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Nickel & Nickel Winemaker Q&A: From Pro Ball to Napa Valley

04.02.20

Nickel & Nickel Winemaker Q&A: From Pro Ball to Napa Valley

We've loved sharing Nickel & Nickel Winemaker Joe Harden's video spotlights on our single-vineyard wines. Now, we're sharing a glimpse of the man himself. From his childhood NBA dreams to adaptability on the court and in our Napa Valley vineyards, find out what we learned from our recent Q&A with Joe (It was virtual, of course).

Growing up, did you dream of a thousand different careers or did you have an idea of what you wanted to be and do from an early age?

I played every sport imaginable as a kid. When I was really young, I dreamt of playing in the NBA. As I grew older, my goals dialed in a bit, I really wanted to play college basketball, then pro. In the back of my mind, if hoops didn't work out, I wanted to be a veterinarian. The pursuit of wine came later, in college, although I was around the wine industry throughout my childhood. My father worked for a wine distributor, and we loved talking about growing, making and exploring great wine.

Some people may not be aware of your career as a professional basketball player with the Warriors NBA-D League. What skills developed for and during your stint in the professional sports world have been surprising (or not so surprising) skills to have in winemaking?

Great question. There are actually a number of fundamentals I learned on the court that I use as a winemaker:

  • Work ethic. You learn early in sports that you have to go above and beyond the norm to achieve any kind of success. When you're winemaking at the level of Nickel & Nickel, you can never settle. There's always more you can do, in the vineyard, new techniques to learn, and traditional techniques to hone. You have to put in the work to master your craft.
  • The ability to handle adversity and failure. I think it is very important at a young age to learn how to fail and get back up. In my hoops career, I failed countless times (and often miserably). Through those failures, I learned to build off my mistakes. When something didn't go to plan, I accepted it, learned from it and then continued to push forward. learn and accept them. In winemaking, there are hundreds of decisions to be made, from pruning to barreling, and believe it or not, not everything goes perfectly to plan! But sometimes, what felt at the moment like a misstep, can be turned into something pretty extraordinary.
  • Adaptability. In sports, you learn to roll with the punches. When I was drafted into the NBA-D League (now G League), my agent was pretty sure I was going to get drafted by the Sacramento Kings D-League team, which was located in Reno. I was really excited at the thought of playing professional basketball close to home. Then, before the Kings could make their pick, the Warriors D-League drafted me. Suddenly, my agent was telling me to pack my bags immediately … for Bismarck. Twenty-four hours later I was in North Dakota, adapting to living in negative -50 degree weather. Winemaking, like basketball, doesn't always take our personal desires into account. Mother Nature surprises us, machinery breaks down, bottling schedules get disrupted. Knowing how to pivot and adapt to what's happening in real time is so important.
  • Leadership. Getting buy-in and respect from your crew is everything, whether its sports or winemaking. For me, that starts with having genuine respect and admiration for every person on my team and ends with making sure I don't just earn their trust but also keep it.

What's a surprising thing about your job most people don't know?

I wish more people got to know our team at Nickel & Nickel. It takes a village to make all of our single vineyard wines. Our cellar master, Jesus Duran, has been with the winery since day one. Prior to my arrival, he assembled a super talented group, and it's an honor to get to work with them daily.

What is your current favorite wine in the portfolio?

Stelling and Hayne are two of my favorites. The Stelling Vineyard is an amazing site, and it produces Cabernets with density, complexity and a backbone of structure and tannin, all the very best qualities of western Oakville. The vineyard is so phenomenal that wine almost makes itself. I love our Hayne Vineyard Cabernet because it is old school St. Helena. Hayne has this appealing earthy note along with a natural acidity that I really love in Cabernet. It's quite literally mouthwatering. With its red fruit and lively mouthfeel, Hayne often reminds me of the classic cabernets of the 1980s.

To watch the video spotlight Joe's single-vineyard favorite, click here. Then explore more mouthwatering Cabernets here.

Nickel & Nickel Winemaker Favorite
Nickel & Nickel Winemaking and Vineyards

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