Central Coast AVA
Dedicated to crafting the finest Bordeaux and Rhône varieties.
NADIA Winery is the direct result of a successful operation that came in existence due to a remarkable turn of events. It is necessary to delve into the past of that productive winery to fully tell the story of this month’s Gold Series selection, NADIA Winery.
The story begins more than thirty years ago when a productive businessman named Selim Zilkha founded Laetitia Vineyard and Winery in the coastal foothills of the Arroyo Grande Valley. The area is about midway between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, right off the famed Highway 101. It is a perfect place to grow Burgundian grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is not, however, the perfect place to grow Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
But, Selim Zilkha was determined to grow and produce top-flight Bordeaux varietals. Some thirteen years ago, an opportunity arose in the form of a vineyard located in the Santa Barbara Highlands, a high altitude vineyard at the very back of Santa Barbara County. Conditions here were far different from the windy and Pacific-influenced environment that influenced the Arroyo Grande Valley.
As the fruit from this vineyard began maturing, it was evident that this microclimate was capable of producing world-class fruit.
“I am first a businessman,” Zilkha pronounced. “I wanted something that could be a sustainable business. Even though Laetitia Vineyard was already established for its excellent Burgundies, everyone on our team felt this new vineyard was capable of producing Bordeaux wines that could easily equal its cousins at Laetitia.”
A decision was made to combine the two operations and create an entirely different name for the Bordeaux wines. Zilkha decided that the only way he could express the essence of the new endeavor was to name it after his only daughter, NADIA. By the way, Nadia means ‘hope’ in Russian and ‘delicate’ in Arabic.
The first release of NADIA Winery occurred in 2004, a tiny 300 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery has prospered and grown in a steady fashion and will produce around 6,000 cases this year. “We have a three-year plan that would take NADIA Winery to between 10 and 12,000 cases,” Zilkha explained. “A great deal depends on the conditions of the wine industry.”
Zilkha also confirmed that NADIA Winery has developed a loyal following since its exception.
All wines are produced at Laetitia under the care of Winemaker Eric Hickey and his staff.
Nadia Zilkha has had a major role in the development of her name brand in the form of marketing and promotion since the inception of the label.
Why capitalize the name NADIA at every occasion?
“It is quite simple,” Selim Zilkha explained. “Every time it appears in capitals we are emphasizing the true beauty of the name. People see it and don’t forget it. That’s why I named it after my wonderful daughter.”
The future seems quite promising for NADIA Winery and its small collection of varietals. NADIA Winery is a case of doing something simple and doing it right. Great grapes generally produce great wines and NADIA Winery seems to have ample supply of each.
It is a pleasure to introduce our Gold Series Wine Club members to this wine treasure from the Santa Barbara Highlands Ranch. Enjoy!
About the Vineyard
Because United States county names automatically qualify as legal appellations for wine, a number of Central Coast counties fall into this category. One such entity is Santa Barbara County, home to this month’s Gold Series selection, NADIA Winery.
The grapes for NADIA Winery come from the very end of Santa Barbara County, in an area known as the Santa Barbara Highlands. The area is actually part of the high desert and the vines are grown at an altitude of 3,200 feet, among the highest elevations in California. There are very few vineyards located in the Santa Barbara Highlands, but the fruit has been deemed as “absolutely terrific” by NADIA Winery President and Winemaker Eric Hickey.
“When we saw the quality of this vineyard we were amazed,” Dickey stated. The fruit develops a ripeness that is reminiscent of Washington’s crops. The fruit has good acidity and is perfect for Bordeaux and Rhône-style varietals. The Cabernet Sauvignon in particular is world-class fruit. It is possible to make some really distinctive wines from our Santa Barbara Highlands Ranch. All of NADIA Winery’s production is made from these remarkable grapes.”
Eric Hickey - President & Winemaker
President and Head Winemaker Eric Hickey has been involved with the Laetitia Estate since 1988 when he was just sixteen years old. He has overseen the NADIA production since its inception in 2000 when it became a ‘cousin label’ to the Laetitia wines. With a winemaking style that balances Old World tradition with cutting-edge California, Eric consistently produces generous, articulate wines that are true to the character of his wineries’ estates.
About Eric Hickey
Eric Hickey is 41 years old, and is one of the happiest and most successful persons in the wine industry. Like this month’s featured winery, his story bears repeating.
Hickey started in the wine business at the age of sixteen working the crush at his favorite vineyard at the time, called Maison Deutz. Deutz was a French-style sparkling wine operation that was founded in Arroyo Grande Valley along the Central Coast. Hickey enjoyed the experience immensely and also the opportunity of working closely with French winemakers. After graduating from high school, Eric joined the Maison Deutz operation on a full-time basis.
“I tell everyone who asks that I graduated from the School of Laetitia,” Dickey joked during a recent interview. “The fact is, what I said is actually quite true. I have worked every single job at the winery and have learned from the best.”
Eric Hickey’s best in this case is his father, Dave Hickey, who began as a production assistant at Maison Deutz and later became winemaker when the sparkling wine operation was sold and renamed Laetitia Vineyard and Winery. Dave Hickey had risen to the position of Sparkling Winemaker at Maison Deutz and continues to produce marvelous sparkling wines for Laetitia.
“My Dad taught me everything about the business,” Eric confided. “He also insisted that I travel to France and see just how wines were made over there.” Eric managed stints in Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Bordeaux to increase his working knowledge of winemaking.
In 2000, Laetitia Vineyard and Winery owner Selim Zilkha decided to make Eric the head winemaker and general manager of his operation. When NADIA Winery was founded shortly afterwards, Eric Dickey assumed the role of president and winemaker.
Is it easy to set apart the differences between a Burgundian style winery (Laetitia) and a Bordeaux style winery (NADIA)?
“Not really,” Hickey explained. “The grapes are so totally different and so are the winemaking processes. The Burgundian grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) are lighter in acid and in some ways much more delicate. They require much more attention and must be in nearly perfect condition to extract what we want from them. Cabernet Sauvignon on the other hand, stays on the vine for a long time and is very haughty. It possesses an excellent amount of acid and is relatively easy to work with. If you give it its time, Cabernet Sauvignon will generally provide you with a good product. Sauvignon Blanc is much the same, only its hang time is much shorter.”
Hickey is also a fervent proponent of the NADIA Winery vineyard operation at Santa Barbara Highlands. “I just love the fruit that comes from there,” he added. “It has everything you could ask for and its approachability makes for some really super wines. The vineyard is large enough to eventually produce enough fruit to really expand our NADIA operation.”
Eric Hickey calls on his assistant winemaker and the pair decides the final blends. His goal for the future is to continue to produce extremely high quality wines and remain at the same price points as today.
“We have developed a fiercely loyal fan base that has fallen in love with the softness and friendliness of our wines. It would be foolish to change something that has done so well. If we can maintain our current price points, our great price/value relationship will also remain intact. The only thing that will happen is that our fan base will increase and that’s the dream of every winery.”
Eric Hickey and his wife Kim intend to maintain the Hickey tradition of winery involvement with their two daughters, Cheyenne, 16, and Riley, 14. Both young ladies have indicated their interest in following their father into the wine industry.
“Cheyenne worked this year’s crush for several days,” Eric added proudly. “And she did quite well for herself. Riley seems to have an inclination toward our tasting room and is always hanging around there and helping out. I would be just delighted to have them working beside me in the future.”
The future seems quite bright for both Eric Hickey and NADIA Winery. Their wines have received rave reviews and great scores in the past and should continue to do so in the future. Hickey has assembled a top vineyard and winery team (Vice President of Operations and Vineyard Manager Lino Bozzano has worlds of Central Coast experience and a top resume) to insure his winery’s continued success.
Eric Hickey is a throwback winemaker who apprenticed with experts and became as good as his teachers. He is an excellent role model to anyone who believes that practical experience is the real key to success.