Thursday, December 16, 2010

Four Stars & Highly Recommended - Press Democrat for J Brut Rose NV!

Four Stars from Wine of the Week 

Highly Recommended!

A fruit-forward sparkler with aromas and flavors of strawberry, yeast and mineral. Layered flavors. Good acidity. Refreshing.

By Peg Melnik, Press Democrat

Monday, December 13, 2010

Listen in on 12/14 - Mark Caldwell, Executive Chef for J Vineyards & Winery interviewed Live by Slow Living Radio!

 Listen in on the LIVE "Slow Living Radio Show" Tuesday, Dec 14, 2010 at 6pm (PT) as Sally James & Steve Andrews Interview J’s Executive Chef, Mark E. Caldwell to discuss J Sparkling Food & Wine Pairings and Tips for Holiday Entertaining!

Featuring the following J Sparkling Wines paired with the Mark’s inspiring hors d'oeuvre creations:

J Cuvée 20 Brut NV
J Brut Rosé NV
J 2002 Vintage Brut
J 1999 Vintage Brut Late Disgorged 

Slow Living radio is dedicated to those who want reclaim their time, breathe out and get back to real living. We want to inspire and challenge you. Why not tap the brakes, reconsider your priorities, and get back to a place where life is more fun and rewarding? Slow Living simply means taking the time to experience your days instead of counting them. Each week we'll present you with engaging guests and topics. Food, wine, travel, health & fitness, home design, greener living, entertainment, cool events... so sit back and enjoy the ride with us in the pursuit of endless discoveries.

Our show is broadcast each week to 11 million homes coast-to-coast through the CRN Digital Talk Affiliate Network. Hopefully, one of those homes is yours. If not, you can always catch the broadcast on your iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm, or other Windows Mobile device, or online at web radio

Slow Living radio is broadcast live each week, Tuesdays from 6pm to 7pm PT, to 11 million homes coast-to-coast through the CRN Digital Talk Network, enabling you to listen at home, online at, or with your mobile device using a variety of applications for iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm, or Windows Mobile.

Thursday, December 9, 2010



Though winter is a couple of weeks away,
we are still enjoying the late fall colors at
J Vineyards & Winery.

 It’s the perfect time to visit J.
Enjoy these photographs taken around our
Visitor Center and Winery this past week.

Happy Holidays from J Vineyards & Winery!

Monday, December 6, 2010

"James the Wine Guy" Winery Visit to J Vineyards & Winery

Winery Visit: J Vineyards & Winery Company – 9.0 
James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy

I enjoy my visits to J Vineyards and Winery and while I look forward to their still wines—I cannot wait to taste their bubbly. While you can open up any bottle of wine up in your house or another favorite venue—it is a testament to enjoy something that you could enjoy closer to home but instead journey to a winery. Traveling to Healdsburg—or any other winery location can be a lot of effort. But the reason we do is to experience wines that we could access anywhere but to also try wines available no where else.

And further more be in an environment that exceeds our expectation—something feels like you are in a wine country and have a compelling wine country experience. The goal whether far or close from home physically is to be miles away mentally. I do experience that at J Vineyards and Winery. I like their Bubble Room and if you have some extra dollars it might be a nice way to treat yourself to a very nice food and wine pairing. Their food is always creative and well executed

Be sure to enjoy their Rosé and Late-Disgorged Brut.

J Vineyards & Winery
11477 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, CA
(707) 431-3646

Friday, December 3, 2010

91 Points & Very Highly Recommended - California Grapevine for J Vineyards 2008 Russuan River Valley Chardonnay!

91 Points & Very Highly Recommended!

2008 J Vineyards Chardonnay
Russian River Valley

Medium-light golden yellow; attractive, herbal, lemony, appley aroma with tropical notes and traces of vanilla and butterscotch; medium-full to full body; forward, rich, buttery, apple and white peach flavors with spicy notes and a creamy mouthfeel; lingering aftertaste. Shows some elegance with well integrated fruit and oak. Very highly recommended.

Very Highly Recommended!
(91 of 100 points)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sparkling at J Vineyards, Russian River Valley

Not everything that sparkles in California is gold. Sometimes it's J!

With the holiday season approaching, I found myself in Healdsburg in the heart of Sonoma County a week ago speaking at a technology growth and innovation conference. Meeting many cool and impressive techies and social media gurus was a lot of fun. That, plus a picture-perfect 80-degree weather in the middle of November put me in a groovy mood. So on the way back to Palo Alto, I felt like sparkling wine.

Sonoma county is relatively well known for a number of reputable sparkling wine producers, who make bubblies in the traditional Champagne method (i.e. second fermentation in the bottle). In my mind, with all due respect to all other methods of getting CO2 into a wine, the method of Champagne is the only way to go for any serious drinkin'! And while nothing touches Champagne itself (with the exception of perhaps Italy's Franciacorta and Trento DOC), our traditional method domestics from Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, such as Roederer Estate, Domaine Chandon, Mumm, Domaine Carneros, Schramsberg and Gloria Ferrer, are not bad at all, and offer really delicious and cheaper alternatives, and a sense of patriotism.

One of the names that immediately popped in my head was J. I'd enjoyed their bubblies in the past, as well as wonderful food & wine pairings at their Signature Bar and the Bubble Room. Located just 10 min down the road from Healdsburg, in Russian River Valley, J Vineyards are well known for good quality and very elegant bottles. Founded in 1986 by Judy Jordan (thus "J") the daughter of Jordan Winery's founder Tom Jordan, they initially focused entirely on sparkling wine. While other California houses have expanded their sparkling production, J have actually been reducing theirs, as they've tried to assert themselves as a world-class expert in Pinot Noir. Let sparkling wine be more of a boutique item for J, let the French mega-brand-controlled estates churn out volume. Truth be told, sparkling wine is still a specialty item in America, drunk primarily on special occasions and holidays, thus the demand is relatively lower than in France where it's treated more as a versatile food wine - a notion I subscribe to wholeheartedly. On the other hand, America's love affair with Pinot Noir seems at all-time high, with Russian River Valley in Sonoma, Santa-Rita Hills in Central Coast, and Willamette Valley in Oregon carrying significant prestige in the eyes of the American (and even Asian) consumer. So why not try to elevate J's Pinot into the same elite ranks as Williams Selyem, Rochioli, and Gary Farrell?! -- all near-cult Pinot entities that made grand reputations on the soils of the Russian River Valley (or RRV), and in turn applied the strengths of their own brands to make "RRV" a brand name as well.

I tried the 2006 Nicole's Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir - and it was as good as any I've had from Sonoma County, wonderfully textured, with nothing sticking out. But for anyone who's read this blog for any duration of time, you'd know that being a huge Burgundy fan, I need that acid, earth, and veggie. None of that typical sweet balsamic (sensuous?) stuff that enchants millions (sorry, my friends), ever since Sideways.

So I dropped by and met with J Vineyards PR Director George Rose, as well as their winemaker George Bursick, who prior to J had been a founding member and winemaker for 22 years at Ferrari-Carano winery.

Iron Chevsky and George Bursick, the winemaker at J Vineyards since 2006, holding a magnum of J Brut, in front of designer wall which represents the Russian River, the sparkles of the bubbles in J wines, and the soils of the Russian River Valley.

We went through the lineup of their entry-level "Cuvée 20" NV Brut ($22), NV Rose ($30), 2002 Vintage Brut ($40), and 1999 Late Disgorged (after 9 years of cellaring) Vintage Brut ($65). All made from the locally grown classical Champagne varieties - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. In a word, wonderful wines, great acidity, but also nice roundness. The vintage bruts showed the anticipated yeastiness and brioche, and the '99 in particular hinted at nuttiness that I so enjoy in more mature sparklers. Their Cuvée 20 is the bestseller - they make about 23000 cases, and it flies. I was not surprised because for ~$17 (if you search on, it really tasted very good! It boggles my mind that if we can achieve such great acidity in the local sparkling wines, why can't we have some of that in those damn still whites and reds?! It's got to be you - the sweet-toothed consumer!
1999 J Vintage Brut Late Disgorged

During the tasting, I brought up a topic of disclosing disgorgement dates on labels. Most Champagne producers don't to it, but many wine lovers absolutely want to know how old a non-vintage Champagne is. Some wine collectors, in fact, will not buy sparkling wine without knowing the vintages and percentages of the constituent wines in the blend and the disgorgement dates. At J, this question apparently had never come up, especially given they don't even put a label on their designer-shaped bottle. Traditionally, Champagne and other sparkling wine producers have a "house style" for each of their non-vintage cuvées that is supposed to be so consistent from year to year (via blending multiple vintages together) that the question of dates is not necessary. That's a theory that serious winos take with a grain of salt. Plus, as a consumer I want to know how old a non-vintage wine I am looking at is? Without any reference date, a cynic in me says - that's an unfair advantage to the retailer - if they have something that's been sitting there for years past its prime. The impression I got from J is that they envision their bubblies to be consumed relatively soon upon release, and if they wanted you to wait, they would hold on to those bottles, as they do with their vintage bruts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Prince of Pinot Preview of 2008 Pinots from J Vineyards & Winery!

Preview of 2008 Pinots from J Vineyards & Winery

J Vineyards & Winery was established in 1986 and became one of California’s marquee producers of méthode champenoise sparkling wine. J Vintage Brut, J Cuvée 20 Brut, J Late-Disgorged Vintage Brut, and J Brut Rosé have all been highly lauded. The yellow J logo on sparkling wine bottles is an instantly recognizable brand label and a mark of quality that personifies the winery’s byline, “The essence of style.”

J produced still Pinot Noir beginning in 1994, but the wines were not distinguished. In early 2006, Judy Jordan and her management team made a dramatic decision to reduce sparkling wine output, while still maintaining its excellence, and commit to a still wine program that would compete with other top wineries in the region. Veteran Sonoma County winemaker George Bursick was brought in as Vice President of Winemaking, John Erbe was added as Viticulturist, and Kathryn Lindstrom became the new General Manager and Chief Financial Officer. The J logo was retained for the sparkling wines, and a new label design (below right) was developed for the J Vineyard still wines.

Bursick left a long tenure at Ferrari-Carano Winery to join J and notes among his many influences California winemaker icons John Parducci, Walter Schug and Justin Meyer. The first fully executed vintage of varietal wines at J vinified by George Bursick were from the 2006 vintage and were released in 2008. It has taken two more vintages for Bursick to assemble his preferred winemaking equipment and to solidify his winemaking program. I recently visited J Vineyards & Winery and tasted through the 2008 lineup of Pinot Noirs that were bottled in January 2010 and scheduled for release in January 2011. The wines are distributed in all 50 states and Canada. Some 2007 bottlings are still available and are worth pursuing as well (see review of the 2007 J Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir in the previous article on the Middle Reach).

I came away impressed with the potential of the 2008 Pinot Noirs, all of which had Bursick’s signature silky smooth texture. Bursick noted that 2008 was a “warm and wonderful year with concentrated flavors.” Some of Bursick’s winemaking techniques, such as total oxygen deprivation and seed removal, cause the wines to evolve slowly but provide them with longevity. The former was confirmed by my October 2010 tasting at which time the wines were still youthful and not evolved. The winery’s Chardonnay is fine, the Pinot Gris is the best produced in California, and the sparkling wines retain their world-class position.

Bursick is something of an iconoclast, preferring to try approaches that his peers are not willing to do. He has observed that in Burgundy, the grapes achieve seed ripeness but not sugar ripeness, while in California there is sugar ripeness without corresponding seed ripeness. As a result, he chooses to de-stem the grapes and remove the seeds from the winemaking process. In this way, the seed tannins, which are undesirable when unripe and alcohol soluble, are removed from the process. The result is wines that are stylistically low in tannins and possess a supple mouth feel.

After joining J Vineyards & Winery, Bursick, along with Erbe, instituted a number of innovative viticultural practices focused on site-specific blocks that are farmed individually and harvested separately. A modern computer program has been used to create a modeling profile of all the soils of the estate vineyards. This knowledge is critical for precision viticulture and not without significant complexity, as there are many different soil types in the Russian River Valley, even more diversity than in Burgundy.

At the winery, individual blocks are kept separate (84 separate Pinot Noir lots, 9 different rootstocks, 14 different Pinot Noir clones) to feature each vineyard’s character. The different blocks are then exposed to a number of variables including the use of indigenous and rare, exotic yeasts (some Burgundian strains dating to 1940) and malolactic strains, a variety of punch down regimens, slow fermentations (malolactic fermentation lasts 2 to 4 months with no nutrients added to speed up the process), 2 week post primary fermentation macerations, unique French Burgundian tight-grain cooperage for different wine lots, and battonage during aging. The fermentation program is similar for Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are aged in 30%-50% new French oak barrels for 12 months.

J farms ten estate vineyards consisting of 257 planted acres of diverse hillside and valley floor vineyards primarily throughout the Middle Reach, in the northeastern sub-region of the Russian River Valley appellation. Recently, three new Russian River Valley estate vineyards were acquired which will be dedicated to varietal wine. The new Sally Ann’s Vineyard, Bow Tie Vineyard, and Dotty Stan Vineyard acquisitions accompanied the sale of three vineyards previously designated for J’s sparkling wine. The Pinot Noir vineyards include: Nicole’s Vineyard (45.8 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir clones 2A, Dijon 113 and 115), Robert Thomas Vineyard (47 acres of Pinot Noir, clones 15, 2A, 31, Rochioli, and Dijon 667 and 777), Sally Ann’s Vineyard (16.5 acres of Pinot Noir, clones Pommard, Dijon 667, 777, 828, 943, planted in the spring 2009), Dotty Stan Vineyard (14.5 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, scheduled for planting in 2010), Nonny’s Vineyard (70 acres of Pinot Noir, clones Pommard, Calera, Dijon 115, 667, 777 and 828, undergoing conversion to sparkling wine production), Teardrop Vineyard (.5 acre Pinot Noir demonstration vineyard adjacent J Visitor Center), and Bow Tie Vineyard (37.8 acres alongside Westside Road, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir clones Swan, Dijon 667, 777, 828, 943, and 115, planted in late 2008).

2009 J Vineyards California Pinot Gris
14.3% alc., 20,000 cases, $15, screw cap. Grapes are sourced from Clarksburg (50%), Russian River Valley (43%), and Monterey (7%). Whole cluster gentle pressing, fermented and cooled in stainless steel tanks. No MLF. • Lovely array of tropical fruits with lemon curd in the background. Slightly viscous mouth feel with some persistence on the lengthy finish. A terrific, fruit-forward and crisp food wine that is the best example of this varietal produced in California. Good!

2009 J Vineyards Cooper Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Gris
14.3% alc., 500 cases, $20. From clone 152 grown in the J estate vineyard located in front of the winery along Old Redwood Highway. Gently pressing in J’s Coquard press and primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks kept at 55 degrees. • Floral and citrus notes are featured on the nose with a crisp complement of tropical, melon and orange peel flavors. More sophisticated and mineral-imbued than the California bottling. Good!

2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay
14.3% alc., pH 3.50, 8,000 cases, $28. From J estate vineyards and select vineyard sites in the western Russian River Valley. Whole cluster pressed gently in J’s Coquard press with separate fermentations of free run and press juice. Combination of indigenous and custom Burgundian yeast strains. 100% barrel-fermented slowly in 40% new French oak barrels. Unusual 6-month malolactic fermentation results in a sur lie character. • Straw color in the glass. Heady, vibrant and clean aromas of white peaches, citrus, pineapple, butter and smoky oak. Very tasty offering of lemon curd, fresh brioche, caramel, butterscotch and oak spice highlighted by a smooth and creamy texture. The fruit takes center stage in this wine crafted in an appealing style that most California Chardonnay drinkers will like. Very good!

2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.73, 18,000 cases, $35. From estate vineyards and selected growers. 100% de-stemmed, 3-10 day cold soak, natural fermentation, aged 15 months in 30% new French oak barrels. • Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, red cherry, red plum and rose petals are echoed in the flavors. A charming wine with nuances of earthiness and spice, restrained oak and soft tannins. The most approachable of the 2008 J Pinot Noirs and a reliable table wine. Good!

2008 J Vineyards Barrel 16 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH 3.64, 300 cases, $50. A special bottling of sixteen barrels chosen by the winemaker to best represent J’s estate vineyards. Aged 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels. Selected barrels were blended and returned to barrel for an additional 3 months. Sold only at the winery and to wine club members. • The least giving and shiest wine tasted on this day, but offering glimpses of a luscious core of black cherry, plum and blackberry fruit, all wrapped in soft, dusty tannins. Full, firm and concentrated, this wine needs another two years in the cellar. Decant if you drink sooner. Very good!

2008 J Vineyards Nicole’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.79, 720 cases, $50. This vineyard is located off Eastside Road on an eastern bench high above the Russian River and across the River from Rochioli Vineyard. This is one of the warmest sites in J’s vineyard collection. After destemming, the seeds are swept out that fall to the bottom of the tank during fermentation. This helps to eliminate green tannin flavor that immature seeds can often impart. Aged 12 months in 40% new French oak barrels. Selected barrels were blended and returned to barrel for an additional 3 months. • Very shy initially, but comes to life with swirling, offering intense and penetrating scents of ripe plum, black cherry and cassis. Flat-out delicious on the attack with intense and persistent flavors of black cherries and cola. Flavors veer to the ripe, roasted side as would be expected from this warm site in a warm vintage. Very good!

2008 J Vineyards Robert Thomas Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.69, 400 cases, $50. Robert Thomas Vineyards is located on Westside Road across from Moshin Vineyards. A cool vineyard amongst redwoods with great soil diversity and a subsurface water table. Because of late harvest, leaves are striped in early October on both the A.M. and P.M. sun side which is unusual for Pinot Noir. A challenging site to farm, but viticultural changes have brought the fruit to ripeness in this vintage. Clones are Rochioli, 2A and Dijon 115. • A husky wine, yet soft in the mouth. Darker cherry and berry fruits with hints of red currant and cola pick up intensity and interest over time in the glass. Noticeable grip of tannin keeps the fruit under wraps now but this youthful wine will be stellar in a year or two. Very good!

2008 J Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.67, 400 cases, $50. Clones are Pommard and Dijon 115 and 777. Aged 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels. Select barrels were blended and returned to barrel for an additional 3 months. • Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Perfume of fresh, exotic wild berries and mushroom with a hint of loamy earth and forest trail. Moderately rich ripe raspberry and plum flavors with a hint of oak spice and citrus. Silky smooth with gossamer tannins, beautiful integration of oak, and an appealing crispness. Very delicate on the palate but packed with flavor. Distinctly different from the Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs from J. Very good!

2002 J Vintage Brut Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine
12.5% alc., pH 3.11, 500 cases, $50. After fermentation in the bottle, the wine was aged for nearly 5 years. In 2006, a dosage of liqueur reserve wine was added to balance the wine and jump start a second fermentation. The wine was aged an additional 6 months on the cork before release. 49% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay, 2% Pinot Meunier. • Aromas of lemon zest, white stone fruits and minerals. Moderately intense lemon and pear flavors follow through to the uplifting finish. Very good!

1999 J Vintage Brut Late Disgorged Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine
12.5% alc., pH 3.11, 550 cases, $65. Sourced from several J estate vineyards including Nicole’s and Nonny’s vineyards. Whole cluster pressed in the Coquard press. Vineyard lots and press fractions were kept separate until blending, after which the wine was cold stabilized and bottled in the spring of 2000. The wine was disgorged after 9 years with a dosage composed of a blend of cask-aged reserve wines and pure cane sugar. After disgorging, the wine aged for another 15 months before release. 51% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir, 3% Pinot Meunier. • Heady aromas of citrus peel, honey, minerals and yeast with delicate flavors of lemon, pear, and spice. Bright and crisp with a fine bubble. Very good!

J Vineyards & Winery has a modern and inviting Visitor Center which is open daily for tasting at 11447 Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg. The J Visitor Center was the first in the Russian River Valley to offer wine tastings with seasonal food pairings. Visitors can reserve a tasting in the Bubble Room ($60 per person) that offers seating and table service. A seasonal three-course menu created by J Executive Chef Mark E. Caldwell compliments J’s three distinct wine styles: white wines, Pinot Noir, and sparkling wine. Two wines from each category are offered plus a taste of J’s Ratafia dessert wine at the conclusion of the tasting menu. I have brought a number of people to the Bubble Room tasting and my guests have always been extremely impressed by the wines, the food and the ambiance. J’s white wines, Cuvée 20 Brut NV and Brut Rosé, and the Russian River Valley appellation blend Pinot Noir are in widespread retail distribution. The limited production Pinot Noir bottlings and Late Disgorged sparkling wine are primarily winery-only offerings.

90 Points - VERY NEW WORLD & TOP-NOTCH BUBBLY! - Wine Review OnLine for J 2002 Vintage Brut


Best Bubblies This Side of Champagne
By Robert Whitley
Nov 30, 2010

It is often said that nothing in the vast world of sparkling wine tastes quite like Champagne. It is a fair observation, frequently noted by the Champenoise themselves. Most experts on the subject attribute the unique taste and structure of Champagne to the chalky soils of the region, with a bit of influence from the cool climate.

Still, efforts to replicate Champagne go on, and not without some success. A handful of producers in California make sparkling wines that compare favorably to the real thing. Located in the North Coast region that encompasses Sonoma and Mendocino counties and the Napa Valley, there exists a group of wineries that consistently craft the world's finest sparkling wines outside of Champagne.

They are to be applauded for their tenacity, for producing sparkling wine is an expensive proposition involving long-term cellaring of older stocks, extensive blending trials, and very real pricing constraints that handicap a winery's ability to sell its wine for what it's truly worth. California bubbly from the top sparkling wine producers of the North Coast is probably the greatest value in American wine today.

Wines cited as "Very New World" are most importantly California in style, meaning they've been kissed by the sun and are fruit-driven, albeit with the underlying acidity and structure necessary for top-notch bubbly.


Probably the most underrated of the top sparkling wine producers, J has a new energy and emphasis on complexity since the arrival of winemaker George Bursick. The beauty of this wine is its distinctly California fruit profile combined with the structure of a fine Champagne.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stephen Eliot of Connoisseurs' Guide to CA Wine Highly Recommends J Pear Liqueur!

Made from a base of twice-distilled alambic pear eau de vie that was given ten years of aging in 90 gallon French oak barrels then cut with rainwater to 30% alcohol and lightly sweetened, the liqueur is neither so sugary as to be cloying nor as hot as unadulterated eau de vies are wont to be. It is a lovely, carefully crafted, after-the-meal sipper that captures the absolute essence of fresh pears with deft touches of caramel and vanilla adding notes of quiet complexity. It is altogether delicious drunk neat, but its use as a flavoring agent in sauces and mixed drinks strikes me as being limitless. The winery’s website, in fact, offers several cocktail recipes created by winery Executive Chef Mark Caldwell to show off the liqueur, and among them is an intriguing version of eggnog that is now on my list of things to do this holiday season.

Greg O’Flynn, Owner & Sommelier of California Wine Merchant reveals J Cuvee 20 Brut NV as a Holiday Pick!

Sommelier Favorites
The area’s biggest names in wine reveal their holiday picks

You probably wouldn’t blink at the thought of hiring an architect to create the home of your dreams or listening to your personal trainer for the best tips to get in shape, but when it comes to buying wine the recommendations of sommeliers seem to start and end inside the restaurant walls.

Drinking a nice bottle at home is just as important as finding just the right vineyard’s vintage on a fine dining list, which is why we’ve asked a few of the area’s most well-respected sommeliers and wine directors, with roots in Marin, to tell us their top picks for wines for every budget.

Kentfield’s Greg O’Flynn has owned the lively California Wine Merchant in San Francisco for over two decades. The wine bar and shop has a large by-the-glass list that changes weekly and walls filled with cult wines from producers like Maya, Harlan and Dalla Valle as well as a large selection of bottles with prices that won’t wipe out your kid’s college fund.

Sparkling: J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut This J nonvintage brut gracefully opens up with crisp lemon peel, honeysuckle and delicate yeast aromas. Upon entry, these notes follow through to a mix of Fuji apple and grapefruit interlaced with toast, caramel and almond flavors on the palate.

Double The Pleasure - Sonoma’s J Vineyards produces table and sparkling wines of equal merit!

Winter 2010/2011
by Eleanor and Ray Heald

Double The Pleasure
Sonoma’s J Vineyards produces table and sparkling wines of equal merit.

In each life there comes time for a new challenge. Do we get bored? Do we say, ‘been there, done that?’ Do we experience a mid-life crisis or an epiphany? Judy Jordan, Founder and President of J Vineyards & Winery, has been making world class California sparkling wines for nearly a quarter century. She says that her success has exceeded her wildest dreams, but she needs a new challenge.

Jordan is launching a new J Vineyards varietal wine program of cool-climate, site-specific, Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. She is creating a two-houses-under-one-roof concept by using the same two grape varieties to make both sparkling and still wines and achieve first-rate quality with both. To guide the winery in its new direction, Jordan hired winemaker George Bursick who guided Ferrari-Carano for 22 years.

“George and I are longtime friends,” Jordan explains, “and it is great to finally be working together. He did such an amazing job at Ferrari-Carano that it is a real thrill to have him here, taking his career to another level. This project is really a new beginning for both of us.” According to Bursick, “J Vineyards will never abandon the sparkling wine business, but Jordan is passionate about making great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.” Although the same grape varieties are used for making still and sparkling wines, Bursick employs radically different pruning, viticultural techniques and vineyard sites for the still wine program. “I was charged with making the best wines possible. Judy said go out and get the finest grapes that you need. If we aren’t growing them, let’s sell those vineyards and buy vineyards that will, and we have done that.”

Jordan recently purchased three vineyards on well-drained hillside and bench sites in the Russian River Valley, dedicated exclusively to making varietal wines. This acquisition followed the sale of three sparkling wine vineyards and confirms J Vineyards’ goal to produce the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each vineyard is mapped for soil composition, mineral content and moisture level and subdivided into various blocks, which are harvested and fermented separately.

J Vineyards grows 13 Pinot Noir clones. Bursick explains that lower numbered Dijon clones 113, 115 and 117 are sparkling wine clones with large clusters and big berries that give a lot of juice without much color. The higher numbered clones such as 667, 777 and 828 are artisan Pinot Noir clones that produce fruit with very small berries, significant color and big flavor for still wine. “Grapes for sparkling and still wines are different, not even related.”

Thinking outside the box
“When I came to work at J Vineyards & Winery,” Bursick admits, “I knew this would be a very serious, yet exciting, project with direct comparisons to France.” Bursick and Jordan have spent considerable time visiting major producers in Burgundy, but their “two-house” concept is not possible in France. “I knew,” says Jordan, “that we needed to create something new, bright, fresh and exciting or we would be just another also-ran. I think that is why we are receiving such an enthusiastic reception, because we are shocking. We have broken the mold. We are driving this whole thing to the extreme.” Bursick is taking California fruit and stretching it to a French-like wine style.

Bursick’s style includes impressive mouthfeel and supple textures and he is not opposed to trying something radically different to achieve those goals. Since Pinot Noir grape seeds can add bitterness and astringency to the wine, he removes the seeds during fermentation. Bitter seed tannins are alcohol soluble, so they need to be removed at the beginning of fermentation. During fermentation, grape skins float and seeds sink. To remove the seeds, Bursick purchased special tanks that sweep out the seeds. No seeds, no bitterness.

Bursick uses what he calls ‘wimpy yeasts’ to extend fermentation. After malolactic fermentation is complete, he uses a white wine technique called batonnage, where yeasts in the barrel are stirred, giving the texture he desires in the wine. He does this with over 120 lots of Pinot Noir. Then every barrel is tasted and hand selected for each wine program. His effort also focuses on the wine’s fruit character rather than oak. His rule of thumb is to use no more than 20 percent new oak when aging Pinot Noir, a practice used in Burgundy.

Sparkling wine
“I have no desire,” Bursick admits, “to change the basic style of J sparkling wines. After all, they have 20 years of success. Higher-end J sparkling wines have much smaller production, so that gives me latitude to have some fun. I’m using my still wine experience for the sparkling wines. This will not change the house style of J Cuvée 20, our mainstream product. It will always show apple and pear characters with a little white peach. But the higher-end sparkling wines will change because we have implemented oak oval tank fermentation, similar to Champagne Krug. We have secured malolactic strains from Champagne and are putting our high-end wines through malolactic fermentation to give them added richness and depth.”

According to George Rose, J Vineyards & Winery Public Relations Director, “The popular J Cuvée 20 will continue to be the driver on the sparkling wine side, and then consumers will have all of these neat small production late-disgorged, vintage Brut and Brut Rosé wines available through the wine club and in some retail markets. Sparkling wines are a tidy profit center for J, but it is not the growth segment of our production.”

Best of the Best from J
2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris, $16. Aromas of peach and lychee with mirrored flavors of melon and honeysuckle.

2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, $28. High-tone apple, pear and brioche aromas with rich, creamy palate impression.

2007 Russian River Valley “Nicole’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, $50. Warm vineyard characteristics of black cherry, dark plums, chocolate and toasty oak in a generous rendition. Twenty-five lots are harvested and fermented separately to capture the vineyards’ flavor gems.

2007 Russian River Valley “Robert Thomas Vineyard” Pinot Noir, $50. Cool vineyard notes of bright cherry and full flavors with impressive depth and length.

2007 Russian River Valley “Nonny’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, $50. Headlines black raspberry, cherry, currant, tobacco and chocolate with smoky notes and a full, rich palate impression.

2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $50. Great balance is highlighted by a supple mouthfeel and great cherry berry and raspberry flavors with an extended finish. Outstanding.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

J 2002 Vintage Brut Paired with Dungeness Crab with Blood Orange and Tarragon on Endive!

Crab Season Starts Today!

Act now to take advantage of complimentary shipping on our newly released 2002 Vintage Brut!

 One of the greatest culinary pleasures for those of us lucky enough to live on the Pacific Coast is the start of the Dungeness Crab season. The commercial crabbing season traditionally begins November in northern California and by all accounts, this should be a bountiful year for the tasty crustaceans.

Whether you head down to the docks yourself or buy from your local store, we should soon have a plentiful supply of this delicacy. And regardless whether you prefer it plain on a salad, with clarified butter and lemon or in any number of delicious recipes (see below), there is one wine that always works with crab: J Sparkling Brut!

The 2002 J Brut has a bright, exotic nose with hints of pear and citrus followed by coconut, spice and yeasty aromas. The slight nutty and toasty notes lend a nice balance to the fruit. Delicate bubbles lift the complex flavors across your palate and lead into a long, lush finish.

We are also glad to note that Charles Olken of the Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine, the oldest review of California wine, recently awarded our 2002 Vintage Brut 95 points and three "puffs".

To celebrate the start of crab season, we are offering complimentary shipping on any purchase of four bottles or more of our 2002 Vintage Brut. Simply call us at 707-431-5479 or go to our web site and enter the coupon code 02VB4 at checkout to take advantage of this offer. For those of you who live nearby, we have added a "pick up at winery" shipping option to our web site. If you prefer to stop by and pick up your wine, we would love to share a glass with you at the winery.

Featured Recipe:
Dungeness Crab with Blood Orange and Tarragon on Endive

This is a fairly minimalist recipe that balances the sweetness of the crab meat with the zippy citrus notes of the blood orange and the earthiness of the endive.

1 cup Crab Meat
¼ cup Watermelon Radish, grated
2 teaspoons Blood Orange zest, blanched
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Blood Orange juice
2 teaspoons Tarragon, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
20 Endive spears
2 tablespoons Parsley, finely chopped for garnish

Combine all ingredients and serve on endive spears.
Sprinkle with chopped parley for garnish.
Serve with 2002 J Vintage Brut

Recipe Courtesy of J Executive Chef, Mark E. Caldwell

Monday, November 15, 2010

90 Points! - Wine Review OnLine for J Vineyards 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Winemaker George Bursick gave this Chardonnay a full-court treatment, including barrel fermentation, aging in Burgundy oak barrels and extended malolactic fermentation. The result is a delicately balanced wine with a brilliant light gold color and subtle scents of lemon rind and ripe nectarines. Brisk acidity supports the soft toasted oak and lemony flavors, while the wine finishes dry at 14.3% alcohol. I especially liked the texture and crisp acidity of this refreshing Chardonnay.

90 Points - Gerald D. Boyd, WRO 

Nov. 15, 2010

Good Taste with Tanji: "The Beautiful Bubble Room at J Winery, a Sonoma Tasting Treasure"

Tanji Patton of Good Taste with Tanji

A special treat if you’re interested in exploring good food and wine pairings is the Bubble Room at J Winery. You’ll pay about $60 pp for the experience, but keep in mind, there are five courses of well paired dishes with J’s wonderful wines.

J Vineyards is a beautiful winery with a fabulous patio that overlooks the picturesque Sonoma valley. J also has a wonderful selection of gift items in its tasting room.

The corn chowder on our trip was spectacular and a great match with their sparkling wine!