Joe Hart is a renowned, small-scale winemaker located in Temecula Valley, California at Hart Family Winery. With an annual production of about 5,000 cases of premium wine annually, Hart’s emphasis on small-scale wine production along with matching grape varieties to the terroir have earned him numerous Best of Class and Gold Medals since 1980.
Joe Travis Hart was born in Imperial Valley, California and raised in a strictly non-drinking household. It wasn’t until he found himself in Germany while serving in the Army in 1954, that he had his first taste of a German white wine served with dinner. “….it was a small country guesthouse, serving a typical German cuisine of sausage, potatoes and kraut with a crisp, local white wine that was probably made right down the road somewhere.” Soon after, but this time along the canals of Venice, a modest trattoria offered a local red wine with a traditional Italian meal that further captivated him and sparked an interest which would lead him to pursue winemaking in the years to come.
After returning home from his military service, Hart attended San Diego State University and obtained his secondary teaching credential. While working as a teacher in Carlsbad, California, he began to explore the world of wine in his spare time. He visited many different wine regions and began attending various wine tasting and educational seminars in order to learn more about the many layers of the winemaking world. When UC Davis offered a “Fundamentals of Table Wine Production” class at UCLA, he signed up and began to experiment with some “backyard” home winemaking. He instantly was hooked and began signing up for most every extension class offered in order to help him perfect the technique. In 1974, after much research, a 10 acre property in Temecula was purchased and Joe, wife Nancy, and their 3 sons began the task of planting the vineyards on the weekends. By the end of 1979, Hart decided to leave his teaching career to officially follow his dream and pursue his love of winemaking. A small winery was built on the corner of the property in 1980 and that September, California Bonded Winery Permit #5004 for Hart Family Winery was issued. A few days later the very first Hart Winery crush of 1980 began using a hand cranked, Italian-made destemmer-crusher in a winery with no electricity. Later that year the first bottles bearing the Hart Winery Label were released and sold.
Hart maintains a commitment to producing wines made exclusively of locally grown grapes. His focus over the years is always to use grape varieties he feels best suited for the weather, land and soil. He works with many Mediterranean grape varieties including, but not limited to Sangiovese and Grenache in addition to his signature Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc. Hart admits that he has grown to love working with Sauvignon Blanc best as it does extremely well in the Temecula region. He recently began using a different clonal variety of the Sauvignon Blanc grape he found to yield better aromatics and more intense flavors. Hart’s award-winning Sauvignon Blanc has been a local and visitor favorite through the years and in the past has been known to sell out rather quickly with months of consumer anticipation.
In addition to being a well-known and respected Temecula owner and winemaker, Hart is also a recurring professional judge for several annual wine competitions spanning over his 30+ year career. He attributes a good part of his grand perspective on the wine industry to judging these competitions as they keep him knowledgeable on the ever changing spectrum of “proper pricing and really just what a good wine should taste like”. He judges an average of 6-7 wine competitions every year including the Riverside International Wine Competition, San Diego International Wine Competition, and the Central Coast Wine Competition.
On most any given day of the week you can find Joe Hart at his working winery mentoring and actively caring for the vineyards and winery operations at Hart Winery. At times, he may even be seen chatting with visitors and proudly pouring tastings of his premium, limited production wines. He continues to live in Southern California with wife, Nancy where he can be close to his family and winery. His legacy of using locally grown grape varieties best suited for the Temecula Valley to produce premium, award-winning wines is legendary and expected to continue for many years to come.
photographs and article by Carmen Micheli