Jim has been around wine and wineries all his life. He didn’t intend to go into the family business, but sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to. Jim wanted to teach. He got his credential, studying at Mira Costa and Cal State San Marcos and took a job teaching at an alternative high school for troubled kids in Murrieta. The school’s format allowed him a flexible schedule, giving him time to spend at the winery, doing cellar and vineyard work and learning the craft of winemaking from his dad.
Today there are 10,000 vines planted on Milagro Farm’s 90 acres. The Ramona Valley is home to about 20 wineries, most of them what you would classify as “mom and pop” operations, or “garage-istas” as Jim likes to put it. He also believes there is nearly unlimited potential for making excellent wines there. Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Aleatico all flourish on the Ramona property. Jim has learned well from his dad. He cites the importance of planting grapes that are suited to the soil and the climate and points out that Ramona Valley and Temecula Valley are vastly different. He says that wines “speak of where they’re made”. He also is a firm believer that wine is intended to be enjoyed with food and thinks that that concept has been lost by many over the past several decades.
We sat in the laboratory and tasted tank samples of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as well as an apple wine he’s working on. We walked across the parking lot and into the barrel room through beautiful wooden doors that used to belong to a church in Mexico. Wine thief in hand, Jim poured barrel samples of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Sangiovese/Barbera blend and Aleatico Port. In tasting his wines, it’s clear Jim has learned well from his father. “People can teach you the basics, but you don’t really learn until you do it yourself.” In 2007, he realized he could make wine on his own.
At Hart Winery, Joe is still very much in charge, but he is allowing Jim to have more of an impact. Whereas Joe used to devote full time to the winery, he feels comfortable enough now to take off for three or four weeks at a time, knowing that his “baby” is in safe hands with his son. It pleases Jim to see his dad now able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. You’ll find Milagro Farm wines at Baron’s Market, Albertson’s in Ramona as well as in a few select restaurants in San Diego County. Tracking it down will be worth the effort.