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05.28.2010

2007 J Vineyards "Barrel 16" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

There was a time (think: late Seventies, early Eighties) when a lot of people would have put money on California being the next Champagne. It seems quite improbable now given California's reputation for Cabernet and the relative paucity of sparkling wine producers in the state. Yet there are many California winery names that have become synonymous with sparking wine (Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Korbel, Chandon, and more) and which have been producing sparkling wines for decades, and continue to do so.

This is not the story of one of those brands. This is the story of the next generation.

In the early Eighties, Judy Jordan left her career as a geologist to return to work with her father, Tom Jordan in the family winemaking business (Jordan Vineyards). By 1986 she was fully immersed, and decided to start her own brand, which would become known barrel_16_label.jpg simply as J Vineyards. Conceived as a boutique brand of sparkling wine, J Vineyards was a strict departure from the previous generation of bubbly producers in every possible way. From the name to the sleek, label-less bottles, Jordan put a very new spin on California sparkling wine.

In 1996 J Vineyards had grown to the point that it was able to take over the Piper-Sonoma (another long-time sparkling producer) winemaking facility in Sonoma's Russian River valley, south of the town of Healdsburg. In addition to the acquisition of a winemaking facility, Jordan gradually acquired vineyard plots throughout the Russian River valley.

Today the winery owns and farms nearly 275 acres of fruit in the Russian River Valley, and in recent years has taken to producing still wines as well as sparkling, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinotage, and Chardonnay. Judy Jordan is still at the helm of the business, and winemaking is done by George Bursick, who co-founded and spent twenty years as head winemaker at Ferrari-Carano before joining J Vineyards.

In addition to the large quantities of very good sparkling wine that it makes, J Vineyards has recently gotten quite serious about producing top quality Pinot Noir. The winery recently debuted new packaging for its still wines that includes (gasp) a label, and which strikes a more serious tone. Having tasted the last couple vintages of still wines from the winery, however, I'm happy to say that the change is not confined to outward appearances. The 2007 J Vineyard Pinot Noirs are all very, very good, and this particular bottling is excellent.

Barrel 16 represents not a specific barrel, but actually a blend of 16 different barrels -- supposedly the best 16 barrels of the vintage, no matter what specific vineyard site they came from. Designed to be a regional expression of the Russian River Valley, the wine succeeds beautifully, fully embodying many of the qualities that make the best Pinot Noirs from California so compelling.

Similar to all of J Vineyards' designated wines, the fruit was hand harvested early in the morning, sorted, destemmed and then dropped into open top fermenters for whole-berry fermentation. Only the free run juice (liquid that drains off the skins without pressing) is used in this wine, which was fermented in French Burgundy barrels, of which about 30% were new. Only 300 cases were made.

Full disclosure: I received this wines as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, fresh raspberries and rainwater. In the mouth it is gorgeously silky, with faint velvety tannins that hang in the background while flavors of raspberry, crab apple, and cedar do a remarkable dance on the palate. Balanced juicy, smooth, seamless, and utterly sexy, this is a heck of a Pinot.

Food Pairing:
I drank this wine with roast chicken and chorizo over potatoes and found it to be a fine combination.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $70

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

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