Jarad Hadi was born in Clackamas, Oregon—southeast of the city of Portland. While growing up, his family spent time living in Paris, and he traveled throughout Europe and portions of the Middle East. His father introduced him to wine, which sparked a lifelong interest.
“When I turned 21, I decided that instead of buying it, I should try to make it. A neighbor had grape vines—I wouldn’t be able to tell you what sort—but I made my first wine in the basement from trial and error and reading books. I also had a job taking me to different countries, and was trying different wines.”
His life as a professional winemaker, however, was partially launched through poetry.
“A small publisher in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was going to publish a translation of my poetry book. Probably the most exciting point in my life.”
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Because Hadi was finishing studies and lacked funds, he needed money for his stay in South America. An Argentinian winery named Bodega Calle agreed to provide employment.
“That’s how I made my way down to this poetry book release—working for empanadas and a small stipend. It was great because they let me make wine on the side. That was important—I felt that hands-on learning was really big. You can work at a winery, but to understand the full picture, it’s interesting to make your own product. From that experience, my winemaking blossomed every year, every vintage.”
Back in the U.S., Hadi met Victoria Coleman of Lobo Wines of Napa Valley, California, as well as Michael Silacci of Opus One Winery. Both had had experiences in Bordeaux in France, and both encouraged Hadi to study there. He did so—graduating with a master degree in vineyard and winery management. He followed that with a stint of working with Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse in the Médoc region of Bordeaux.
Hadi then returned to North Plains, Oregon. He brought his new wife Giulia Schiavon—an Italian from Padova, located west of Venice (Giulia’s grandfather was a winemaker). He now manages a five-acre [2 hectare] parcel of his own vines (Grape Ink Wines) and produces 500 cases annually. He also consults for neighboring winemakers who own 45 acres [18 hectares] in northern Willamette Valley—including Mason Hill Vineyards, Eagles Nest Winery, Mason Ridge Farms, Lindas Vineyard and Highgrove Estate. When we recently spoke, Hadi explained the unique attractions of the region.
“Oregon and the Willamette Valley are in a cold climate region that can create wines of elegance: acid driven wines. But this also leaves you with creativity—there are still pioneering areas to look at within a region that has been established. We don’t have many families here beyond second generation wine growers.
“I found the Willamette one of few places that had attention for creating quality wines, but at the same time had space for new ideas. Although they found their voice producing great Pinot Noirs and more recently extraordinary Chardonnays rivaling those of Burgundy, the region is beginning to find its own identity after years of following Eurocentric tendencies. Producers are beginning to understand terroir not only as influence from soil, topography and climate but also their cultural interactions with the landscape. That’s led many to examine their own practices in vineyards and led the industry toward a sustainable revolution in adoption of organic, biodynamic and natural farming methods. The combination of these and other forces have been spicing up the diversity and quality of wines coming out of the valley. It’s exciting to dive into this together.
“Challenges here? You’re in the middle of nature. Mendoza, Argentina, was pretty barren. They planted most of their trees. Same in France—certain little areas are forests, and very controlled. Here—forests are everywhere. You wake up and there might be 50 elk in a pasture where you were going to plant a vineyard. The other day Giulia and I were trying to chase a deer out of a vineyard.
“Another challenge is climate. To make a quality wine you have to ride the line of being able to just ripen grapes each year. We have relatively dry summers, but if rains come at the wrong time, that’s difficult. You are always in this balancing act.
“Another challenge is carving out something in the market place. A lot of customers were used to wines from Napa Valley—rich and opulent. Those styles were initially pushed in Oregon: big business Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Now people are looking to create more authentic wines in a cold climate area—wines to age with acidity, and with brighter styles—more vibrant, mineral driven. We’re trying to introduce people to a different style of palate. I want to taste where it’s from, feel the wind in the bottle, taste the struggles, difficulty or successes. Or else wine becomes a science experiment, and less an expression of terroir. But that niche market is still only a sliver, for those ready to understand that sort of wine.”
Hadi told of lessons from Bordeaux and Mendoza that apply to the Willamette Valley.
“In Mendoza what was important was learning traditional, rustic styles of winemaking techniques. To work with different sorts of materials in the cellar—using different vessels for fermentation. That’s something we’re now implementing a lot in Willamette—not just traditional stainless-steel tanks, but also concrete, amphorae, large wooden vats—and finding what that does to wine.
“In France, one important thing was finding more of an intuitive style of winemaking. The most important aspect of winemaking is not only looking at the ongoing project and analyzing it, but also designing wine while in the vineyard–thinking about the forthcoming wine while you are picking grapes, while you are considering the harvest date. This approach is confident about what sort of wine you are going to make from the vineyard—instead of what sort you are going to make in the cellar. Completely European mentality. It helps extraordinarily. In California and Oregon people are asking me about numbers, science, juice panels, brix and malic acid. Those can be your backup plan to help understand the health of grapes, but they can’t be your decision maker. Your palate has to be your guiding tool.”
Hadi chose to settle in the northernmost region of the Willamette Valley to find a wide variety of expressions for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a few mountain varieties. It has allowed him to ‘push varietal expression’ by farming well, picking at optimal times and allowing wines to age.
“A huge focus of mine is to create wines that can last 100 years. Because, dinners in France at Academie des vins Ancienne in Paris—with bottles at least 50 to 100 years old—really sparked an interest in trying to create wines that could last forever.
“We’re looking at different varieties to experiment with for future climate change, and planting parcels strategically. One wine is Pinot Noir, Monduese from the Savoie [in France] and Trousseau from Jura. We’re looking at those outliers because they’re planted at high elevations in warmer areas. The blend is unique. Hasn’t been done here or anywhere else. Younger winemakers realize the Willamette Valley is a diverse landscape—not so singular that every site is going to produce world class Pinot Noir. That has to be removed from the vernacular because it’s not true; it’s too diverse of a landscape—different soil types and elevations and mode esprit, different winemakers who have different skill sets.”
Hadi also works with his wife Giulia to merge wine and art.
“She’s a painter and sculptor and I’m focused on wine. Trying to link it up was the idea of Grape Ink. I’ll create a wine, she’ll try it, and then create a painting. Or I’ll look at a painting and then try to create a wine based on what sort of emotions that paining brings out. This would be linked to textures of her paintings. A lot would be for summer releases because she paints bright and vibrant colors. The idea was to have that same sort of vibrancy come out through wines. Having characteristics that would bring out all three— white, rosé and red wines—and be able to evoke feelings of all three expressions—say Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris—in one bottle.”
Hadi actively promotes the recently created Tualatin Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) appellation in the northernmost region of the valley—abutting the Colombia gorge.
“A lot of people tell me just to focus on my property. But I think it’s important to focus on everyone around also and help them out—because we’re going to need to do this together. I don’t think one producer can change a region. But if we group together, we have a good chance to show what we think is special.”
What advice would he give winemakers interested in moving to the region?
“The Willamette Valley is still very collaborative, so expect good friendships. Unique to the area? We are not looking at everyone as competitors, but as collaborators. Important to people coming here—or to any region—is not to work off anecdotal knowledge, not just listen to what the neighbors tell you—but to pay attention to what you feel, what you know, what you can specialize in. And for anyone coming to a new region, it will be nice to see them bring something innovative and new.”
Jarad and Giulia will soon be parents—grounding their union and marrying their lives even closer to Willamette Valley. As their own parents and grandparents sparked their mutual interests in wine, no doubt they will one day do alike—but also adding lessons learned from working in a different hemisphere, as well as from living on other continents.