By Patra Taylor
From his second floor office window, Jim “Bear” Dyke enjoys a picturesque view of Downtown Charleston’s French Quarter. For both Dyke and his wife, Dawn, it was love at first sight when the couple visited the Holy City a dozen years ago. They immediately decided to move here, eager to embrace the pace and pleasures of life in the American South.
“My wife and I came to visit Charleston for the first time the weekend after the election,” states Dyke, referring to the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. “I served as the communications director at the Republican National Committee during the campaign. I was pretty worn out after that experience … maybe not thinking too clearly. We put a contract on a house that weekend and that’s how we ended up here.”
Dyke admits it’s hard to beat the excitement of Washington, D.C. where he’d worked for over 15 years. “While many people do well raising families there, I wanted to be more present raising our children,” continues Dyke, who is originally from Arkansas. “That’s difficult to do there, particularly in some jobs. My next job would have taken me to the White House. We decided to leave Washington, D.C. instead.”
Dyke may have left Washington, D.C., but the exciting world of politics maintained its hold on him. He soon established Jim Dyke & Associates (later renamed JDA Frontline), a public affairs and communications firm that works with clients facing complex legislative, regulatory and public policy challenges. Although his career adjustment allowed him to embrace the Southern lifestyle he craved, it still required him to make frequent trips to his old stomping grounds.
“I’d gone to D.C. for a meeting and decided to stop by the Off the Record Bar in the Hay-Adams hotel, which I have had occasion to do in the past,” explains Dyke of the day that would forever change his life. “I walked in and there was a man sitting at the bar, talking to the bartender about the Golden Ratio.”
The Golden Ratio is commonly known as the perfect number; it appears in art, music, nature, geometry, architecture and other areas. Intrigued by the conversation, Dyke sat down next to the man and struck up a conversation. “I told him about my past … what I did in Washington,” continues Dyke. “Everyone is impressed by what they did in Washington. Then the man, Gustavo Gonzalez, told me he was the head red winemaker with Robert Mondavi Winery. I found that much more impressive than anything I’d ever done.”
By the end of the evening, the two men were fast friends. Dyke states, “We had mapped out on a few bar napkins — that’s how all great businesses start, right? — what we believed the best winery in the world should be. We used words like ‘boutique’ and ‘innovative’ and ‘handcrafted’ and ‘single vineyard.’ We left it at that … promising to stay in touch. When we talked, we joked that maybe our miracle would happen someday.
“Then in 2009, while still at Mondavi, Gustavo called,” continues Dyke. “He told me one of Larry Hyde’s blocks was becoming available … and this might be the time do something.”
According to Dyke, Larry Hyde is considered the “King of Carneros,” the grape grower who sets the standard for wines in Napa’s Carneros region. Dyke explains that a vineyard is divided into blocks that are leased by winemakers. Then the winemaker manages the block — they treat it like his or her own.
“So I told Gustavo that if he would leave Mondavi and really partner with me, I was in,” recalls Dyke. “He said that if I would get out of politics, he’d leave Mondavi. I felt like I got the easier part of that deal.”
With Gonzalez’s 20 years of experience making premium wines in five different countries and Dyke’s 15 years of communications experience in the world’s toughest city, the two men got down to the business of creating from scratch a premium winery. They named it Mira, which is the Latin root for “miracle.”
“We received a lot of advice from the experts in the industry and I don’t think we listened to any of it,” notes Dyke. “I think that makes us either stupid or brilliant. Right now it’s still up in the air.”
Dyke says the standard way of building a brand in the wine industry is to start by making one wine, such as a pinot or a cabernet and become known for that. Once the winery makes a name for itself, it can broaden its portfolio of wines. “I thought the best way to showcase Gustavo’s talent was to make multiple wines,” says Dyke. “Plus, Gustavo had connections with the premier vineyards in Napa Valley and thought he could get grape contracts, which are difficult to come by.”
“I think I was born to make wine,” confesses Gonzalez, who has been involved in agriculture in California his entire life. “When you combine agriculture and science with creativity … that’s winemaking for me.”
“Our first vintage was in 2009 and we hit the market in 2012 with half-dozen wines,” says Dyke. “Now we offer 12 different products. To gain this kind of acceptance so fast is pretty remarkable.”
Today, Mira is a boutique, limited production winery that embraces new approaches to crafting wine. The diversity of the winery’s vineyard blocks in acclaimed one-of-a-kind vineyard across Napa Valley mirrors the diversity of its products. “Revolutionizing the wine industry … with stunning implications for taste,” writes James Nye of the Daily Mail UK. “Winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez left Robert Mondavi to do his own thing and what an auspicious start … the wine is wonderful,” writes Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast. As the accolades pour in, Dyke and Gonzalez continue to push their “miracle” forward.
Always one to buck the status quo, Dyke soon decided to share his latest mid-life adventure with Charleston’s visitors and residents alike by building the Mira Winery Napa Valley Education Center and Tasting Room in the heart of the historic city. Located at 68.5 Queen Street just below Dyke’s office with a view, Mira Winery’s California-styled tasting room links the nation’s premier wine-growing region with the history and traditions of the South. Dyke calls it “a bi-coastal experience” while others simply call it “ingenious.”
“One of the things that Gustavo and I talked about in the beginning was being approachable,” says Dyke. “As part of that, we opened the tasting room here in Charleston. I think we’re one of the few wineries to have a tasting room in a different city than where the wine is made.”
The tasting room features a barrel-shaped ceiling, a detailed topographical map of Napa and a display of various soils in which grapes for making wine are grown. “Our wines continue to receive critical acclaim and wine industry awards,” says Dyke. “But the most satisfying part of this endeavor is downstairs. People who taste our chardonnay and say, ‘I don’t even like chardonnay but I love this,’ or ‘I don’t drink pinot but I would drink this.’ That just feeds me.”
In December 2016, Dyke purchased 10.5 acres with an existing grape permit to build a winery and hospitality room in Yountville, California, in the heart of Napa Valley. “We’re breaking ground soon to build our own facility,” he notes. “We’ll move production from a custom crush facility,” that’s a winery that shares its tanks, labor, etc. with several winemakers — “to our own facility. We’ll grow some of our own grapes there, but also continue to lease blocks to grow grapes throughout Napa.
“Building our own winery seems like the final piece of the puzzle for us,” concludes. “The design of the winery actually has the Golden Ratio built into it. We’ve come full circle … back to where we started. I think it’s pretty neat.”