The drive up the winding, tree-lined lane, up the long hill and across the yellow bridge stirs the soul for what awaits: guest reception at the 58,000 square-foot chateau and a night on this Fantasia-like property. For me, the Jordan brand conjures up many images, from men sitting around in khakis and pin-striped oxfords, to the subtle magic of many a vintage past. I have sold it on wine lists, where and while it may seem like an easy choice, it is actually a no-brainer, if you like your cabernet lean, low in alcohol, and full of depth.
To my delight, the vibe upon entering the winery is warm and hospitable, dense fog and heavy rains notwithstanding. My impressions of Jordan ranged over the years, no doubt the result of years of “name-dropping” à la Silver Oak or Opus One. However, Jordan is not at all corporate gimmickry like people may think. What is the real story of this mysterious and mystical winery. What is the real story here? Walking around looking at the displays in the visitor center, I am drawn to hand-written letters from luminaries like Nancy Reagan and Julio Gallo, professing joy and gratitude to the Jordan legacy and mission, while pointing to a bygone era, in which Jordan emerged out of a commitment and passion for French wine in the new California mecca of wine.
Tom and Sally Jordan birthed the Jordan spirit out of a love of French food, wine culture and years of travel. Their “Ah-ha” moment came whilst sipping Napa cabernet in San Francisco, when the Colorado couple realized they could make their dream happen here in Alexander valley. Always in the shadows of Napa, but merely minutes away by car, this micro-clime, these rolling hills are sun-drenched and studded with oak trees, some which are into their third century. History emerges from this terroir.
They purchased the first parcel of land in 1972, construction of the chateau began in 1974, and two years later, famed winemaker Andrew Tchelistcheff begins consulting, current (and only) winemaker Rob Davis is hired, and the first Alexander Valley cabernet and merlot grapes are harvested.
After four decades flying somewhat under the radar, Jordan has always enjoyed its status as landed gentry of American wine, gaining and achieving much success with on-premises placement on restaurant lists; as well as in the hearts of true old-school cab (and chard) lovers, lovers of Bordeaux, and lovers period.
This is resonant in the new generation of the Jordan Family community and employees: Tom and Sally’s son John is the new CEO, with a modern spin on hospitality and high-end wine tourism. In fact, this whole experience that my companion and I are set to dive into was once industry/trade only. Luckily for you, the general public, you can book a stay in one of the private villas, or a suite in the chateau.
Along with the new hospitality aims, marketing guru Lisa Mattson has built a modern (social) media platform to illuminate Jordan’s dusty past, merging it with the golden future (even though deep fog on this day, no matter, only deepens the mood). Mattson oversees a savvy new blog site, and made Jordan the first family-owned winery in California with its own in-house videography department. You can peruse the site for the obvious, like èlevage in 2012 chardonnay; magnums of 2004 cab; pie recipes, cocktail guides and a report on their olive harvest. For these efforts, Jordan was awarded 2012 Best Winery Blog.
Our tour guide, with her own tale of a growing appreciation for local food, wine and the culture spun together by it, brought the story even closer to home. She revealed that her husband makes wine for a legendary grower to the stars like Merry Edwards and Jeremy Baker’s Thomas George Estates, a good friend of mine. We found ourselves blissing out in deep conversation while tasting through some current and back vintages in the library.
Even our private drivers expressed this spirit as they whisked us around the dark, rainy countryside, into the quiet streets of Healdsburg for a night on the town. “They are pretty good to us,” was the remark when we tried to apologize, guilty for making him come and get us at a late hour.
I must say, I couldn’t help but notice a bit of irony and juxtaposition with the “new” hospitality culture of our fair city and its corporate, monolithic resorts/lodges/restaurants. At Jordan, each of these local employees deeply appreciates and feels their own sense of place. This is the real deal.
The experience of this French-styled chateau in architectural terms is a bit beyond my terminology, but features bays, dormers, high ceilings, tall windows, loads of marble and comes stocked with all the San Pellegrino you can drink. If you are staying in the suite, you can open French doors and stand on a tiny veranda overlooking the great barrel room. Toasting and serenading the recent vintage at 3 a.m. is something I will not soon forget. Outside, multi-colored vines creep up the mustard and stone walls in a frondescence of fall psychedelia. The grounds feature Versaille-esque lawns, forests and organic gardens, which grow much of the produce for food they prepare in house.
The vineyards have all the elements of Bordeaux, from cab to the wayward malbec. Laid out on the property, they are like a tapestry of terroir woven of soil, sun, wind and fog.
Oh, and the wine. Of course, the wine! My deepest remembrances of Jordan are the ‘87 (the first estate vintage) and the glorious ‘97. The 2006 cab is out of the gate; even though young, it is plying the waters of the market, already hailed as Jordan’s best wine ever. And their chardonnay features a commitment to the nearby Russian River Valley and its uniqueness for chardonnay, inspired by the Meursault and Pulignys of the world.
There you have it. Put the Jordan Winery Experience on your bucket list. You will have a ball, you will learn a thing or two, you will come away a better person; and you will have a newfound heightened respect for all things Jordan.
Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.