Jack Messina’s first encounter with wine was when he walked into his grandfather “Nonno’s” little 4-by-6-foot winemaking room at the back of their home in Staten Island, N.Y.
A child then, Jack remembers the smell to this day, “a beautiful smell,” he says with a smile. His grandfather and his young family had emigrated in the early 1930s from a little town in Sicily.
Jack grew up as a city boy in Brooklyn, but he never forgot that fragrant smell of wine. Years later, after becoming a successful heart surgeon in Tampa, Fla., Jack followed that scent and began looking for olive oil and vineyard properties in California.
He had never heard of the Paso Robles wine region, but when his real estate agent introduced him to a 100-acre farm planted in barley in the Templeton Gap, he “fell in love.” That was 1999, and Jada Vineyard and Winery began. The name Jada goes back to that little fishing village in Italy, where the fishing boat “Jada” was one of grandfather Nonno’s favorites.
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The winery operates as a family partnership, with Messina’s son, Josh, and daughter, Ryan, now living onsite and managing the wine and olive oil business. With their award-winning estate wines, tasting room and view patio, shipping, and 2,000 wine club members, they keep busy. Jack is able to spend about six weeks throughout the year at the vineyard property, especially during planting and production times. Also, according to Josh, “My dad is the landscape guy — he loves trees and has planted lots of them wherever he has lived.”
“If I hadn’t become a surgeon, I would have been a landscape architect,” Messina says. It was in 2006 that Messina began fulfilling his dream of adding landscaping to create a setting where the wine would reflect the vineyard’s beauty. He envisioned a flowing combination of vines, grapes and trees that would create an artistic portrait reminiscent of wine regions he visited in Italy and France. He hired landscape architect Steve Caminiti to create a welcoming and artistic entrance with a “statement” on Vineyard Drive. Steve started by planting more than 75 flowering plum trees the entire length of the property, adding rosemary, lavender and trimmed boxwoods underneath. As the trees with their pink blooms, then red foliage, follow the undulations of the road, they create a flowing design that is quite eye-catching.
For the gate, Caminiti used rich earthy hues of natural horizontal sandstone slabs to create curving entrance walls, locating a wide planting space between layers. In this space he placed the low-water California native “Howard McMinn” manzanita, bringing color in its red bark and small white bells. He added yellow yarrow with gray foliage and daylilies to provide strong summer color. Two varieties of rosemary, groundcover and bush, bring purple-blues the palette.
In order to create an established look to the entrance, Caminiti imported six mature Italian olive trees from the Central Valley. Inside the gate, 24 more producing olive trees were planted to line the sloping drive up to the tasting room.
Messina has researched the importance of the olive tree in different countries throughout history. As a heart surgeon, he is interested in the new findings that unrefined olive oil is a major ingredient for good health. “The unrefined phenol-rich virgin olive oil helps blood vessel function.” Messina and son Josh have now added 200 more Italian olive trees and are currently preparing for the next pressing.
After driving up the incline through the olive trees and vineyard, the guest enters a forest of oaks, conifers and coast redwoods surrounding the tasting room and patio, which, by the way, offers a spectacular view across the hills. Because of the property’s higher and cooler location that catches the ocean breezes, Messina can grow coastloving selections such as Grevillea under the shaded canopy. His next proj ect is to add the low-water Grevillea “Noelli,” with its curling red bloom, between the olives.
In gardens near the tasting room, bright pink redbud trees and yellow forsythia, rosemary and yellow-orange Euphorbia all bloom in the early spring, while the iris and then roses and daylilies will provide color as the days grow longer.
As Messina says, “This is a work in progress, and we are learning more each year. Our focus is on excellence and attention to detail.” As the visitor enjoys the landscaping and blooms among the vines, that attention to detail is on display.