With International Women’s Day being celebrated tomorrow, what better time to revisit a Sonoma County winery where both the proprietor and the winemaker are women?
The story of J Vineyards & Winery begins in 1986, when Judy Jordan followed her dream of starting a winery that specialized in sparkling wine. As a 25-year-old Stanford diploma holder in Earth Sciences/Geology, Jordan understood the land. Her belief that soil enriches the flavors of the fruit of the vine influenced her pursuit of unique terroir and “a sense of place” for growing winegrapes.
After a few years of making critically-acclaimed Russian River Valley sparkling wines — like her signature J Vintage Brut and J Late-Disgorged Vintage Brut — she came to the realization that her vineyards would also be ideal for producing site-specific, varietal wines.
So, in 1994, Jordan launched a single-vineyard Pinot Noir, named after her eldest child, Nicole. Not one to show favoritism, soon thereafter she released a second single-vineyard Pinot Noir named Robert Thomas.
The winery has thrived since that first Pinot Noir release. Today, it counts estate-grown Russian River Valley Chardonnay and single-vineyard Pinot Gris made from Cooper Vineyard among its wines.
The experience of working for her family earlier in her life had enabled Jordan to hone her skills in business, marketing, soils and geology — all from a geologist’s and vintner’s perspective.
In 1996, a decade after founding J, she purchased the former Piper Sonoma winery south of Healdsburg, in the heart of the Russian River Valley. In addition to a ready-made winemaking facility, it provided a venue for Jordan to pioneer elegant food and wine experiences for guests.
The tasting room, which opened in 1999, incorporated bite-sized delicacies to complement each wine and illustrate how wine pairs with cuisine. The award-winning Visitor Center continues to be a popular choice for an ultimate luxury experience.
One of Jordan’s great mentors is her father, Tom Jordan.
“I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful father who helped me to start my career and who continues to share his knowledge of the wine business,” Jordan says. “His entrepreneurial passion is inspiring.”
Jordan credits her mother, Sally Jordan, for her sense of style and social etiquette, an influence that continues to inspire her love and appreciation of gracious hospitality.
Reflecting on the importance of family in her company and personal life, Jordan also credits the late Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and Chairman of Boeing Corporation. Platt mentored her in the importance of building and maintaining a team aligned with the core values of elegance, integrity, respect and a sense of community. Today, Jordan brings her vision into harmony with her entire team to provide wines of exceptional quality that reflect the unique character of her Russian River Valley estate vineyards.
Fully on board with that vision is J’s winemaker, Melissa Stackhouse, for whom agriculture has played a crucial role in her life. Growing up in a Michigan farming community, and having grandparents who were farmers in rural Minnesota, she became keenly aware of their dedication to the land at an early age.
“Their hard work resulted in many wonderful meals, cooked with fresh ingredients straight from the farm,” says Stackhouse. “I developed an appreciation for fresh food from the garden, and it ultimately led to agriculture as a career choice.”
After spending some time in New Zealand working on organic farms, Stackhouse decided to pursue grape growing and winemaking. She enrolled at the University of California at Davis, where in 1998 she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Viticulture and Enology.
While earning her degree, and in the years following, she worked at such prestigious wineries as Robert Mondavi, Peter Michael, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards and Alexander Valley Cellars.
In 2003, she moved to Sonoma County to pursue her interest in Pinot Noir by becoming the winemaker at La Crema. It was there that she took notice of the Russian River Valley and its distinctive soils, numerous clonal selections, and cool-climate vineyards. Stackhouse remained winemaker at La Crema until 2010, when she was named Winemaster for all Pinot Noir production at Jackson Family Wines.
In her role at J Vineyards & Winery, Stackhouse builds upon existing programs in J’s nine estate-owned vineyards. She also develops long-term relationships with key growers in the Russian River Valley.
“Each one of our vineyards has a unique personality,” she says. “We are digging deep into the soil to better understand and encourage the right expression of flavor for each estate vineyard. It is important to distinguish and separate these flavor profiles, whether it becomes a J varietal or sparkling wine.”