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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

J: A Healdsburg Beauty serving up old-world style sparkling wine in a new way

Thursday, March 13, 2014
There is nothing like the excitement of becoming a first time homeowner. As anyone who’s tried to purchase a home in SF can attest, it’s an intense process!  When we heard the great news that our offer had been accepted on a Friday night, it opened up the perfect opportunity for celebratory day trip up to  J Vineyards and Winery. Good bubbly though should be more than just a symbolic trigger for us to be festive. It is good and versatile wine, appealing as an aperitif, delightful with oysters and can hold its own beautifully even throughout a meal. We should allow ourselves the “luxury” of sparkling wine more often. While one might argue that Classic French Champagne may be too expensive to imbibe daily, there are excellent bottles of California sparkling wine available at reasonable prices. J fits the profile.

When we visited J Vineyards and Winery the next Saturday, it was a rare rainy California day the week before Valentines Day and the weather outside was frightful. But it didn’t cloud the warm glow of the J tasting room, aka the "Bubbles Bar", or drown out the happy din of glasses clinking and people toasting and chatting.  J Winery and Tasting Room is one of the first wineries you'll see on Old Redwood Highway, and a must-visit for anyone touring and tasting in Healdsburg.  Judy Jordan always had the vision to create a sparkling winery and she purchased the old Piper Sonoma winery and founded J Vineyard in 1986.  As Judy’s dream to produce sparkling wine in the classic French method came to fruition, J Vineyard quickly became known for its beautiful old-world style sparkling wines, marketed in sleek, modern elegant bottles emblazoned with an artistic, iconic golden “J” across the bottle in lieu of a fancy label. J wines are rated very highly, many garnering 90 points or more. Yet their modern, sleek look and marketing style appeal to both a young influencer crowd and traditional Champagne lovers alike.

J winery soon branched out to include site specific Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in their portfolio which focuses on exploring the effect of terroir on the nine sustainably farmed vineyards. This combination also establishes Judy’s recipe for the perfect Pinot Noir. J’s winemaker, Melissa Stackhouse, spent time working in New Zealand on organic farms before moving to California to pursue her interest in Pinot Noir by becoming the winemaker at La Crema. It was there that she took notice of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley and its distinctive soils, numerous clonal selections, and cool-climate vineyards. Melissa remained winemaker at La Crema until 2010 when she was named Winemaster for all Pinot Noir production at Jackson Family Wines.  At J Vineyards, Melissa builds on existing programs and develops relationships with key growers in Russian River Valley. The fruit for the Pinot Noir wines is harvested at three of J Vineyards’ Estate Vineyards in Russian River Valley: Nicole’s, which is named after Judy Jordan’s daughter, Nonny's, named after her grandmother and Robert Thomas, named for her son. In addition there are grapes from selected growers within the Russian River Valley appellation.

At J, there is a wine and an experience to suit any desire and palate. Enjoy a food and wine pairing in the Bubble Room Salon, a Legacy tasting in the Reserve Lounge, a behind the scenes tour and tasting, or cozy up to the  Bubbles Bar for a signature J tasting of sparkling and still wines.  J is also a great group destination and is available to host weddings and events - visit J Winery’s Private Event page for more information.  My husband and I spent that rainy Saturday leisurely ensconced on a comfortable sofa in the Reserve Lounge, and enjoyed the relaxed environment, views of the Barrel Room and the wonderful array of wines. If you are going to taste both still and sparkling wines, I’d recommend starting with the sparkling flight and following it with the still wines.  My top picks are listed below in the tasting notes.

Exactly 1 month after our tasting at J Winery, we closed on our house! I wanted to order bottles of sparkling for a few folks involved, and naturally it was now their turn to open a package and delight in the elegant bottle of J awaiting them. 

Tasting Notes:

2012 J Misterra
Misterra was the winning suggestion in a “name-that-wine” contest conducted by J. The name is befitting of this wine filled with mystery, but rooted in the earth.  That earthiness comes through in this unique blend of three grapes varieties.  Bold blueberry notes awaken the palate, but sturdy, rustic flavors in the mouth and the aromatic floral and dried fruit on the nose balance this wine for a long, supple finish - an excellent wine to serve at a dinner party.

2012 J Pinot Russian River Valley
This lush ruby-red wine vibrantly showcases firm, food-friendly acidity and plenty of black fruit flavors. Flavors of black currant, plum and tart cherry fill the glass. A kiss of earthiness makes this a perfect pairing for gamey meats and mushroom dishes and a great go to wine for any occasion.

J Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine
A rich, inviting, lively, wine with great lemony acidity, and a subtle yeasty toastiness. Flavors include green and red apples, apple skin, pear, and baking spices.  It is fresh, clean and slightly frothy, and finishes with plenty of bright, palate-cleansing acidity. A gorgeous stand alone wine or perfect pairing for oysters and canapes.

J Brut Rose
The Brut Rosé is one of the most beautifully packaged wines I’ve seen and makes the perfect gift.  It sparkles with a luminous pink salmon hue and exudes delicate aromas of strawberry, cream, and an earthy brioche characteristic. On the palate, the wine opens with flavors of tangerine, rose petal, and raspberry. The bright, delightfully fresh acidity makes it an excellent companion to a variety of cuisines such as smoked salmon and cheese canapés.


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