J Vineyards and Winery was founded in California’s Russian River Valley in 1986 by Judy Jordan (her father Tom launched Jordan Vineyards in the Alexander Valley, now run by her brother John.) Today, J winery produces cool climate varietal wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, as well as sparkling wines. I recently sat down over dinner at DC’s Capital Grille with J Winery’s Director of Public Relations George Rose, while he was in town for the Sonoma In the City tasting event.
Rose has been involved with promoting Northern California’s wine region for almost twenty years, first with Fetzer, then Clos du Bois, and finally Kendall Jackson until 2008, when he took on his current position as Director of Public Relations for J Winery. Throughout his career in wine, he told me that for him, it’s all been about “knocking wine off its pedestal.” So, while he mentioned that while he owns every type of Riedel glassware for every wine style, he thinks wine tastes equally good out of the glass tumblers ubiquitous in Italy. It’s company that makes the wine sing, he told me.
Speaking of singing, as affable as he is knowledgeable about California’s wine region, Rose also shares a passion for photography. During the course of our dinner, the conversation took a fascinating tangent to the years he spent in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times, and (which was incredibly intriguing to me) as a freelancer for other publications including Rolling Stone.
Rose snapped many iconic rock and roll photos during this time: Keith Richards lounging on a sofa smoking a cigarette in New York in 1982, Bruce Springsteen onstage in Minnesota in 1978, Chuck Berry in Hollywood in 1980. You can see images from this era collected in his 2008 book “Hollywood, Beverly Hills & Other Perversities“. Very, very cool.
But I digress, just as we did during dinner…
I asked Rose if J Winery has an overarching winemaking philosophy, to which he responded that Judy Jordan strives to produce wines both “elegant” and “balanced.” Though single vineyard wines may deviate from that due to terroir and vintage, these two adjectives aptly describe the house style for J’s wines, which makes them sipp-able with or without food.
We started the evening with the J Brut Rosé NV ($35) from the Russian River Valley, one of four bubblies the winery
produces. The use of a Coquard press (the same one used in Champagne, and the one used for the grapes in all of J Winery’s wines, not just sparkling ones) makes for gentle pressing of the grapes, which keeps the delicate fruit aromas. Strawberry and nectarine aromas jumped out of my glass. The large amount of Pinot in the blend renders a wine that’s is fuller bodied and more complex than a Blanc de Blancs or Brut, but still with bright acidity and a clean finish. It deftly cut the richness of the bacon and bleu cheese dressing atop my wedge salad (what would dinner at a steakhouse be without one?), but I also kept returning to the glass throughout the rest of the evening.
(Incidentally, the large brushstroke “J” that appears on J’s sparkling wine bottles was drawn years ago by Judy and touched up by a graphic designer. Rose noted that these bubblies are very popular—even fanatical—with brides whose first name’s begin with the letter “J,” who even send the winery pictures of their big day.)
The 2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28) is 100% barrel fermented, and aged in Burgundian oak barrels (40% of them new.) But a judicious restraint (back to that “elegant” and “balanced” philosophy) keeps this wine far from becoming an oak bomb. Though admittedly not my favorite grape varietal, I was impressed with its subtle toasted oak (Rose aptly describe it as a “matchstick” toastiness), and notes of lemon, peach, honey and vanilla. It’s weighty without being heavy; rich but not cloying.
Pinot-philes have a lot of choices at J Winery, as they produce eight, including single vineyard options. But most widely available is the 2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35), a lighter style that has huge sip-appeal. Aromas of raspberry, blackberry, flavors of cocoa are met with a hint of spice on the finish, and the soft, approachable tannins make it easy to sip with or without food.
Rose and I discussed the propensity of some California winemakers to produce Pinot Noir that’s so darkly colored, tannic and fruity you begin to wonder if there is actually any Pinot in the glass. While I always assumed that this was due to over-extraction of the grapes, Rose also let me in on another little secret. Winemakers will sometimes blend in other wines like Syrah to ramp up the color, body and flavor. (A telltale sign of this is a purplish-tinge to the wine, instead of a ruby hue.) J’s is 100% Pinot, and most certainly not overly extracted or blended. I enjoyed it with Cedar-Planked Salmon with Sautéed Fennel and Tomatoes, but it would also be sublime with roasted or grilled Arctic Char, or duck breast.
The wines I mentioned are readily available in the DC area. Oh, and beyond those legendary published pictures of musicians and other famous figures, Rose has also collected photos that document the seasonal changes in California’s wine country in his 2007 book “The Art of Terroir.”
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and a wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She is available to do wine tastings for private and corporate events. You can reach Kelly at www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.