Russian River Valley AVA
Hanna Winery has made a big statement on how to develop a world class winery
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!
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 daughter Chris Hanna. 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 made a few really decent vintages of Château 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 vineyard land in nearby Alexander Valley. 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. With its series of unique, terraced micro-vineyards it is the steepest continuous vineyard site in all of Sonoma or Napa counties.
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. 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. 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, 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.
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members
Reserve wines sometimes present the winemaker with a dilemma. In 1997 we had many excellent, extracted lots of Cabernet Sauvignon from our 60-acre Hillside vineyard in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. These lots were certainly Reserve quality, but how do we produce a Reserve bottling without lowering the quality of the flagship Alexander Valley bottling’ The answer was to reduce the size of the Reserve bottling from a potential of 1,500 cases to just 400 cases, a decision that gave us less of a higher priced wine to sell, but which maintained the quality in our 8,000 case flagship Alexander Valley bottling.
Thus, refusing to compromise the quality of our Flagship wine solves our dilemma. Once this criterion is met our selection process for the Reserve program is simple: only wines of great color, aromatic intensity and balanced extract qualify. These are wines which can further develop after their selection by being blended and returned to new French Oak barrels for further aging. This simplicity decrees that our Reserve wines are not common. Our only other Reserve wine from our Alexander Valley vineyard was our 1995 Merlot.
I hope you enjoy this handcrafted, unfiltered bottling as much as I do.