Tuesday, November 30, 2010

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.

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