David W. Hardee:
A career fueled by wine and a passion for reinvention
Growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, David Hardee had two clear ambitions: to become a lawyer, and to explore the West Coast. His mother encouraged the former much more so than the latter.
“She was a legal secretary, and at that time lawyers were the pillars of their communities, selfless professionals dedicated to improving the lives of those around them,” he explains. However, becoming a widow when Hardee was 11, his mother made him promise to stay in the Southeast for college.
Hardee says he made the right choice in coming to Duke, calling himself fortunate to have experienced “out-of-the box” analytical training in courses taught by then new faculty members Walter Dellinger and Bill Reppy, who remains a good friend.
Success through his first 10 years of private practice in Charlotte allowed Hardee to pursue a developing interest in food and wine. “With increased resources for travel, I was able to experience the very best wine in some of the world’s most beautiful areas for production,” he says.
Hardee began what he calls “a pattern of reinventing myself” in 1982, when he moved to Washington, D.C., to become Democratic tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee under Senator Russell B. Long.
“That experience was the professional highlight of my legal career,” he says. “It was a unique opportunity to give back and to experience the law in a very different way than I had previously.” Hardee stayed on the Hill for three years, after which he left to become head of the tax department at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, also in the capital.
His interest in wine continued to deepen, influenced by fellow attorney and wine enthusiast Robert Parker, who started The Wine Advocate in the early 1980s and is now widely recognized as the world’s most powerful wine critic. “Parker was among the first to consider wine in terms of futures,” says Hardee. “He had as much an influence over me as he’s been on the wine industry over the years.”
Finding himself ready for another change, Hardee finally headed west in 1992. “I had always loved California, not only because of the climate and the innate ‘coolness’ of it, but also because of its entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “It’s an area where anything goes, reflecting a ‘why not’ attitude that I’ve always tried to put forth myself.”
He founded Hardee Capital Partners in Los Angeles, making investments in various public and private securities. In 1997, Hardee became founding chief financial officer of New Energy Ventures (NEV), developing its finance, accounting, and information technology departments. NEV quickly became the largest energy service provider in the deregulating U.S. energy market, and was sold, in 1999, to AES Corporation for over $90 million, plus stock options for senior managers.
After serving as CEO of Energy Softworx Inc, a Florida-based information technology company, Hardee founded Electricity Capital, LLC, in 2001, an energy investing and consulting firm serving power generation, transmission, and consumption entities, primarily in the Western U.S. He remains a managing director.
In 2002, Hardee’s passion for wine fueled yet another reinvention, as vintner, with the establishment of Carina Cellars in Santa Barbara County. Unlike other area wineries that focus heavily on Pinot Noir, Hardee and winemaking partner, Joey Tensley, set out to produce top-quality Rhône wines.
“ In a start-up operation, you try to eliminate as many potential obstacles as you can,” Hardee says. “The Rhône varietals offer a lot less difficulty in the production cycle [than Pinot Noir]. I have always loved them, in part because of Robert Parker’s influence.
“Our winemaking approach is traditionalist and minimalist,” he continues. “We partner with growers who share our philosophies on farming–a dedication to canopy management, low yields, and fruit balance. We think that creates the best wines, rich in traditional varietal flavors and terroir of the vineyard.”
Carina Cellars’ wines are receiving critical praise. The San Francisco Chronicle recently named its 2004 Santa Barbara County Viognier as one of the “top picks” for white wines from Santa Barbara County. The Wine Advocate’s Parker also praised the 2004 Viognier and awarded Carina Cellars’ 2003 Syrah Westerly Vineyard 90 points, commenting that “its beautiful perfume of blueberries, cassis, spring flowers, licorice, and lead pencil is followed by a medium-bodied Syrah with excellent fruit and texture.”
Now immersed in business with the winery and Electricity Capital, Hardee notes that he remains engaged with law.
“The trick is to figure out a way to use your training in the law to enhance your ability to pursue your dreams, your passions. Whether negotiating leases, contracting for grapes, ensuring state compliance, or advancing retail sales, I use it every day."