Temecula Valley Wine Country Mourns the Death of Joe Hart, Legendary Pioneer of Southern California Wine Country

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Joe Travis Hart, one of the original pioneers of Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country, passed away on November 19, 2021, after a brief battle with cancer.

“Throughout the early years of the emergence of the Temecula Valley wine Country, Joe was the leader and mentor to so many of us,” said Phil Baily, owner and winemaker of Baily Winery, and President of the TVWA Board of Directors.

Joe was not only the founder and original winemaker of Hart Winery, the oldest continuously-owned-and-operated winery in Temecula Valley, he also paved the way for a movement toward the production of quality wine in the region, serving as a mentor for those who would follow in his footsteps in Temecula and beyond. Joe was 89 years old.

Joe and his wife Nancy fell in love with Temecula Valley in the 1970s, not long after the first commercial vineyard was planted in the region. Realizing the Mediterranean climate and soils of Temecula Valley were ideal for growing premium wine grapes, the couple, along with their three sons, purchased some land, planted grapes, and finally opened Hart Winery in 1980. Today, the award-winning winery produces about 4000 cases of wine at the hands of Joe’s sons Jim and Mike, who have preserved their father’s uncompromising commitment to small-production, hands-on quality winemaking.

“He was an inspiration from the day we first met in July of 1985,” said longtime friend Jon McPherson, who is the winemaker at South Coast Winery and Carter Estate Winery in Temecula Valley. “His approach to wine and winemaking was classical, clean, and low intervention. He was someone who understood the terroir of Temecula and how to coax those flavors from the grapes into the wine.”

A native Southern Californian, Joe majored in Political Science and International Relations at San Diego State University. He was drafted into the Army not long after graduation and fell in love with wine – despite hailing from a non-drinking family – while stationed in Germany and traveling throughout Europe. He later obtained his teaching credential and spent years as a junior high school social studies teacher – a profession he claims he likely would have continued had it not been for his love of wine. He was also a research technician for Scripps Institute of Oceanography, working on research ships all over the Pacific.

“My dad was so much more than a winemaker,” said Jim. “He was a hiker, a backpacker, a fly fisherman, a lover of wild places… He was a pilot – he used to fly his single-engine Cessna and land on the beaches of Baja to camp. He owned a restored Alfa Romeo Guilietta Spider Veloce because he loved fast cars. He was always reading, always learning; he was a lifelong proud liberal Democrat, and a former teacher whose students loved and always remembered him.”

Jim tells a touching story of his father’s teaching days to show just how loved he was.

“A former student named Richard had polio and walked with a pronounced limp. The kids all teased him and picked on him. My dad asked Richard to leave the classroom one day. He then talked to all the kids about picking on Richard, and asked how it would make them feel. I guess it helped. Fifty years later, Richard saw my dad and stopped to tell him how much my dad had helped him – that he’d changed his life.”

“Joe was one of our founding members and a genuine Temecula Valley Wine Country pioneer,” said Krista Chaich, Executive Director of the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association (TVWA), on the board of which Joe served for many years. “He always stayed true to his vision of quality winemaking and passed this legacy on to his sons. He championed our wine country and was very generous with his support of his fellow winemakers. Joe was a wonderful man and will be missed tremendously.”

Countless winemakers in Temecula Valley credit much of their winemaking education, not to mention the success of the region, which in 2019 was named one of the top 10 wine travel destinations in the world by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, to Joe. “Throughout the early years of the emergence of the Temecula Valley wine Country, Joe was the leader and mentor to so many of us,” said Phil Baily, owner and winemaker of Baily Winery, and President of the TVWA Board of Directors. “Through his judging at countless wine competitions, he gained the respect of winemakers throughout the State. Quite frankly, he was the face of Temecula for over 30 years. We will miss him dearly.”

“He was a man of the vine,” continued Jon. “I always liked to have Joe taste my wines as we never pulled punches with one another on our critiques. We pushed one another to be better. Joe was thoughtful and philosophical to the end. I shared so many vintages with him… I would have liked to have shared one more. What a delightful human. I will miss you, Giuseppe Corazon… See you on the trailhead to Italy Pass.”

Located within a 60-minute drive from San Diego, Orange County, and Palm Springs, and within 90 minutes of Los Angeles, Temecula Valley is widely recognized as Temecula Valley Southern California Wine Country. The popular wine destination is southern California’s largest wine producing region by volume.

The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association (TVWA) is a 501 (c) 6 nonprofit regional organization. The TVWA (TemeculaWines.org) is dedicated to promoting the making and growing of quality wine and wine grapes in the Temecula Valley A.V.A. (American Viticulture Area).


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