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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

If you want to start a new winery in Sonoma County, as Elias Hanna did a little over a decade ago, it probably wouldn't hurt to have the resources of a world famous heart surgeon.

This is the guy who generated international headlines during the Viet Nam conflict by successfully removing a bullet from the heart of a wounded G.I., and who is now Chief of Cardiac Surgery at hospitals in Marin County and Salinas, and is also Medical Director of the Western Heart Institute in San Francisco. This "Type A" personality relaxes by spending time in his vineyards.

It probably wouldn't hurt either, to have a beautiful daughter (Christine) with a taste for wine and an instinct for business to manage and direct its sales and marketing.

To the Hanna's credit the wine prices have been held in the reasonable range, some even rating "Best Buy" status.

Hanna 1996 "Alexander Valley" Zinfandel ($10) Ripe black raspberry fruit, with a pleasant strawberry jam after-flavor. Medium bodied, easy to drink style, with good fruit throughout and no astringency. Drink it or gulp it with burgers, meat loaf or barbecue. Rating: 86/90

Hanna 1995 "Alexander Valley" Merlot ($20) Made from 92 percent Merlot with the addition of 8 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon for complexity. Aged in small barrels, 85 percent of them French. One of the bigger, bolder and more complex Merlots around. It's not just a big, soft, fruit bomb, as some Merlots tend to be. It's a Merlot for Bordeaux or Cabernet lovers. Black cherry and blackberry fruit with a major dose of oak making a very positive statement. Rating: 92/86

Hanna 1996 "Alexander Valley" Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) This one is 100 percent Cabernet aged in 100 percent French oak cooperage. Ripe black currant and blackberry fruit in a very ripe, soft and approachable style. This is a Cabernet to please Merlot lovers! Rating: 87/84

Hanna wines have good national distribution for a 40,000 case winery, but are more likely to be found at wine specialty shops than in supermarkets. To track down local retail outlets of specific wines: Hanna Winery, 9280 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg, CA 95448 (707) 431-4310.


I never met the man, but the stories told by those who knew the legendary winemaker are fascinating. He was a man who generated strong opinions and reactions. Some thought genius, others thought arrogant egomaniac.

He's the man who bought the Paul Masson Winery from Paul Masson, and who then sold the winery to Seagram during the war year of 1942. With the proceeds, he bought land, planted vineyards and built a small winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, on the Santa Clara County side.

Ray did have a large ego and would tell all who would listen that only he was producing great wine in the U.S.

He was not very popular with his fellow vintners because of this, and also because he was far ahead of his time by calling for more stringent regulations regarding place names and varietal integrity. At the time, a wine called Cabernet Sauvignon legally only had to be 51 percent of that grape variety.

And Ray had other disagreements with the regulators. I remember when for marketing purposes, to make his wines stand out from others, he bottled everything, all his table wines, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and so on, in heavy Champagne bottles.

While there was never a specific regulation against doing so, the federal government (ATF) insisted that it was deceptive packaging and that folks would expect bubbles in their Cabernet Sauvignon. Ray lost that battle.

The style of Martin Ray wines was always big and bold, both philosophically and geographically, as that is what mountain vineyards tend to yield.

After Ray's death in 1976, wines under his name were produced by an adopted son, Peter Martin Ray, and in the 90s the label was sold to a negociant firm which has succeeded in releasing wines in the Martin Ray style.

Martin Ray 1995 "Saratoga Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) Really bold and intense, yet round and supple. Rich black cherry and cassis flavors; mouthfilling, satisfying and a very good value considering quality. Rating: 90/88

Martin Ray 1996 "California" Chardonnay ($16) Big, fat, over the top style. Barrel fermented, very toasty and with an implication of sweetness. More a cocktail time Chardonnay than a food companion. Not my favorite style, though it will have its fans. Rating: 82/84

Martin Ray 1995 "California" Pinot Noir ($16) A blend of Mendocino, Sonoma Mountain and Monterey fruit. Very Burgundian in style, delicate and medium bodied. Crushed rose and tomato seed qualities and very long after flavors for so delicate a wine. Rating: 87/86

Best Buy, Wine of the Week:

Hanna 1997 "Russian River" Sauvignon Blanc ($11) Very stylistic and very earthy with complex mineral notes. Grapefruit and other citrus fruit flavors and a kind of candied grapefruit peel end taste. Only two months spent in large oak puncheons could not have had more than modest oak influence. Truthfully, I imagined more oak. I was actually thinking barrel fermented. At any rate, the overall impression is delicious and it's a solid "Best Buy" at list price and a steal if you find it on sale or deeply discounted. First two food items that come to mind are broiled swordfish and smoked salmon. Rating: 94/94

Collectable Wine of the Week:

Martin Ray 1995 "Santa Cruz Mountains" Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) A monster Cabernet. Really, really big and extractive. Earthy, mostly blackberry flavor. Very young and undeveloped but with tremendous potential to improve with cellaring. There's a firm, tannic backbone, but the overall finish is round, supple and silky. Don't drink it now. Give it 5-10 years of aging. Rating: 90/88

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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