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Judy Jordan - Interview

Wine Tasting with Food

Judy Jordan, proprietor of J Vineyards & Winery in California's northern Sonoma County

It was in 1988 that Judy Jordan began J Vineyards & Winery in California's northern Sonoma County with her father, the founder of the Alexander Valley's Jordan Winery. J has come into its own, as the winery took over the former Piper Sonoma sparkling wine facilities in the Russian River Valley and Judy gradually bought her father out, taking over as J's sole proprietor.

Jordan made history with the opening of her tasting room, reportedly the world's first to offer a food-pairing experience with every wine. Rather than simply sampling the winery's line-up of still and sparkling wines, tasters are asked to order from a menu of wine "flights," including Roasted Beet Salad with a cherry vinaigrette paired with 2005 J Pinot Noir Magnum, Russian River Valley, or a sampling of Royal Onyx Osetra to go with a glass of 1998 J Vintage Brut, Late Disgorged.

Although she considers her primary job to be mother to her children Nicole and Robert Thomas, the rest of the wine industry regards Jordan as one of the most active vintners in the Russian River Valley, bringing dedication and innovation to her business above and beyond that of a full-time commitment. We caught up with Jordan during one of her sensational Essence Tastings to discuss the finer points of winemaking, world travels and her future in the wine industry. At what point in your life did you decide to join the family business?

Judy Jordan: I'm a geologist by trade, but between geological excursions I came home and started taking tours at Jordan Winery. The more I got into understanding wine and how much that tied into who I was as a geologist, the more I fell in love with the business.

G: Was it always your goal to make sparkling wine?

JJ: I'm a little bit spicy in that I always wanted to do my own thing, so I chose to go into partnership with my dad rather than join the family business. Sparkling wine was what my dad and I both wanted to do. I love good Champagne, the joy and celebration of it.

G: Through the years you've had some unusual travel adventures as a geologist and through a post-college International Living experiment. How have experiences like working in Chinese rice paddies and touring the Australian outback influenced your work as a vintner?

JJ: I've always loved to travel around the world, and the greatest lesson of travel is to see how fortunate we are to be Americans — we can realize our dreams. One of my dreams — and I believe it is a dream and vision of the wine industry — is to work with communities to heal the earth. What we're (a collaborative of American vintners) trying to do right now, with Mines to Vines, a partnership with the United Nations and the U.S. State Department, is to de-mine vineyards in Croatia. We've de-mined 100 acres so far and by the end of the summer we will have cleared another 200.

G: Your job seems to require you to wear many hats. How do you define the job of a vintner?

JJ: If there's one job requirement, it's that a vintner is passionate about what he or she does.

G: How do you see our wine industry changing and growing in the new millennium?

JJ: My hope is that vintners can work to make wine more fun. We need to make great wine and make it accessible.

G: The concept for your new tasting room has been referred to as a "holistic approach to gastronomy." What does this mean?

JJ: We're hoping to slow down the experience of wine tasting for every customer who walks in the door. We want to honor not only enjoying our wines but also having the whole experience of food and wine.

G: How did you get the idea to create this new style of tasting room?

JJ: Lots of sake. Actually, the J concept is based on a love of sushi and over a sushi dinner, with lots of sake, I figured out that it (a food and wine pairing-based tasting room) would be something fun to do. From that, our team at J developed a tapas-style tasting inspired by the plates and presentation of sushi.

G: Did you ever doubt that it could succeed?

JJ: Yeah, I've doubted whether a lot of things could succeed. But I've gotten used to taking chances, and now the program is the talk of the town.

G: Now that the tasting room is up and running, what is your next goal within the wine industry?

A glass of J's 2005 Nicole's Vineyard Pinot Noir

JJ: My hope is that our Pinot Noir will become a world-class Pinot. Now we have all the equipment we need, and I think we're going to have a blast over the next 10 years making that happen. And, I'm hoping that if I have any legacy left behind when I'm way gone is that people will say that she was able to be a mom and run a company and that her values from being a mom are the same values that were reflected in J.

G: Do you think your children will eventually join you at J?

JJ: I hope so, but if they want to be the local garbage collectors, that's fine, too.

Note: J's tasting room and visitors center is located at 11447 Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, CA. For more information on J's wines and food and wine pairing, visit

(Updated: 05/23/13 BH)


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