October 6, 2020 – Greg Hill has a saying when things get tough, “tira nanza.”
It means “pull forward”—a family motto passed down from his grandmother, Olympia, that speaks to resilience in the face of obstacles. It’s the guiding principle—and namesake—for Hill and fiancée Sydney Sharek’s new winery, Tira Nanza, in Carmel Valley.
“It means whatever happens, don’t get discouraged and don’t let it overwhelm you—focus on what you can do to get through,” Hill explains. He finds this sage advice for grape farmers and winemakers, “The perfect harvest? The perfect vintage? It almost never happens, so we focus on how to get through, not how scary the challenge seems in that moment.”
Sharek finds it “spooky” how quickly she and Hill had to “tira nanza” when they were tested as flames of the Carmel Fire singed their vineyards earlier this summer. “But it speaks to our mentality and how we’re pulling forward with all the challenges.”
Recent wildfires haven’t daunted this homegrown couple as they start a new chapter for winemaking in Carmel Valley.
Tira Nanza co-founders Hill and Sharek have been together for nine years. They met at Stevenson School and attended University of Colorado Boulder, where they both developed a passion for sustainability.
Hill’s studies in environmental science blossomed into aspirations for sustainable agriculture. “My mom is from Italy and her family grew grapes over there, so wine was always a big thing in my house growing up,” he recalls. He turned that interest in farming of grapes and winemaking into internships at Silvestri and Parsonage, then went to work for wineries in Napa, Sonoma and New Zealand.
Sharek was a double major in advertising alongside ecology and evolutionary biology. Her career path was headed towards advertising until she found herself between jobs just as Hill was offered an opportunity to work harvest for a winery in New Zealand. She joined him in New Zealand, worked the harvest and “dabbled in a little bit of everything” at the winery. This was the start of a perfect pairing—when the couple returned to California, she went on to work in digital marketing for wineries.
“With one of us working predominantly in wine marketing and design and the other making wine, we felt like one day we could combine our talents to start our own brand,” explains Sharek.
When looking to plant the roots for their own winery, Hill’s studies in climatology drew him back to Monterey County.
Like wineries throughout California, Tira Nanza has been forced to reckon with the reality of our planet’s changing climate. “Heat spikes are more common and they’re hotter than they used to be—there really isn’t any denying that. In some of the hotter parts of the state, you don’t have a lot of room for warming,” Hill explains. Carmel Valley held promise, “It’s warm here, but we’re a more moderate climate than a lot of places where grapes are in California. It can warm a little bit more without prohibiting us from farming.”
And, of course, there was a sentimental attachment to returning home too.
“This was a dream opportunity for us in a place that we love with people we love,” says Sharek. “Even as our careers took us to beautiful places, we always felt something pulling us back to the Central Coast.”
This summer, Tira Nanza purchased Galante’s ranch and vineyards in Cachagua. “From the first time we stepped foot on the property, we were in awe of the natural beauty around us and the potential for creating special wines,” recalls Sharek.
Hill clarifies this isn’t the end for Galante Vineyards. “We now own the property, farm the vineyards and operate the winery and the ranch,” he explains. “We have a contract for the next few years with the Galante family to sell them a portion of our crop and lease them space to process their wine.”
So winemaker Greg Vita will use Tira Nanza’s facilities to continue production for the Galante Vineyards and Dawn’s Dream labels as before. “They’ll still be producing high quality wines from these vineyards. The difference is now we’re farming the vineyards and selling them the fruit,” explains Hill.
The next few years will see Hill and Sharek begin building Tira Nanza’s identity in Carmel Valley.
Hill teases a transition that takes a more holistic look at the vineyard. “Our focus is keeping our vineyards as healthy—and producing as high quality fruits—for as long as possible and farming in a way that’s beneficial to the ecosystem as a whole,” he explains.
What exactly will this entail? Hill points to organic farming, biodynamic practices and natural solutions, like grazing sheep to remove weeds or owl and hawk boxes to control rodent populations. “There was a time in viticulture where things got too heavy handed. For us, it’s a return to a traditional method where we’re trying to build an ecosystem that can monitor and regulate itself.”
There’s a shift coming to the grapes grown in Tira Nanza’s vineyards too. “The most important decision as a winemaker and as a wine grower is growing varietals that are well suited to their terroir and where you’re growing them,” explains Hill.
He recognizes vineyards in Cachagua have historically grown Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but he sees a future in Rhone instead. “As the climate changes out here—and with highly granitic soils that are very similar to what you find in Rhone in France—we have an interesting opportunity to grow varietals with the potential to make fantastic wines.”
Hill and Sharek are looking to plant new vineyards with varietals like Syrah, Grenache and Viognier, while also “revitalizing” existing older vines of Cabernet Sauvignon. They caution it will take time to plant new vines, so the shift won’t be evident in the market for another five years or so.
Eventually, Sharek envisions tastings—in-depth, hands-on and interactive—at the ranch to “pull back the curtain” and give a peek behind the scenes. “Far too often wine is shrouded behind smoke and mirrors making it seem like this overly opulent beverage to be taken too seriously,” says Sharek. She seeks to build something authentic and approachable to help novices explore the world of wine and celebrate the process behind the product. “Our hope is to give people a deeper and more authentic insight into what happens with wine.”
Hill looks to celebrate local terroir with Tira Nanza’s wines too. “In some ways Carmel Valley—and Monterey in general—are up and coming in terms of wine. We want to see Carmel Valley and the wine coming from here getting the respect it deserves.” He beams with hometown pride, “We see a future making wines as good as anywhere else in California.”
Of course the Carmel Fire has put obstacles in their path.
The fire burned a large portion of the property. Fortunately, the historic Galante ranch house—which Hill and Sharek have called home since June—as well as the winery and nearly all buildings survived unscathed. “We can’t say enough about our local Cachagua firefighters and the brave men and women of Cal Fire that did such tremendous work in fighting these terrible wildfires,” emphasizes Sharek.
However, this year’s crop has been lost to smoke damage. Hill admits losing a crop is always a setback, but as his grandmother says, “tira nanza.”
He and Sharek have found hope in the resilience of grape vines, which were already pushing new leaves and green growth a month after the fire. “These vines withstood something so destructive and they’re already renewing themselves. It’s something we can all draw inspiration from.”
Tira Nanza • 18181 Cachagua Road, Carmel Valley • 831-250-0584 • tirananza.com