In Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, just outside the town of Healdsburg, sits a 1200-acre winery featuring a yellow Chateau, covered in vines, perched at the top of the estate. If you didn’t know better, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a winery in Bordeaux, France rather than one in California wine country. Jordan Vineyard and Winery not only conjures up this feeling when gazing upon its stunning property, it also evokes Old World tradition with each sip of their wine.
Jordan has long been known to be dead serious about their winemaking, crafting elegant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay that is among the very finest in the Sonoma Valley. Established in 1972, their inaugural vintage in 1976 produced 36,000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. A few years later they also began making Chardonnay. Today they produce 100,000 cases a year of which approximately 75% is Cabernet Sauvignon (although that percentage varies slightly year to year depending on the fruit).
What’s particularly rare in today’s wine world is that their winemaker Rob Davis has been at the winery since the very first vintage in 1976. After graduating from UC Davis, Rob felt he needed to get some hands-on experience in the field. What was intended to be a 6-week stint to experience harvest firsthand, turned into a lifetime of winemaking, “At the time I started, wineries were making all different types of varieties, many of which had nothing to do with the micro climate here. It was all market driven towards white wines & cool climate varieties but Tom Jordan was very committed to doing a great Bordeaux and based on the climate and cultivar, it made perfect sense.”
Add to that the fact that Jordan had also hired André Tchelistcheff (arguably one of the world’s greatest winemakers) as consulting enologist, and Rob was committed for the long term, “André and I just clicked from the first time we met. He was 55 years my senior and yet still so curious. I learned from him that you never stop learning. There’s always an aspect of problem solving and dealing with things you’ve never dealt with before which is the fun part of winemaking. Working with André taught me to find the right piece of ground and traveling throughout the world and around vineyards with him was the ultimate education.”
Rob attributes André’s mentorship as the basis for the winegrowing philosophy at Jordan. Rob approaches winemaking with the end goal to produce a more European-style wine that is both balanced and elegant versus the bigger, fruit-forward type wines that are more typical of the region. From the selection of fruit, to the type of barrels used, to the amount of time Jordan wines are bottle-aged, every winemaking decision must work toward their goal of making wines that are approachable upon release but also have the ability to age well.
The biggest changes Rob has seen throughout his tenure at Jordan is the knowledge base that they now have for the fruit they grow along with the technology now available to winemakers. But according to Rob, one of the most pivotal moments for Jordan as a winery took place in 2005 when John Jordan, son of founders Tom and Sally Jordan, took the helm. “He gives you enough freedom to do what you need to do and trusts you to do it—he won’t tell you how to make the wine but he’ll tell you what he wants. It’s really the best of all worlds to work for someone like that.”
John understood early on that how you farm is important, but it was his realization that the people working with the fruit can literally make or break a wine that shifted the winery’s approach. His relentless pursuit of sourcing the best fruit from the top growers is what has elevated Jordan wines to compete with the region’s very best. Today the winery works with 10 growers and while it has always been the aim to use estate fruit, only 5% of the estate fruit currently goes into Jordan wine. The rest is sold but it’s still the intention of the winery to use more estate fruit as long as it meets Jordan’s quality standards.
When we asked Rob about whether there is an Alexander Valley “signature” he explained that as a designated appellation it’s unique unto itself. “Alexander Valley has a reputation of being very soft handed, with very nice high-end fruit so approachable to drink early. This was sometimes misconstrued as wines without structure because of the soft tannins but we’re deliberately trying to make a wine that can be favourably compared to a top Cru. I don’t believe Alexander Valley can be defined by its short-term tannins and I think we’re demonstrating that here at Jordan.”
What they also demonstrate well at Jordan is that their wine pairs exceptionally well with food and they take every opportunity to prove that to you while visiting the winery. Tasting at Jordan is by appointment only, largely because they want to ensure you experience their outstanding hospitality, something they take as serious as their wine. We were lucky enough recently to visit on two separate occasions. The first was a wine tasting that featured their 2015 Chardonnay, their current release 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and from the library, their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were thoughtfully paired with a superb cheese selection that included a goat cheese from Marin County’s Bellwether Farms, Midnight Moon cheese from Cypress Grove, an English cheddar from Westcombe Dairy, and a cheddar/gruyere combination from a local creamery. They also served up a sample of their 2016 certified extra virgin estate olive oil from trees that were first planted at the property in 1996.
Our second visit to the winery was an exceptional dinner put on by Jordan as part of the 10th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference. The experience began with a caviar pairing seminar in their barrel room highlighting the unique collaboration between Tsar Nicoulai and Jordan’s Executive Chef, Todd Knoll. We left the barrel room and moved next door to where Jordan’s old wooden fermenters are situated. Here sit the original 12 massive oak tanks, each with a capacity of 6,000 gallons, that Jordan purchased for the original opening of their winery in 1976 (6,000 gallons is over 30,000 standard bottles of wine). A long table was set up running down the length of the room. 60 of us were treated to a spectacular 5 course dinner paired with the 2014 Jordan Chardonnay and three different vintages of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.
During our interview with winemaker Rob Davis he referenced the fact that Jordan Winery prides itself in not taking shortcuts, “You may not be able to discern the difference now but maybe one person does and that’s all that matters. I think that’s the direction you have to go if you really want to grow and continue to make the best wine possible.” It’s pretty evident to us that the winery uses this same philosophy throughout its operations and it’s this pursuit of perfection that will continue to set them apart.