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Hanna Winery - Sonoma County


Hanna Winery Reaching New Heights in the Vineyard

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. In 1975 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,” chuckles eldest daughter and Hanna Winery Vice President, Christine Hanna. “We couldn’t believe it when we first saw the property. It needed a tremendous amount of work,” she added.

During the next ten years, the Hannas refurbished the buildings and took long weekends and vacations to their hideaway in the country. “We ate a lot of beef during those years,” quipped Chris. They also made a lot of homemade wine. Dr. Hanna had developed a passion for wine ever since his medical school years, rubbing shoulders with other wine-loving physicians. “I planted 12 acres of vineyards and made a few vintages of Chateau St. Elias,” Dr. Elias proudly recalls. During that time, the wine bug hit.

“All the elements were right—the timing, the location, and the desire,” says Chris. “We converted the old barn and became a full-fledged commercial winery in 1985. Part of the house was turned into the tasting room,” she says. They made about a thousand cases of their first wine, a 1985 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not one to do things halfheartedly (pardon the pun) Dr. Hanna purchased an additional 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,” recalls Chris. “We pulled out the other two varietals and planted Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. This vineyard site, which they named, “Hanna Hillside,” will soon be the new home of Hanna Winery. It 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.

The following two years Hanna introduced a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and built the production level 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 and money to clear it,” she adds.

The Hannas took two years to develop the vineyards on the mountainside which now consists of 113 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay. Industry insiders generally agree that the potential of the property which the Hannas dubbed, ‘Hanna Heights’, 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 vantage point 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. The site is cooler, with more of a coastal influence thus more suited for those varietals.

“Viticultural diversity and fruit quality is the key to our success at making great wines,” insists winemaker, Doug Wilson. Hanna now comprises 632 acres of four superb vineyard properties in Sonoma county’s finest appellations—Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and the rugged Mayacamas Mountains of Sonoma Valley. Unlike other wineries which 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. Just 50% of the fruit produced is chosen to make wines with the Hanna label. The remaining crop is sold off to other wineries in Sonoma and Napa.

The Hannas do things a bit differently in the vineyard too. 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 22,000 cases a year. “We’ll grow to 30,000 over the next few years,” reports Chris Hanna. “But beyond that it becomes a much different animal. At this point we don’t anticipate growing beyond that level,” she continued. Their flagship wines will continue to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Hanna estate Merlot, which was introduced in 1990, will also be emphasized going forward. Other varietals playing a lesser role include Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Reserve Chardonnay. The winery has also planted a few Rhone varietals to further diversify their offerings.

Hanna Winery is quietly making 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. To parallel their success in the vineyard and in their wines, Hanna Winery has recently opened a sparkling new tasting room and hospitality center on Highway 128 near Healdsburg. A new winery facility, roughly ten times the size of their current one is due to open within the next few years.

Gold Medal Wine Club brings you two highly acclaimed Hanna’s wines—their 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1993 Sauvignon Blanc. The Cabernet is a powerhouse wine, sophisticated and well structured. The Sauvignon Blanc is a Hanna signature wine of that varietal—rich, fruity, well balanced and just a hint of the familiar grassiness. Enjoy both of these fine selections.



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, 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. He did well in school, in fact so well 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 Med 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, and is an active staff member at California Pacific Medical Center and Seton Medical Center. He is also 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. ‘In my vineyards I find balance, genuine peace, and a wonderful sense of completion,” he says.

‘Special clones, excellent soils, great vineyard locations, and superior vineyard management,” states Hanna winemaker, Doug Wilson. ‘That’s what sets Hanna Winery apart from most others,” he insists. He’s excited about today’s Hanna wines, and even more enthusiastic about tomorrow’s. What winemaker wouldn’t be ecstatic by the probable bright future of Hanna Winery!’

Doug hails from Fresno State’s famed enology program. Upon graduating in 1988, he joined ZD Winery in Napa where he spent a year as their enologist. From there he moved on to Chimney Rock, also in Napa, where he signed on as assistant winemaker. For 3 years he fine-tuned his craft before accepting the role of winemaker at Hanna in 1992.

As a native of Napa, wine was in his blood at an early age. ‘I grew up to love the lifestyle,” says Doug. ‘The food is great, the wines are fabulous and the people are friendly and unpretentious,” he suggests. His first hands-on exposure to the wine industry was working the vineyards after classes during his high school days. Later, while attending Junior college he took classes on wine and started experimenting with home winemaking. ‘That’s when I really got hooked,” Doug says. ‘At that point I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he added.

‘We pick our grapes fully ripe,” Doug relayed. ‘Perfect balance and finish is what we strive for,” he continued. Both featured wines this month were crafted by Doug. ‘The 1993 Sauvignon Blanc has lots of richness, nice tropical flavors, good acidity and is very drinkable. We minimize the grassiness characteristic through extensive canopy management. The 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent wine also. Primarily because of our vineyard sites—especially the new Mayacamas location, our red wine program will continue to improve immensely. In fact, I believe Hanna will soon be well known primarily as a red-wine winery,” he says.

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