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The Disciplined, Fast Lane Life of a Race Car Driver Turned Winemaker

The Disciplined, Fast Lane Life of a Race Car Driver Turned Winemaker

If you were to ask me to rattle off my dream jobs in five seconds, I would probably list: rock star, National Geographic explorer, and whatever exactly Magic Mike’s professional title is. With a few more moments to consider, I would add elite racecar driver and winemaker, professions I admire for their artistry, finesse, and audacity.

Jamie Slone has made a name in both of these rarified fields. The owner of Jamie Slone Wines, which has an acclaimed Santa Barbara tasting room, he turned to winemaking after a storied career in professional racing. I admire Jamie for his talent and work ethic, but even more for his joyful, life-affirming personal philosophy. I sat down with him over a bottle of vino to pick his brain about wisdom gleaned from careers in these two high-octane professions.

jamie slone

Originally from Arizona, Jamie is a gregarious 61-year-old with piercing eyes that flash with mirth when he cracks jokes. I met with him on a glorious Santa Barbara afternoon, and we posted up on his tasting room’s patio to enjoy the sunshine and balmy breeze. As we chatted, he sent for a bottle of his famous P1, a luxurious blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah. (Like many of his wines, the name comes from racing: P1, or Pole Position, is the position you start the race in after turning the fastest qualifying lap.)

My first question for Jamie, not without a touch of envy, was where in the world he found the energy to master two notoriously competitive and complex crafts. Achieving membership in the elite echelon of racing or winemaking alone is remarkable, but summiting both Himalayan professional peaks is practically superhuman.

Jamie maintains a simple, but time-honored, practice to keep himself motivated: each morning upon waking, he deliberately pauses to consider his mortality and how his hourglass grows a little fuller with each passing moment.

“One day I’ll be in a rocking chair,” he says. “We are all headed to that rocking chair. But before that happens, I plan to seize every day.”

When he starts to feel complacent, Jamie reminds himself that each day is a sacred gift—especially when hale and healthy. His routine is not so different from that of the ancient Stoic sages, who advocated the daily ritual of memento mori, contemplating death to deepen appreciation for the earthly days remaining.

jamie slone wines

I was surprised to learn that Jamie, a veritable savant when it comes to viticultural history, only discovered the delights of the grape in his forties. Principally a beer swiller during his days at the University of Arizona, Jamie came to wine through racing, when a competition took him to Sonoma County. “After the race, the other drivers hit the dive bars to drink beer and shoot pool,” he says. “Thankfully, I opted to explore Sonoma’s vineyards, and from there, it was love at first sight. I realized that wine would be a part of my life.”

As in his early days with racing, Jamie threw himself headlong into studying viticulture and wine history, reading voraciously and seeking out mentors across the world. His wife, Kym, proved instrumental in building the success of the tasting room. While Jamie handled the business, Kym charmed customers and cultivated the brand. “In my wine career, Kym was like my chief engineer in racing. If it weren’t for her, I never would have been able to build my wine business.”

On the surface, the delicate art of winemaking seems to have little in common with the adrenaline-drenched battle of auto racing, but for Jamie, the fields overlap in unexpected ways. In both, ruthless failure rates stymie most aspirants, and dogged tenacity is key for survival. An inextinguishable love for the craft, a passion that drives you onward even after setbacks, is another mutually essential ingredient. And both are feast-or-famine games. When you’re winning, you’re soaring. When you’re not winning, it’s a merciless struggle.

Swirling his glass, Jamie reminisced about how keenly alive he felt behind the wheel. “When you’re rounding a corner at 170 mph, everything else in your mind gets drowned out,” he says. In a similar way, the sensory avalanche of an exquisite glass of wine silences mental background noise. Waxing poetic, Jamie likened wine to a magic potion, an elixir capable of summoning cherished remembrances from the soul’s treasure chest. Perhaps the taste of a particular grape brings you back to an early trip to Italy or France, a great dinner with cherished friends, or falling in love for the first time.

jamie slone wines

Winemaking and racing are notoriously expensive, right up there with aviation or yachting, and I fished for advice about how guys without scads of cash can break in. Jamie leveled with me that, unfortunately, there’s no way around the financial barriers.

“You need money first,” he says. “Quite a lot, in fact, to start in either racing and winemaking.”

Before the racetracks and tasting rooms, Jamie climbed the ladder in corporate America, building and selling a series of country music radio stations. As for acquiring wealth, Jamie offered the same advice as earlier: work ferociously and treat each hour as a precious commodity.

You can catch Jamie most afternoons at his tasting room on De La Guerra Street in downtown Santa Barbara, a stone’s toss from the Pacific Ocean and the glitzy boutiques of State Street. The tasting room offers flights, standard pours, and bottles for patrons to take home or ship. With large open windows catching the sunshine and breeze, it’s easy to linger an entire afternoon in the beautiful Spanish-Colonial abode, listening to Rolling Stones deep cuts, chatting with Jamie or Kym, and of course, sampling the delicious nectar of Santa Barbara’s vines. And if you happen to be a racer or University of Arizona alum, Jamie hooks you up with extra-long pours.

All photos courtesy Jamie Slone Wines.

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