Some people like to go to flea markets, where they will spend hours wandering around the stalls hoping to stumble on something wonderful. I spend hours wandering through huge public wine tastings in much the same way, and every once in a while I stumble across a winery that I’ve never heard of nor seen before, whose wines pull the needle off the record and bring me up short in breathless surprise.
When I first tasted the wines from Jemrose in just such a fashion, they immediately impressed me, not just because they were so high quality, but also because they had achieved such quality in their very first vintage. Clearly this was a producer that had nailed the right combination of place, farming, and winemaking right out of the gate.
Jemrose is the dream of James Mack and his wife Gloria. After a career in advertising, Mack purchased about 20 acres of vineyards in Bennett Valley, the smallest of Sonoma’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). For the first few years after purchasing the property in 2002, Mack and consultant winemaker Andy Smith (of DuMOL and Larkmead) made some limited bottlings from select vineyard blocks to get a sense of what they were able to do with the four vineyards that made up the property. Together with viticulturist Greg Bjornstad, they arrived at the right combination of vineyard and cellar techniques that they felt achieved a balance of the qualities they were looking for, and in 2006 the winery bottled its first commercial vintage.
Because Smith had obligations elsewhere that prevented him from assuming the duties of head winemaker, Mack brought on Michael Browne of Kosta Browne winery to make the wines on a longer term basis, and in 2009 Mack teamed up with entrepreneur Keith Jaffee as a partner in the business.
The winery’s four distinct hillside vineyard blocks are planted with primarily Rhone grape varieties (Viognier, Syrah, and Grenache) as well as a little Merlot, which seems to do extremely well in Bennet Valley’s volcanic soils. Under Bjornstad’s direction, the densely planted vineyard is farmed with a minimum of irrigation and an eye towards lowering yields, which rarely get above 3 tons per acre.
The fruit is hand-harvested and rigorously sorted before winemaking begins. Fermentations are made with native yeast whenever possible, and often with a portion of whole clusters for the reds. Most wines are aged in a majority of neutral and used French oak barrels, with a small percentage of new oak, resulting in wines that speak more of fruit in than of wood. The wines are all bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The tiny Jemrose portfolio of wines (only about 1500 cases made in total) demonstrates a wonderful common thread of excellent acidity, balance, and freshness throughout all the wines. I highly recommend them.
Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.
2008 Jemrose “Egret Pond Vineyard” Viognier, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Pale gold in the glass this wine smells of cold cream and dried apricots. In the mouth it is silky and heavy on the tongue, with flavors of dried and fresh apricots, mixed citrus zest, and a tart kumquat finish that has a tiny bit of alcoholic heat. 275 cases made. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $32.
2008 Jemrose “Egret Pond Vineyard” Late Harvest Viognier, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine has a heady nose of peaches in syrup. In the mouth the wine is not as sweet as the nose might suggest, with flavors of ripe apricots, honey, and a nice floral note on the finish. Not particularly complex, but some decent acidity keeps the wine from being too cloying. 48 cases (375 ml.) made. Score: around 8. Cost: $28.
2007 Jemrose “Foggy Knoll Vineyard” Grenache, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Medium garnet in color with strong purple highlights, this wine has a gorgeous nose of spicy raspberry and strawberry fruit. In the mouth it is juicy and bright with great acidity that makes flavors of cherry raspberry and strawberry dance on the palate with notes of cocoa powder on the finish. Above all, this wine is simply delicious. 150 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $38.
2007 Jemrose “Gloria’s Gem” Proprietary Red, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of sweet black cherry and cassis aromas. In the mouth it is explosively juicy with black cherry, cassis, and blackberry flavors. Faint powdery tannins creep around the edges of the wine and good acid makes it quite easy to drink. A light minuteness marks the finish. Lovely. An unusual blend of Merlot and Syrah. 125 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $65.
2007 Jemrose “Cardiac Hill Vineyard” Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and white pepper. In the mouth it is taut and rippling with muscular, fine grained tannins that support beautiful cassis and blackberry fruit through a lovely finish. Delicious. 550 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $38.
Currently these wines are made in such small quantities that they are not readily available for sale in internet wine shops. The pest place to purchase these wines are on the winery’s web site.