about 15 acres, changing the clones and increasing density. Hawley said that will result in lowering the yield per vine — intensifying the flavors of the grapes.
Asked what convinced him to sign on as Jada's winemaker, Hawley didn't hesitate with his answer.
"The vineyard and Jack Messina's passion for winemaking."
Pointing to a row of boulders stacked in a makeshift wall, Hawley noted they all came from Dada's hillside vineyards. The rocky, calcareous soils, combined with its location in the heart of a notch in the westside hills known as the Templeton Gap, create unique growing conditions, said Hawley.
"All the elements are here," he said. "There's nothing but potential."
That potential has been realized in thewines — primarily blends, although Jada produces a 100 percent Syrah under the name Jersey Girl. The name is a nod to Robyn Messina's native New Jersey. In fact, Jack Messina gives all his wines names that have some personal connection, including Jack of Hearts, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend and Hell's Kitchen, a reference to the famed New York neighborhood where his parents first lived after immigrating to the U.S.
The heart surgeon also named a Cabernet-Merlot blend Passing By, a tongue-in-cheek play on words that suggests the health benefits of red wine will help drinkers avoid bypass surgery.
The name of the winery itself honors Messina's father, who owned a fishing boat named Jada in the small fishing village in Italy where he lived.
Hawley said in crafting wines for Jada, he resists trying to tailor his style to what is currently popular.
"You make the best wine from the grapes to reflect the vineyard and the consumers are going to follow"
The winery's first three vintages, beginning in 2005, were made using facilities at nearby Calcareous and Denner vineyards. Now Hawley, who on a recent weekday morning was assisting workers de-stemming a batch of Merlot grapes, is eagerly anticipating the chance to create wine on site.
Up to now, Jada's production has been less than 2,000 cases annually, but Hawley said he expects that to increase to about 2,500 for the 2008 vintage. But don't look for Jada to ramp up its production too much.
"Jack wants to stay true to the vineyard and not go high-volume," said Hawley.
An old, red barn on the property now contains the winery and tasting room. The two-story structure included horse stables that now house separate barrel rooms, while upstairs the former living quarters is now a warmly decorated tasting room, accented with maple cabinetry and specialty lighting, with plenty of outside decking with sunset views.
A climate-controlled room surrounded by glass walls is one of the tasting room's most interesting features, with bottles stored there until they are opened for visitors.
"Jack likes to do things well and he has to know all the details," said West, the operations manager.
Guests can sample the wines from the tasting menu for $5 per person, and that includes artisan cheese pairings with cheeses provided by local gourmet cheese shop Vivant.
Jada Vineyard & Winery is located at 5620 Vineyard Drive, off Highway 46 West. The tasting room is open Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Friday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features wireless internet access. Call (805) 226-4200 to schedule a tour of the wine making facility or for a VIP tasting. You can also visit the winery's website at www.jadavineyard.com.