By Tom Plant
Joe Hart planted his first vines in 1974 and opened Hart Winery in 1980. His was the fourth or fifth winery to open in Temecula’s fledgling wine country. Doc Filsinger had an earlier number on his license, but Joe says he opened his doors first. Thirty-four years later, Hart Winery is the oldest family-owned winery in Temecula still operated by the founding family. This year marked a milestone of sorts. Joe Hart bestowed the title of winemaker on his son Jim.
We sat outside at a picnic table, Joe, Jim and me while construction crews were busy putting finishing touches on the renovation to Hart’s tasting room. Jim told me somewhat tongue-in-cheek the week before that he had wrestled the title from his dad, but truth be told, Joe was none too eager to relinquish the title. “I didn’t give it up too readily” he admits. Joe is still very much present at the winery and his influence on the wines is unmistakable. Fact of the matter is, you’ll probably find Joe, Jim and Jim’s wife Christine on premises nearly every weekday.
Growing up in a Winery Family
You might think growing up the son of a winemaker would make the transition to winemaking a natural progression. Not so, says Jim. “I resisted it.” He was always peripherally involved, working in the vines, pitching in at harvest, but he says he did it for the money and he liked driving the equipment. It wasn’t until he worked an entire harvest that he “saw things from a different perspective.” Jim began to get to know fellow winemakers like Jon McPherson at South Coast Winery and Steve Hagata, formerly at Falkner Winery, since retired to Paso Robles.
Jim saw an ad in the San Diego Reader a few years back that a Ramona Winery was looking for a part-time winemaker. He applied and got the job at Milagro Farm Winery and continues to be their winemaker. The satisfaction he got from making wine properly motivated him. He’s now all in. He took online classes from UC Davis and got plenty of encouragement from his dad. Joe promised Jim when he finished his classes he would give him greater responsibility. They both say they’re “in a comfortable place now.” They feel they are producing some of the best wines in the Temecula Valley at a great price.
A Patriarch’s Experience Blended with a Son’s Fresh Perspective
Jim says he and assistant winemaker Dan Denison love having Joe’s voice of experience and having him there to bounce things off of. Joe says Jim brings a new set of eyes, and “a little different perspective is a good thing.” Since Joe planted those first vines 40 years ago, he says there has been a tremendous evolution in winemaking and better tools than the ones he had when he first opened the winery.
When asked how his style of winemaking differs from his dad’s, Jim says it’s simply an evolution. He learned what to appreciate from Joe. Both of them respect the fruit and strive to make wines that reflect true varietal character. The wine produced at Hart is restrained. You won’t find big fruit bombs here.
Hart’s Newly Remodeled Tasting Room to Open in May
The changes in the tasting room, they both say, will allow visitors to be comfortable while the tanks and barrels are maintained at a proper temperature. The new tasting room, scheduled to open in May, will have picture windows looking into the winery and lab, along with new floors and a new tasting bar. The goal, they say, is to elevate the tasting room to the level of the wines. Says Joe; “people expect to be comfortable in a tasting space. You can only do with so much rustic.” Still, they want visitors to feel a strong sense of involvement, to know they’re in a real working winery.
They’d much rather put money into new equipment than tasting room glitz. All three winemakers understand that it all happens in the vineyards and feel that the best wines have the least amount of winemaker influence. “We’re not rock stars,” says Joe. They’re aware there’s a lot of ego in the wine industry.
Jim thought long and hard to find the right words to express his philosophy on winemaking and the industry in general, “You get winemaking the way you get religion and politics.”
Hart Family Winery is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 41300 Avenida Biona, Temecula, CA 92591. For more information visit www.hartfamilywinery.com or call (951) 676-6300.