Jim Paras ’58 has discovered the ideal way to lead a balanced life.
The founder of Jade Mountain Winery, Paras has been both a wine producer and lawyer since 1988, when he began to demonstrate that wines comparable to the best offered by France’s Rhône Valley could be produced in California.
“The climate, soils, and growing conditions, particularly in the Napa Valley, were more like southern France than like the more northern Bordeaux or Burgundy regions,” he said. His passion was shared by Douglas Danielak, Jade Mountain’s wine maker, an American who had studied wine making in Burgundy. The two set out to create the wines they both envisioned.
An expert in labor and employment law, Paras “fell in love” with the San Francisco Bay area soon after law school, when his job as an associate chief of the Supreme Court branch of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., required him to argue in the Ninth Circuit. In 1966, he moved west and became the 24th lawyer to join Morrison and Foerster in San Francisco. Today Paras practices three-plus days a week at Morrison and Foerster, where he is senior of counsel to the now 800-person firm, and works two days a week at the Paras Vineyard on Mount Veeder overlooking the Napa Valley.
Paras enjoys the “endless challenges and terrific gratification” of his work with the vineyards and the winery as he supervises his crew of four, negotiates contracts with growers, helps to determine when the first grapes should be picked, and in the spring helps taste and compare the newly fermented wine to determine which barrels make the grade for a particular blend. “You need a lot of patience. You get only one vintage per year so you better get it right,” he said.
In 1989 Jade Mountain released its first varietal Mourvedre with a grand total of 188 cases. Soon after, the winery produced its own Rhône-style wine, La Provençale: a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache grapes.
Concurrently Paras and Danielak began a search for the perfect place to grow their own grapes for the Rhône-style wine they had originally set out to produce. In 1991, after almost three years of “climbing what seemed to be every hillside in Napa and Sonoma,” they found what they believed to be the ideal location, an old vineyard 1,200 feet above the Napa Valley on top of Mount Veeder. The land was replanted with Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, and some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, a process Paras compares to “building the Grand Coulee Dam on a small scale.” In 1994 Jade Mountain produced 74 cases of its first Syrah from the Mount Veeder vineyard. The winery quickly emerged as one of California’s elite wineries, winning top marks from prominent international wine critics.
In April, with the success of the winery resulting in the annual production of 8,000 to 10,000 cases of wine, Paras sold the Jade Mountain brand name to the Chalone Wine Group. His new venture, Paras Vineyard, will allow him to go back to “something more manageable.”
“Now we are out to produce what I think will be one of California’s greatest Cabernets. Five hundred cases, a 1999 vintage, will be released next fall.”
His twin passions for law and wine making have complemented each other over the years, Paras says. “By and large, lawyers are supposed to be analytical and dispassionate. Wine people are analytical, perhaps, but they certainly are not dispassionate. I guess by exercising both the intellectual and emotional sides of the brain, I have found the perfect blend.”