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Hanna Winery - Russian River Valley - Sonoma Count


Hanna Winery has made a big statement on how to develop a world class winery.

We first discovered Hanna Winery in 1992 when they were barely a blip on the radar screen. Over the years we’ve watched in amazement and admiration as they have orchestrated their way into building a solid and highly successful 40,000-case winery operation. They’ve kept it a family affair, too. Owner and founder Dr. Hanna enlisted his two daughters to help run the day-to-day operation. Christine Hanna is the winery’s Vice President and General Manager; Noel Hanna is the Director of National Sales. “It’s so exciting to see the growth of the winery, particularly in the last couple of years—we’ve really come into our own,” says Chris.

In 1975, world renowned heart surgeon, Dr. Elias Hanna, was simply looking for a piece of land in the country—an escape away from the crowds of San Francisco. He discovered a rustic 25-acre parcel of land in Sonoma county’s Russian River Valley area, complete with a dilapidated farmhouse, an old barn, some skinny cattle and a chicken coop! “He saw something there that we didn’t,” kids Christine Hanna. “We couldn’t believe it when we first saw the property. It needed a tremendous amount of work!” she exclaims.

During the next ten years, the Hannas took long weekends and vacations to their hideaway in the country to refurbish the run-down buildings. “We ate a lot of beef during those years,” laughs Chris. They also made a lot of homemade wine. Dr. Hanna developed a passion for wine during his medical school years where he mingled with other wine-loving physicians. “I planted 12 acres of vineyards back then and made a few really decent vintages of Chateau St. Elias,” Dr. Elias proudly recalls. During that time, the proverbial wine bug hit him.

“All the elements were right—the timing, the location, and the desire,” says Chris. “By 1985 we had converted the old barn into a winery, and part of the house into a tasting room,” she says. Then they proceeded to make a thousand cases of their first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not one to do things halfheartedly, Dr. Hanna soon after purchased 100 acres of land in nearby Alexander Valley. Fifty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and French Colombard were already established on the site. “Only the Cabernet stayed,” says Chris. “We pulled out the other two varietals and instead planted Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah. This vineyard, which they named, Hanna Hillside, is a spectacular site rising from the flat and fertile valley floor, to the lean and terraced hillsides, an ideal vineyard location with numerous and diverse growing conditions.

During the next two years Hanna introduced a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, while building the production level up to 5,000 cases. In 1989, a friend of Dr. Hanna’s took him to look at a dramatic 440 acre piece of land situated in the upper reaches of the Mayacamas mountains—the highest point in Sonoma county. “It was completely covered with brush and rock, with wild boars, and turkeys running around—lots of rattlesnakes too,” recalls Chris. “The potential for high quality vineyards was obvious. But no one before us had wanted to spend the time or money to clear it,” she states.

The Hannas took two years to develop the vineyards on the mountainside which now consists of 70 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and several other varietals. Industry insiders generally agree that the potential of the property that the Hannas dubbed Hanna Mountainside, is without parallel. With its series of unique, terraced micro-vineyards it is the steepest continuous vineyard site in all of Sonoma or Napa counties. It may be compared to Mount Veeder’s vantagepoint in Napa.

Still not finished, Dr. Hanna acquired another 55 acres of land in the Russian River Valley later the same year. There they planted Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and more Chardonnay. This Hanna Valley site is cooler, with more of a coastal influence thus more suited for those varietals.

“The vineyard locations are diverse and appropriately planted which makes my situation as winemaker ideal,” insists veteran winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe. Hanna now owns 620 acres overall, including 250 acres of superb vineyard land in Sonoma county’s finest appellations—Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and the rugged Mayacamas Mountains of Sonoma Valley. Unlike other estate wineries that work with fruit from just one vineyard or region, Hanna has a wide range of flexibility with the estate grapes they grow. They are very stingy about which fruit goes into their wines. Only the best fruit is chosen to make wines with the Hanna label. The remaining crop is sold off to other wineries in Sonoma and Napa.

Hanna Winery does things a bit differently in the vineyard. Instead of maximizing production yield, they meticulously prune and crop the vines to yield roughly half the usual amount of fruit per acre. The result of which are berries with an inordinate concentration of fruit flavor. Total production at the winery is currently about 37,000 cases a year. Their flagship wines continue to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. However, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah also play important roles.

Hanna Winery has made a big statement on how to develop a world class winery. Make no mistake, the example they are setting for the rest of Sonoma county is being closely watched by all. As further testament to their success, Hanna Winery opened a second tasting room and hospitality center on their Hanna Hillside vineyard location, on Highway 128 near Healdsburg. And a new winery facility, roughly ten times the size of their current one is currently on the drawing board.



Dr. Elias Hanna

‘I still remember the hoard of reporters outside of our house,” recalls Christine Hanna, daughter of heart surgeon, Dr. Elias Hanna. Christine was just 5 years old. Her father was serving in Vietnam and had just successfully removed bullet fragments from the heart of a wounded G.I. It was the first such operation ever to be performed and it saved the young soldier’s life.

Born in Syria, in the small village of Al-Matin Assahel, overlooking Syria’s Mediterranean coastline, Elias was the youngest of six kids. His family was poor, making their living growing peanuts and olives. As a youngster Elias knew he wanted to someday be a doctor. Focused on that goal, he did so well in school that the Syrian government sent him to the United States to further his education.

Elias attended the University of Texas, where he completed his undergraduate work within 2½ years. He went on to study medicine at Baylor University. There he obtained part of his tutelage from the renowned surgical team of Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley.

After medical school Elias shipped off to Vietnam where he served as Chief of Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery with the U.S. Army in Saigon. During his tour in Vietnam, Dr. Hanna launched what was to become a central focus of his career—the gratis training of open-heart surgery techniques to physicians in developing countries. In addition to his Army surgical duties, he volunteered to teach new techniques to surgical personnel in local Vietnamese civilian hospitals. He is credited with organizing and developing cardiac surgery units in Sri Lanka, Taipei, the Philippines, Damascus, Baghdad and Shanghai.

Upon returning, his expertise and reputation allowed him to write his own ticket within the medical field. Today Dr. Hanna ranks among the world’s top cardiac surgeons. Widely recognized for his importance as the West Coast pioneer of heart bypass surgery, he now serves as Chief of Cardiac Surgery and Medical Director of the Western Heart Institute of St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco. He is also an active staff member at California Pacific Medical Center and Seton Medical Center. Furthermore, he is Chief of Cardiac Surgery at two smaller California heart care units located in Salinas and Marin County.

Affectionately known as the ‘fastest hands in the West”, Dr. Hanna is credited with one of the highest success rates in his field. His legendary facility and speed offer tremendous benefits to his patients. Also remarkable is his ability to perform cardiac surgery without blood transfusions, a technique in increasing demand since the advent of AIDS.

Dr. Hanna balances the demands of his professional life with the comforting sanctuary of his natural vineyard realm. In contrast to the intensity of his professional demands, among his vines Dr. Hanna may truly relax. He visits the farm whenever time allows. He says, ‘In my vineyards I find balance, genuine peace, and a wonderful sense of completion,”

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