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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Local Vintner Is a Rare Vintage

David Hunt has never been one to let obstacles get in the way – even if he cannot see them coming. In fact, you might call the legally blind Chatsworth businessman a Renaissance man. He redesigned his 30-room estate after it burned in a fire in 2009, plays the piano and writes jazz music – and runs an award-winning winery. “It’s constantly a lot of work – an ever-changing vintage,” said Hunt, 64, who suffers from retinis pigmentosa, the same degenerative eye disease that has slowly robbed casino king Steve Wynn of his sight. His Hunt Cellars, which opened in 1996 in Paso Robles, makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blac and Cabernet Franc that have won wine competitions and can be found at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and other fine-dining establishments. Prices range from $22 to $290 a bottle. The company employs seven to 10 full-time workers, but the payroll expands during harvest and pruning seasons. Hunt’s latest plans are to open a vineyard, winery, tasting room and restaurant in Temecula by the end of next year. What is most extraordinary is that Hunt began losing his eyesight in the early 1990s, a few years before he decided to open his first vineyard. Hunt had started a number of businesses and made a bundle on AFA Smart Systems prior to opening the winery. The company designed smart home alarm systems, many of which Hunt invented and patented himself. He sold it off in the 1990s. He then decided to indulge his passion for wine, buying 550 acres in Paso Robles that he named “Destiny Vineyards” after his daughter. It had the soil of a dry barley farm, but little else. “(It was the) perfect soil for growing wine. (I decided) to roll the dice to find water,” he said. After investing millions on the property and hiring a hydrologist to dig wells, Hunt Cellars finally opened and expanded into a tasting room in 1999. Jorge Hernandez, general manager at Bistro 13, a fine dining restaurant in Camarillo, said Hunt’s story was part of the reason the bistro sells his wines. “The wines are really good and the life of this person is very interesting,” Hernandez said. “He comes here regularly. We do a lot of private dinners for him.” Hunt says his limited sight has heightened his sense of taste, helping him determine when grapes are ripe for winemaking. Hunt said he learned not to dwell on his disease from his father, who also suffered from retinis pigmentosa but taught Hunt to work hard from an early age. “He seemed unstoppable and didn’t have the ‘poor-me syndrome,’ which people with handicaps shouldn’t have,” Hunt said. – Jacquelinne Mejia

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