I have to preface this with the fact that I’m currently asked, at least once or twice a week, to have someone else be a guest writer on this wine blog.

Well, I tried it and it didn’t work… Not because of the content, because I had to believe in the authors’ worthiness, so it made it through that filter. But, I honestly think that I learned that people were actually reading this blog to see what I was up to; otherwise, why did people reading this blog take a huge tumble in no time at all, and then came back up – ever so slowly – once I was back to writing five days a week?

The reason I was interested in having guest writers was because spending as many hours as I do away from billable hours doesn’t help me make payroll commitments ~ It was that simple.

What you’re about to read is an exception to my rule of… “I’m the only one who can write my wine journal…” because Richard Paul Hinkle is one of those writers whom I’ve hired on occasion… He’s that good. And, I couldn’t write this story any better than it’s been crafted… period.

J Winery’s PR person George Rose contacted me and asked if I’d be interested. This story deserves to be on the internet in its entirety, and wine-blog is really pleased to be its vehicle this time.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. I love Richard Paul Hinkle’s way with words. He’s unique and fun, and gets to the heart and soul of his stories… And, he can occasionally be a bit sassy. (I think that’s why I like him so much.)

Richard Paul Hinkle is a contributing editor to Quarterly Review of Wines and is also the author of nine wine books. QRW is one of the publications that I deeply respect and enjoy, BTW, because of their high standards of story contents and the wine writers’ profiles.

Congratulations, Judy… May you have another 25 years of fabulous success!


By Richard Paul Hinkle

“A mind expanded by a new idea never returns to its former size.” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

One of the things we learned about California wine in recent years is this: It matters where the grapes are grown. Not just a little, but a whole lot. In fact, it’s pretty much what separates world-class wines from everything else.

The good news is that, once California wine producers learned this lesson, winemakers jumped in with both feet. Growers began to understand that they were not just growing grapes, but rather that their end product was, in fact, the very definition of terroir.

Once these lessons began to sink in, crop levels dropped, attention was paid to matching the right variety with each specific plot of land, clones and rootstocks mattered, and trellis systems were assessed and reassessed. A “question everything” mantra came into play bringing with it great and enduring rewards.

There was once a small tasting room that boasted this sign on the back wall: “You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to make fine wine.” The joke was, of course, that the winemaker was a retired NASA astrophysicist.

Well, it also certainly doesn’t hurt to be a geologist who just happens to run a top shelf winery. At J Vineyards & Winery that fact came in handy when Founder and President Judy Jordan began to realize that many of her best vineyard acreage was better suited to varietal wines than they were for the sparkling wines. The winery’s motto is “A Legacy That Sparkles,” but the future was pointing in a new direction.

[Judy Jordan in 1987]

“My roots in the soil, as you suggest, do come honestly,” she says with a wily grin. “As a trained geologist (she earned an Earth Sciences degree from Stanford University), I have come to know how terroir is the foundation in the creation of world-class wines. The magnificent alluvial soils found in the Russian River Valley were formed over the millennia and play an important role in our ability to make great wine. I am fortunate to be accompanied on this journey of exploration by top viticulturist, John Erbe, and now, our new Vice President of Winemaking Melissa Stackhouse. Both are experts on all aspects of the Russian River Valley terrain.”

Jordan continues, “In 2010 we embarked on a new direction for J. With the official launch of our estate varietal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, we are staking our legacy on the terroir of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. This unique viticultural appellation is our home. It is where we farm 254-acres of cool-climate grapes, planted on a myriad of rootstocks and clones, and all located along the loam and gravel benches and hillsides on the edges of the Russian River.”

“While we remain dedicated to our sparkling wine program, our varietal estate wines clearly represent the next generation of J Vineyards & Winery. The new varietal packaging, featuring a more subtle version of our classic J “paintbrush” logo, is designed to distinguish the varietal table wines from our sparkling wines. The new labels reflect all the distinctive elements that comprise the very definition of terroir — soil, water, air, plant life, and the human touch.”

When Judy Jordan took over the former Remy facility, immediately adjacent to Rodney Strong Winery, south of Healdsburg, she set out to produce top flight sparkling wines exclusively. But over the years, the fruit of her Russian River Valley vineyards quietly began to assert itself. In small and subtle ways it let her know that, perhaps, varietal wines ought to become a more important part of her portfolio.

“We did GPS mapping of our ten Russian River Valley Estate vineyards,” say Viticulturalist John Erbe. “We took core soil samples to get to know every striation, to the point where we’re not guessing anymore. We all agreed that you have to be willing to shake things up every now and again.”

That reward came two-fold: First, in the richly-textured, full-bodied Pinot Noirs that immediately gained the attention of the wine press; second, in the timing of the introduction. With the recent recession putting a damper on the nation’s need to celebrate, J’s low-key rollout was just the right tone to establish itself as an important Pinot Noir producer.

Of course, every smart winery owner is looking for the next big thing. And at J, it is Pinot Gris. “There’s an Oregon style, an Italian style, a French style, and there’s even an Okanagan Valley style, but there’s no definitive California style — yet,” says Jordan. “There’s a serious business upside in having J develop a California style for this varietal. With 25 years of sparkling wine under our belt, we wrote the book on crisp and clean.”

To that end, J has created a “California” appellation Pinot Gris — drawing fruit from Monterey, Clarksburg (in the Sacramento River Delta) and Russian River Valley — a wine that is, in fact, is crisp and clean, a “fun” wine with a screw cap, sold at a reasonable price. The wine itself is a vinous delight, with a bright steely-lemon-lime core, a touch of Golden Delicious apple, and a tangy hint of lavender in the finish.

[Judy Jordan today]

With the winery turning a vibrant quarter century old this year, Judy Jordan — an exciting, energetic and elegant force in her own right — knows that vitality requires constant burnishing.

“As an entrepreneur and mother of two, I have worked hard to shape a successful wine company that is the essence of elegance and balance,” says Jordan. “Our sparkling wines, featuring the distinctive yellow ‘J’ signature, are instantly recognized around the country by consumers, whether in a restaurant or a retail outlet. Here in our Visitor Center Signature Bar and Bubble Lounge tasting rooms, we offer innovative food-and-wine pairings that demonstrate the extensive range of both our sparkling wines and table wines. It’s an exciting time to be in the wine business. As long as we keep learning and expanding our horizons, it will remain so.”


  • J Cuvée 20 Russian River Sparkling Wine ($22): You’ve got to love the brisk, right-to-the-point pear and apple zestiness that defines this sparkler, but it’s the fresh cream component that allows this wine to round out and settle in on your palate deliciously.
  • J 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28): Flush with ripe Fuji apple sappiness, this wine spreads out nicely with a hint of butter, the tang of hazelnut, all delectably balanced to handle anything from shellfish to sole in a cream sauce.
  • J 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35): The scent of rose petals draws you in, backed up by fleshy black cherry fruit in the middle and finish, spiced with a hint of sage to make your mouth water. Pair this with a juicy slab of beef or lamb, brushed with butter-sautéed mushroom sauce.




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