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  • What We’re Doing Today: Meet David Hardten, MD

    David R. Hardten, MD, is a prominent specialist in cornea, external disease, anterior segment, cataract, refractive, and laser surgery and is also very active in research and education. He is a founding partner of Minnesota Eye Consultants, where with Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, and Thomas W. Samuelson, MD, he conducted many studies relating to LASIK eye surgery, glaucoma management, and corneal transplantation.

    Dr. Hardten graduated from the University of Kansas undergraduate and medical schools, and then trained as a resident in ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota. He completed his fellowship training in cornea and external disease at the University of Minnesota and Phillips Eye Institute.

    But we’re here to discuss David’s avocational interests.

    Dr. Sadun: Hi, David. Thanks for allowing us this interview as part of the “What We’re Doing Today” Scope series on interesting hobbies and avocations. How and when did you become interested in wine?

    Hardten 1

    At work on the property. Chainsaw in hand, protective gear in place. Dr. Hardten loves to do a fair amount of the work he is capable of himself.

    Dr. Hardten: I have always loved to travel. When I finished my training, most of my short trips were places within the U.S. What became a favorite spot that was easy to get to from Minnesota was California’s wine country. We would go twice a year and visit a lot of places. We were struck by the beautiful views, the relaxing times, and a special bond we began creating with wine and the wine country. I’m sure part of this was how relaxing we found it to spend time with friends over a glass of wine. These were special times. I also came to understand that wine has many nuances — it isn’t just the same every time — which is very interesting. How each locale, the particulars of the weather that year, the techniques of the winemaker, the specific blending, all of this affected the taste of the wine.

    Dr. Sadun: When did you take this to the point of considering the purchase of a vineyard?

    Dr. Sadun: We purchased a vineyard in 2019. When my wife and I were first married, we seriously thought about finding a place in the Napa-Sonoma area of California. However, the busy nature of an early career in ophthalmology added to the chaos of raising young kids made it impractical. But recently the kids have graduated from college, and I have several great partners in my practice. So, we reached the point that allowed us the time away to handle the vineyard. This is a task I can now accomplish.

    Dr. Sadun: Where was the vineyard you purchased, and what factors went into that choice?

    Dr. Sadun: We looked around for a couple of years. I wanted at least four to five acres of planted vines. Additionally, we wanted to have a small place to stay on the property. Both my wife and I love California cabernet sauvignon so that was a priority. Many of the vineyards were tough to get to (Think an hour walk on a washed-out road that may have allowed a four-wheeler, plus a mile of road to rebuild). Some vineyards had a home that was too big, too old, and too broken down (too ugly too, but not enough to tear down). Some lots had a barely functioning well with water contaminated by bromine. The vineyard we finally purchased was up in the mountains, had a great view, and 13 total acres, seven of which were already planted to Cab. All the structures on the lot had unfortunately burned down in the 2017 Atlas Peak fire but we were OK with starting again with the buildings.

    Hardten 2

    Enjoying a wine tasting in Napa with his wife and two daughters.

    Dr. Sadun: Was the soil, drainage, slope, etc. the sort you were looking for to grow the vine you liked?

    Dr. Sadun: As I mentioned, we love cabernet sauvignon. The vineyard we just bought could also have grown cabernet franc or almost any other varietal. But because it does well with cabernet sauvignon, that is what we grow. The hillside allows for good drainage, good sun exposure, and the past owners had sold to high quality winemakers.

    Dr. Sadun: How did you learn about the process of tending to the grape and making wine?

    Dr. Sadun: I’m constantly learning. I’ve done some of the WSET [Wine & Spirit Education Trust] courses. But mostly, I depend on great consultants that help out, just like we often do in ophthalmology. I interviewed several vineyard managers and selected Mike Wolf. He and his team really do the day to day management of the vines and vineyard. They have great workers who handle pruning, watering, etc. For our first vintage, we sold most of our grapes to other wineries, but also made about 100 cases of our own wine. We had a consulting winemaker – Patrick Saboe – and he and their team handled the crush, maceration, barrels, racking, and bottling!

    Dr. Sadun: What are some of the things you have learned about wine and vineyard that you never anticipated?

    Dr. Sadun: Managing a vineyard is farming. Wine is a special finish of great land, hard work, weather, and luck. That’s what makes it such a special exciting, interesting pastime.

    Dr. Sadun: How has growing wine affected your social world? You must be a popular host.

    Dr. Sadun: We have a wine cellar at home with a table for special events. My wife has been very active in the University of Minnesota Foundation Winefest — and we’ve donated dinners for these charity events. We have a lot of fun with that.

    Dr. Sadun: Do you have a collection of many other wines? Do you use that just for pleasure or as a reference for what you are trying to do?

    Dr. Sadun: My personal collection in the cellar has a mix of French Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italian, Napa, Australian, port, etc. It’s for our personal pleasure. I love the variety.

    Dr. Sadun: What connection have you found between ophthalmology and making wine? I've noted that there are many ophthalmologists who are also wine producers and am fascinated by the possible connection. Feel free to philosophize.

    Dr. Sadun: Ophthalmologists are detail-oriented planners and creators. Wine is creative, but there is a recipe. Ophthalmologists are also usually interacting with a lot of people (think of the number of patients we help on a daily basis). Wine hospitality is a people-oriented process. Farming is equivalent to the surgical technique we all love.

    Dr. Sadun: Can you add an anecdote or two that will amuse our readers?

    Dr. Sadun: An additional benefit to our investment is the wildlife at the vineyard, which we really love. We see lots of coyotes, fox, owls, mountain lions, and bears. We put up an owl box three years ago and had our first set of owl babies last spring. My youngest daughter and I decided to go check it out at night and see if we could see the babies. The owl mom and dad didn’t really like us that close, and they started making a screeching noise that kind of sounded like a mountain lion, so we ran back to the barn pretty quickly. Since then, we have installed a camera inside the owl box and now watch the growing chicks from the safety of our home.

    Dr. Sadun: So, it sounds like wine is just one advantage of owning your own vineyard. It’s added another dimension to your family dynamics. Do you see this as a family legacy?

    Hardten 3

    Olive trees also grow on the property – and pickling olives was this fall’s new venture.

    Dr. Sadun: My kids love nature, have an appreciation for growing things — and they have developed a great appreciation for red wine and the nuances of tasting. They really like being involved in the vineyard business. They help us run social media — Instagram, the website. We also rent out the living unit above the barn — and they help in some of that coordination. I’m not ready to turn it over — but I suspect that I will turn it over to them some future day.

    Dr. Sadun: Nice!

    Editor's note: We're interested in what you do outside of ophthalmology. If you or a colleague has an interesting avocation for the series "What We're Doing Today," email the Academy at