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Why We Rip: The Importance of Deep Ripping Vineyard Soil Before Planting Grapevines

Ripping is not a glamorous word, certainly not one to associate with enjoying a fine glass of wine in moderation. But our soils at Jordan Winery are getting ripped—vineyard by vineyard, block by block—over the next five years. Deep ripping is the most critical farming practice in planting new grapevines in a wine region like Alexander Valley, where the primary soil, called serpentine, is heavy in clay and rock that inhibit the vines’ ability to plunge their roots deep into the ground. Jordan is deep ripping soils across Jordan Estate as part of our seven-year project to replant every grapevine. This blog explains what ripping a vineyard is, the steps deep soil ripping entails and how ripping improves grapevine performance and thus wine quality.

Tractor deep ripping vineyard soils, vineyard planting
A large tractor fitted with a Vibrosoiler Motioning Winged ripper begins the first phase of deep ripping at the new Jordan Chateau Block.

What is Deep Ripping

Deep ripping is a preparation that is done to soils before grapevines are planted. A soil ripper is basically a giant, powerful, underground tiller that helps alleviate the natural soil compaction that occurs over time from farming. Jordan Winery is utilizing the most sophisticated and technologically advanced tiller, the Vibrosoiler Ripping System by AgSoilworks California, which respects sustainable farming while providing a garden-like planting bed for the baby vines to flourish. Before a new vineyard is planted, cover crops are typically sowed to replenish the soil nutrients for 1-2 years, and then it’s time to rip. Soil ripping helps improve soil structure, soil drainability and grapevine root system depth. At Jordan Winery, soil ripping is being used for the first time both before planting a new vineyard on a site that we’ve never used to cultivate grapevines—the Chateau Block across from the winery—and after removing old grapevines that are diseased and no longer producing the quality of grapes we demand.

Soil ripping has gained momentum in the California wine business in the last 40 to 50 years. It’s modern-day popularity began in Sonoma County after winegrowers realized that their grapevines were struggling to break through some types of soils to develop a deep root system, soils that were heavy in clay and serpentine rocks.

Deep Ripping Soil Steps Before Vineyard Planting

One of the key preparations done to land before a vineyard is planted on clay-rich soils, deep soil ripping can be done in two, three or four passes of the vineyard. Jordan Winery has chosen the Patented AgSoilworks Two-Pass System, which involves the following steps:

  1. Choosing the right time of year to deep rip soils. The soil needs to be moist, but not too wet. Every soil is ready at a different time, however, late spring seems to be the best time for soil ripping at Jordan Winery in Sonoma County, once the chance of late-season rain has passed.
  2. Any boulders or large rocks are removed with a backhoe to prepare for the ripping tractor. The fewer the big rocks, the faster and more effective the ripping will be.
  3. A large tractor fitted with a Vibrosoiler Motioning Winged ripper (also called tines or spades) digs deep into the soil to break up the hard pan. At Jordan, our deep ripping target is four feet deep and 6 to 9 feet laterally per row.
  4. The tractor drives straight down the future vineyard rows that have been outlined in advance, guiding the spade to sway back and forth in the deep soils, breaking up the hard pan and knocking rocks to the sides. It’s critical that the tractor rip the soil precisely in the area where the baby grapevines will be planted, and only let his tires drive in the “wheelwork zone” away from the future site of the root zone, as the wheelwork zone will be naturally compacted by the weight of the tractor.
  5. For soil ripping to be fully effective, the tractor operator utilizes GPS-Autopilot accurate to one-inch, guiding the tractor and target depth of the blade. Ripping at the correct subsoil moisture content is critical for effective decompaction of soils with high clay content. This depth can range from 4 to 6 feet deep and 2 to 12 feet across, depending on which type of deep ripping system the farmer chooses. The AgSoilworks system Jordan Winery has chosen will break up the soil roughly 9 feet across.
  6. Compost and other supplements, such as calcium sulfate, are applied to give the soil any nutrients it might be lacking.
  7. A tractor fitted with a patented twin ripper and a roller will come through and rip the compost deep into the soil. Vineyard stakes and irrigation lines can then be installed—the final steps before baby grapevines are planted in the ground.
  8. The soil ripping process takes about one hour per acre to complete and costs about $350 to $650 per acre.

As soon as the deep ripping is complete, the grapevines can be planted immediately. Although deep ripping can be done in as many as four passes, we prefer to focus on sustainability and only rip twice because every time a big tractor drives over the ground, it’s re-compacting the soil.

Jordan Winery vineyard crew planting grapevines
A vineyard crew member plants baby grapevines at Jordan after deep ripping.

How Deep Ripping Soil Helps Grapevines

This deeper and wider form of soil tilling and amending will increase uniformity and fertility giving the newly planted grapevine the best opportunity for developing deep root systems, which help them access more water and more nutrients and better weather heat waves and other climatic events. The work is completed by a farming consultant, AgSoilWorks, who has developed these patented technologies in conjunction with leading international soil scientists. Essentially, what we’re doing when we rip is developing the most optimum soil for farming the highest quality grapes through improved soil moisture and texture.

The goal of soil ripping is simple: to create a uniform soil structure where the plant’s root zone will live. To achieve a uniform root zone, ripping must be employed continuously along the future row where the grapevines will be planted. Uniformity of soil drainability and texture helps lead to uniformity of leaf and fruit growth, which is critical for wines like Jordan, where balance and elegance in the wine’s fruit, acidity, tannin and alcohol can only be achieved by starting with uniform grapes that reach their ripeness without excessive sugar levels or dehydration.

Grape growers who invest in soil ripping before planting a vineyard also do so because it’s been found to help new vineyards become stronger, healthier and live longer due to their improved ability to develop a deep, focused root system. The roots of vines from a deep-ripped soil have been found to stretch 4-6 feet deeper than compacted soils that have not been ripped. Jordan first planted grapevines on the estate in 1996, after the phylloxera root louse devastated our first estate vineyard on the valley floor, which was planted in the early 1970s. As mentioned in our blog about why we began replanting the entire Jordan Estate in 2016, it was frustrating that our estate grapevines were only productive for 20 years, and that some vineyard blocks started to decrease in performance after just eight years. By investing in soil ripping before we replant, we hope to double the life expectancy of our grapevines. It’s another way to look at sustainability as a small business. Sustainability is more than using eco-friendly farming techniques that have a gentle touch on the land. It’s sustaining the life of a grapevine as long as possible, giving it the best chance to be healthy and happy in the ground—and yield quality wine grapes for decades, so that our investment in the planting pays for itself.

Ripping technology has another benefit that is very attractive to grape growers. Due to historic drought conditions in recent years and limited availability of water resources, we are constantly looking for ways to conserve water. The patented twin ripper with roller acts as a “water harvester,” opening the soil and increasing water and nutrient uptake into the root zone—the place where the plant needs it most.

But soil ripping won’t be totally effective without adding soil amendments. After the first pass in deep soil ripping, the future site of the vineyard is prepped by sprinkling nutrients on the recently ripped soils—amendments such as gypsum (a type of calcium) and compost, which are tilled into the decompacted soil. These nutrients are needed for the common serpentine soil and other heavy clay soils found in parts of Alexander Valley. This challenging soil profile is one of the reasons why we have chosen to only plant a maximum of about 120 acres of grapevines on select hillsides across the nearly 1,200-acre Jordan Estate—those hillsides with the least amount of serpentine rock that require the least amount of supplements in vitamins and nutrients. (Our blog post about soil-mapping digs deeper into precision farming by soil type.)

The benefits of deep ripping usually last for about three years but can last more than a decade with proper soil maintenance, organic matter incorporation and controlled traffic.

Scroll down and subscribe to our blog for a biweekly digest on what’s happening at Jordan, including the vineyard replant progress.

Introducing the Jordan Melchior Poster Art Contest Winner & Finalists

We’re excited to announce the winner in our first-annual Jordan Melchior poster art contest. We challenged artists to make a work of art that showed the grand scale of this rare, 18-liter bottle of wine with an art nouveau vibe that celebrates France—the inspiration for Jordan.

After reviewing a few dozen entries, we selected the winner: Jessie Swiech of Illinois, who created a very flowy and dramatic illustration of a ballerina touching the top of a giant Jordan wine bottle. This artwork will grace the limited-edition poster for the 2014 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in 18-liter Melchior. (A Melchior is the equivalent of 24 750mL bottles and weighs about 60 pounds when full.) Posters will be distributed at restaurants that sell the Jordan Melchior. Learn more about the art contest judging criteria on our call for entries blog post.

According to the artist, this winning poster design was inspired by the Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, as well as the vineyard and wines of Jordan Winery. The female figure, clothed in the reds and purples of wine grapes and their vintages, represents the vineyard itself. The golden embellishments on her dress evoke new, curling grape shoots. With grapes and leaves in her auburn hair, she simultaneously rises from the vines which laid the foundation of Jordan Winery, and unveils the bottle of the new vintage. This is a nod to the replanting and revitalization of the estate vineyards. The hand lettering and embellishments in the Art Nouveau style evoke the European tradition and class so highly valued by the vintners at Jordan. The leaves in delicate yellow-greens, and fiery red-golds bring to mind both the beginning of the growing season and the harvest.

Jessie Swiech worked as an intern at Sunset Lake Vineyards and Winery in Carlock, Illinois. “I understand the love, care, blood, sweat–LOTS of sweat!–and tears that go into winemaking,” she says. “This poster represents the joy and excitement of unveiling the result of years of work, as well as the beauty of the vines, wines, and grapes themselves.”

The top five finalists in order of points are: Jessie Swiech, Sierra Fry, Chakori Prasad, Tiffany Olson and Cotey Gallagher.

View our photo gallery to see this year’s top five art contest entries. Sign up for our mailing list to learn more about Jordan Melchior offers and events.

John Jordan Receives Inaugural Firefighter of the Year Award

The Northern Sonoma County Firefighters recently presented John Jordan with its Honorary Firefighter of the Year award for 2018. This is an inaugural award created by Wine Country to the Rescue, a non-profit organization made up of the Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale and Knights Valley firefighters, who regularly work together to protect northern Sonoma County and share resources when it comes to education and equipment.

Four firefighters came to the winery on July 25 and gave John a commemorative fireman’s axe and plaque. Through the John Jordan Foundation, John has funded two major initiatives for local firefighters, including a two-year commitment to help them buy a special vehicle that carries firemen’s air packs and a compressor, so they can refill easily in the field. This year, the John Jordan Foundation helped the group purchase pre-fire attack maps. These maps are critical for training firefighters from outside the area on terrain, typography and landmarks.

fire truck at jordan winery

“We wanted to create a way to recognize our donors,” said Joe Stewart, captain of Geyserville Fire. “John has been our most generous donor, and we thought it would only be appropriate to make him the first honorary firefighter.”

Since the October 2017 wildfires, the John Jordan Foundation has worked to help the community both rebuild and maintain existing non-profit services vital to communities in the wake of a disaster. The foundation made an initial investment of $25,000 to the new Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation (SCGGF) Wildfire Relief Fund, assisting agriculture workers who lost their homes in the fires. The foundation is also helping build the new Santa Rosa Community Health Vista Campus, which was lost in the fires in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood and will reopen in 2019. (JJF also funded services at Santa Rosa Community Health’s new Dutton campus, which is serving the Vista campus patients during the rebuild.) Other charities include United Way’s Earn it, Keep it, Save it program, which provides free tax preparation service as a tool to help Bay Area residents become financially stable, and CTE (Career Technical Education) Foundation, which is focusing on increasing the construction and engineering career pathways to create a bigger work force for the rebuild effort. John and foundation director Lisa Wittke Schaffner also funded local schools to help meet the growing mental health challenges for students after the tragedy.

John Jordan accepting firefighter award
John Jordan accepting the Honorary Firefighter of the Year Award.

A significant portion of the proceeds from Jordan Winery fund the John Jordan Foundation, which supports programs that help disadvantaged youth and adults access the tools they need to excel personally and professionally.

This Year’s Jordan Winery Harvest Lunch Menus

The countdown to grape harvest season has begun in Sonoma County, which means it’s time for Jordan Winery Harvest Lunches in Healdsburg. This communal feast for Jordan Estate Rewards members, our staff and grape growers celebrates the harvest season with delicious, garden-driven dishes by our winery chef, Todd Knoll. This year’s menu was unveiled today.

Offered September 10-October 5 (Monday through Friday), savor a delectable assortment of dishes from the Jordan garden, as well as an entrée and dessert–all served with multiple Jordan wines. If you’d like to experience Harvest Lunch at Jordan, all you need to do is become a Silver member of our loyalty program. Silver, Gold and Platinum members may request a seat at the table on our website.

2018 Jordan Harvest Lunches Menus

Monday, September 10
Traditional Pork Tamales
Rice, Beans, Salsa, Sour Cream
Cabbage Salad with Cilantro Heirloom Tomatoes
Apple, Cinnamon and Coconut Salad

Tuesday, September 11
Roasted New York Strip
Summer Squash, Farro, Roasted Shallots, Tarragon Vinaigrette
Garden Greens with Heirloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

Wednesday, September 12
Grilled Chicken Piccata
Wild Rice, Broccolini
Heirloom Tomatoes with Garden Basil and Burrata

Thursday, September 13
Grilled Pork Chops
Roasted Apples, New Potatoes, Estate Haricots Verts
Classic Wedge Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes
Garden Fig Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise

Friday, September 14
Glazed Salmon
Freekeh, Grilled Garden Vegetables
Heirloom Tomatoes with Scallions and Miso Vinaigrette
Strawberry Shortcake with Mascarpone

Monday, September 17
Jordan Meatloaf
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Wild Mushroom Gravy
Estate Haricots Verts and Fig Salad, Garden Greens with Sherry Vinaigrette
Famous Jordan Chocolate Mousse with Estate Berries

Tuesday, September 18
Roasted Pork Loin
Freekeh, Ratatouille
Panzanella with Heirloom Tomatoes
Jordan Olive Oil and Lemon Cake with Whipped Crème Fraiche

Wednesday, September 19
Kobe Burger Bar
Corn on the Cob, Baked Beans, French Fries, Cole Slaw
Kozlowski Gravenstein Apple Pie
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thursday, September 20
Korean Short Ribs
Tamki Sushi Rice and Jordan Kimchee
Shiitake and Snow Pea Salad in a Sesame Vinaigrette
Honey Glazed Estate Figs and Estate Melons
Coconut Layer Cake

Friday, September 21
Mahi Mahi Vera Cruz
Black Quinoa, Peas and Estate Heirloom Tomatoes
Romaine, Kale and Avocado Caesar Salad
Arroz Con Leche with Spiced Mango

Monday, September 24
Hawaiian Kalua Pork and Cabbage
Sticky Rice, Tropical Fruit Salsa
Coconut Cream Pie

Tuesday, September 25
Pepper Crusted Ribeye Beef
Estate Braising Greens, Grilled Asparagus,
Crème Fraiche Mashed Potatoes with Braised Shallot Jus
Kozlowski Triple Berry Pie

Wednesday, September 26
Chicken Souvlaki
Tzatziki, Traditional Greek Salad
Grilled Vegetables from Our Garden
Greek Yogurt with Fig, Honey and Pistachio

Thursday, September 27
Pancetta Crusted Pork Loin
Anson Mills Polenta, Porcini Gravy
Lemon Tarts with Jordan Berries

Friday, September 28
Mexican Prawn Cocktail
 Black Beans and Rice
Grilled Corn with Lime and Cilantro
Tres Leches Cake

October 1-5
Finale week features an entrée, many surprises from our garden and dessert

Executive Chef, Todd Knoll

*menus are subject to change

GoPro Video: Watch Bottling Wine From a New Point of View at Jordan

Bottling wine might look like one of the easiest parts of winemaking—machines are doing much of the work, after all—but the ease of muscle during bottling season is replaced with a barrel full of anxiety because it truly is the most critical winemaking decision we make after when to harvest the grapes, and it requires years and years of expertise to perfect the complexities of placing a delicate wine into its aging vessel.

Three reasons why bottling wine is serious business:

  1. Bottling is the last step in the winemaking process to ensure that the wine tastes exactly how we want
  2. Bottling wine with high-tech equipment reduces the amount of oxygen that could get into the bottle during bottling (oxygen exposure would cause the wine to age prematurely)
  3. Bottling wine with the best equipment is more gentle on the wine, allowing them to avoid significant “bottle shock” and to be more expressive in aroma and flavor sooner (after six months to a year)

This creative, snappy GoPro video outlines the journey a wine bottle takes, from being filled with Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon to being corked, labeled and boxed. The most important steps for bottling wine occur in a sterile cabin, made of glass, which has the same microbial protection as a hospital emergency room. You’ll see this glass cabin throughout the video. Enjoy this 1:49 ride at a viewpoint you likely haven’t seen before – from a wine bottle’s point of view. (This GoPro video was created by Thomas Remiyac on our cellar team, who entered this video into our first employee video contest last year.)

There are several critical steps in the winemaking process to ensure the highest quality and integrity when bottling wine, both before and during the filling of wine bottles:

Before Wine Bottling

  • Every December, glass bottles are ordered. All 750ml bottles for Jordan wines are made in California; large-format bottles are made in France and Italy, the countries with the most experience and volume.
  • Every February, wine corks are ordered from Portugal and undergo a rigorous quality control process as noted in our blog about how wine corks are made and tested.
  • In early spring, the winemaking team tastes the new vintage and decides when it should come out of barrel and when the master blending before bottling should occur. During the master blending session, we decide if the Jordan Cabernet should be egg-white fined and if any lots should be declassified. Then, only the top lots go into the master blend that we bottle.
  • Every May, cork quality testing continues once the wine corks arrive into California from Portugal. See our blog post, 10 Fun Facts about Jordan Wine Corks.
  • More often than not, we egg-white fine Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s the last step before bottling wine for our singular red. Egg whites help soften the tannins and polish the finished wine. Learn more about egg-white fining in this video blog.
  • For a month leading up to the summer bottling season, we train staff, sterilize our state-of-the-art bottling line (watch a time-lapse video of its construction), run tests and make sure that all the equipment is in perfect working order before we begin bottling wine.

During Wine Bottling

  • Quality control is a big part of bottling wine throughout the process, even though machines are helping us do the heavy lifting. It takes 10 people working nine hours per day for six weeks to bottle each vintage of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon (Jordan Chardonnay takes nine days). During bottling, we run hourly tests on wine bottles to test corker vacuum, oxygen pick-up, fill levels, fill volume and diameter of the bottle necks (for proper cork insertion).
  • Empty bottles are loaded onto the line by hand and shake their way into the bottle blower, where they are turned upside down. The bottle blower simply blows air into the inverted bottle to make sure that cardboard or lint from the wine case didn’t get inside.
  • Empty bottles move into the filler to receive wine in a two-step process. First, they receive a spurge of nitrogen, which removes any oxygen from the bottle that could prematurely age the wine. Then the bottles are individually raised to the filler. By using a state-of-the-art wine bottle filler, the wine bottle fill levels (known as ullage) are highly consistent, which also helps avoid any low or high fills that could also lead to premature aging of the wine.
  • Filled bottles turn through a six-headed corker, which can complete/cork six bottles at one time. The corker emits a small amount of nitrogen into the head space before pulling a vacuum and then inserting the cork. This process ensures, again, that no oxygen gets into contact with the wine. We have three employees watching the critical filling, corking and packaging portion of the line, making sure that the five optical cameras in our high-tech line are doing their precise jobs and refilling the line with supplies.
  • Tin capsules are placed on the bottle in a two-part process. The capsules are placed gently on the bottle neck and then they go into a spinner, which tightens the capsule into place.
  • Bottles move into the labeler portion of the line, where self-adhesive wine labels are placed on the bottle and then brushed around to adhere perfectly into place. Thomas, who made the above bottling wine video, spends most of bottling season watching over the labeling part of the machine, making sure that the labels are applied seamlessly and perfectly without stopping the line’s progress.
  • Wine bottles then leave the sterile cabin and pass a rejection table, which is fitted with a camera that checks the fill level, cork integrity, capsule integrity and label placement. Bottles that don’t meet our standards are rejected and pushed onto a small conveyor belt.
  • Approved bottles move into the case packer section of the line, which has soft-catch technology—guiding the bottles into the box gently. Ivan X watches over this process, making sure that the cases and bottles are perfect.
  • Full 12-bottle cases are closed, flipped over and stacked with the neck down so that all the wines in the cases are in contact with the cork; employees place these cases on pallets to age for two full years before release for cabernet sauvignon (about six months for chardonnay).


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Jordan Uncorked Video #16: 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting

We’ve received several emails from fans wondering when to drink the 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. In this episode, Maggie and John taste a bottle of this aged red wine, pulled from our cellar. After almost a decade of age, this cabernet is silky-smooth and drinking beautifully, still showing nice acidity, dark fruit and soft tannins. The 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon is currently available to buy online from our shop.

Comment below with your requests for which wines these winemakers should uncork next.

Don’t forget tune in every month for “Jordan Uncorked” on our YouTube channel or Facebook page.

2016 Vintage Report: What Made 2016 Such a Great Year for Chardonnay?

After a more challenging vintage in 2015, Mother Nature was very kind to the grapes throughout the 2016 growing season in Sonoma County, allowing us to make phenomenal wines from the 41st harvest at Jordan Winery. There were six key factors that influenced the quality of the wines from 2016, which are included below based on our experiences with Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay. The opportunity to work with such delicately spiced fruit with such lively acidity was especially fun, offering so many aromas and flavors to employ on our vintage canvas.

Watch my Facebook Live video for the full 2016 Jordan vintage report.

Jordan Russian River Valley chardonnay vineyard drone photo
A chardonnay grower vineyard on the east side of the Russian River.

2016 was a Phenomenal Growing Season Overall for Russian River Chardonnay

Vineyards throughout the world tend to favor what is described as a Mediterranean climate–an arid growing season lacking in extreme heat and cold, and 2016 was one of our more moderate growing seasons of the past 10 years—ample rain in winter, no frost in spring, no heat spikes in summer and no rain at harvest. The rainy winter restored the water table and reservoirs, which had been depleted by the historic drought. Bud break occurred early yet again, thanks to a warm spell in February, but no frost damage or serious disruption to grapevine flowering occurred due to the mild spring. Moderate weather prevailed throughout June and July without unwanted heat spikes. Moderate growing seasons like 2016 lead to phenomenal fruit flavors and thus excellent wines.

vineyard worker thinning grape clusters, Jordan Winery
Jordan’s Jose Saldana thins leaves and clusters of chardonnay grapes during August of 2016 to aid ripening.

2016 was a Stress-Free Vintage for Grapes and Growers Alike

There was a lack of stress for the grapes and for the growers in 2016, and for that, we were very grateful. Due to the early bud break, we took additional measures to avoid frost damage by mowing flowering cover crops earlier than normal, ensuring that the cold air wouldn’t get trapped in the vineyard rows of actively growing vines. But the threat of frost, which passed without incident, was the only real nail biter of the growing season. Moderate weather in summer made 2016 a more relaxing vintage for farmers, due to the lack of extreme weather events. As the uniform crop began to grow in summer, we thinned leaves from the eastern morning-sun side of the grapevines to encourage ripening, while the leaves covering the fruiting zone were left untouched on the western afternoon-sun side to prevent sunburn. During the unusually cool August, mildew pressures were high, but our vineyard teams mitigated any threats with organic fungicide treatments. Additional leaves were removed in August to open up the canopy and allow air movement to the clusters—a practice to prevent bunch rot, a common ailment for the tightly clustered chardonnay grapes.

Russian river valley chardonnay bud break, 2016 vintage grapevine
Uniformity was key during the bud break period of the 2016 growing season in Russian River Valley.

Grapevines Grew Uniformly in 2016

Jordan Chardonnay’s harmony is achieved by uniformity of growth in the vineyard, and all the leaves burst at the same time during spring bud break and continued to grow in concert through the May flowering of the grapes and right into summer fruit set. When growth of the plant is uniform through the growing season, the grapes ripen together and their flavors and aromas are both more consistent and more intense.

Russian River chardonnay grapes on grapevine, Jordan Winery
The 2016 Chardonnay crop was typical in size and enjoyed a slow, even ripening period, thanks to the August cold front.

The 2016 Vintage Crop was Average in Size

Fruit set occurred as usual in June 2016, revealing an average-sized crop for all of our Russian River chardonnay growers—down only about 15% of a typical vintage. Great vintages go hand-in-hand with a balanced vine–when grapevines carry too much or too little fruit, they struggle to achieve a harmony and balance of fruit, acidity and sugar. It is very uncommon to have a bumper crop with concentrated, perfect flavors and aromas–the 2012 vintage being the exception to the rule. The normal crop size for chardonnay growers allowed the grapevines to mature their clusters evenly throughout the moderate summer. In 2016, the farming practice of veraison thinning, sacrificing about 10% of the overall clusters, was employed to ensure that the fruit on the vine continued to ripen evenly during the unseasonably cool weather that proceeded harvest.

chardonnay grapes hanging on the vine in russian river valley
Uniform chardonnay grape clusters awaiting the typical hot August temperatures.

Cool Weather in August 2016 Intensified Fruit Flavors

A massive cooling trend hung over Sonoma County vineyards during the month of August in 2016, with foggy mornings that lingered into the afternoon and temperatures 10 degrees below average. The cool weather allowed our Chardonnay grapes to continue slowly ripening without the threat of excessive heat, which can sunburn their delicate skins. The freshness of fruit and the vibrant acidity in our Chardonnay are also better retained in the clusters when peak temperatures in the summer are less severe. Top grape growing regions also enjoy what are called diurnal temperature variations–large swings in temperature from the coolest point in the night to the highest point in the day. . In the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County where the best chardonnay grapes are grown, summer temperatures can swing from 50 degrees at night to the mid-80s or low-90s on a typical day. This prolonged, final, “cool” stretch for the grapes helps the vines to develop physiological ripeness for the fruit rather than just simple sugar accumulation. Temperatures in August of 2016 ranged from the upper 40s at night to the upper 70s and low 80s during the day, which kept the chardonnay grapes’ acidity very high and bright while the aromas and flavors grew more concentrated.

harvest grapes, russian river valley chardonnay grapes, 2016 vintage
The last gondola of Russian River Valley chardonnay grapes to be harvested in 2016 just after sunrise.

Glorious, Sunny Days During the 2016 Harvest

Near-perfect weather conditions prevailed throughout the month of September–cool mornings and warm, sunny afternoons without excessive heat–allowing us to pick Jordan’s Russian River Valley Chardonnay grapes in the coldest hours of the night to preserve their bright acidity, vibrant aromas and crisp fruit flavors. In 2016, harvest began on September 1 with Russian River Valley Chardonnay—all fruit handpicked in the coolness of the night and early morning hours before sunrise. Picking continued under ideal weather through September 22, with sugar levels averaging 23.4 Brix. Fruit arrived at the crushpad very pristine without sunburn and with phenomenal varietal character. What I look for in a great harvest is intensity of fruit flavors, and when we transferred the 2016 fruit from the grower’s bins to our hopper, our senses were overwhelmed with gorgeous aromas. Joy turned to pure elation. Compared to vintages like 2012 where the tons harvested exceeded our estimates, 2016 was right on par. Both 2016 Jordan wines are a fitting way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our first vintage, the 1976 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

What is Grape Cluster Counting & Why It Matters to Winemakers

Even though school is out during summer, it’s math time in the vineyards.

June and July are the months where grape cluster counting takes place. Grape cluster counting literally means walking through vineyard rows counting grapes to determine if the year’s harvest will be small, average, large or somewhere in between.

hand holding green grapes, Jordan Winery
Elena Robledo counts a cabernet sauvignon grape cluster to determine crop size for the 2018 vintage.

How Grape Cluster Counting Helps Winemakers

Elena Robledo, whose father was our first employee at Jordan back in 1973, is the cluster counting guru at Jordan. She walks every vineyard, with clipboard in hand, stopping at every tenth grapevine in a row and counting each cluster of grapes on that vine. Once she reaches the end of that vineyard row, she moves ten rows farther and begins counting again. Counting the clusters on every tenth grapevine in a row gives the winemakers a sample of statistical significance to estimate the potential crop size for the vintage’s harvest. During this time, Rob Davis, our winemaker, also visits every vineyard and examines the size of the clusters. If the grapes are smaller than usual or the clusters are loose, the weight of grapes could be below average, which also affects how much juice can be pressed from the fruit once it arrives at the winery during harvest. On the flip side, very big clusters could mean much more juice inside the grapes, so knowing the exact weight of the clusters is just as important to a winemaker as knowing how many bunches are hanging on each grapevine.

Jordan cabernet grape cluster counting in a vineyard
Elena Robledo counting clusters at a cabernet sauvignon vineyard in Geyserville.

After cluster counting, if the crop size is above average or the grapes are not growing uniformly (a balanced vine is the key to a balance wine), our winemaker will make the decision to sacrifice some grapes, dropping fruit to the ground is a quality winegrowing practice called veraison thinning. Once the estimated crop size is confirmed, winemakers have the ballpark numbers needed to plan out tank space for fermentations, order barrels and determine staffing for harvest.

Because Jordan sources grapes from five vineyards in Russian River Valley for Jordan Chardonnay and about a dozen in Alexander Valley for Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, it takes Elena a few weeks to finish grape cluster counting. While the winemakers and cellar crew (including Elena’s son, Danny,) are busy with bottling during late June and early July, Elena is content to spend her days enjoying the cool mornings of Northern Sonoma County crunching numbers.

We think she has a pretty awesome office this time of year.

Meet Spencer Jensen: Jordan Winery’s New Western Regional Sales Director

Our wine family is growing this summer. We’d like to introduce you to Spencer Jensen, who recently joined our sales team. Spencer developed a passion for storytelling and authenticity in the world of wine and spirits early in his career during his travels to Cognac, Scotland and California. After 10 years of selling wine and spirits in the Midwest, he moved to California in June 2018 to become the Western Regional Sales Director for Jordan Vineyard & Winery.

An Illinois native, Spencer will be responsible for distributor management, Tastevin tablet wine list integration, and restaurant and retail sales initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii and Arizona. He’ll also host wine dinners and pour at select events in the West. He most recently spent 10 years working at Southern Wine & Spirits, where he served in a variety of positions including portfolio manager for Moet Hennessy, key account manager for Svedka, off-premise portfolio manager for Pernod Ricard and on-premise portfolio manager for Bacardi.

“Spencer’s experience with luxury wines and natural talent for forming strong relationships make him a perfect fit for the Jordan team,” says Brad Butcher, national sales director at Jordan Vineyard & Winery. “We look forward to seeing his skills continue to grow the quality of distribution in the West.”

Spencer grew up in Lockport, Illinois, and attended the University of Illinois in Champaign. During his tenure as an Illinois, he joined the varsity football team as a walk-on and became a four-year wide receiver and punt returner. After graduating with a degree in applied health sciences in 2007, he worked in youth sports before transitioning into the food and beverage industry. Spencer learned most of what he knows about wine from his time at Southern, and says his interest in wine grew simply from the romance of sharing a bottle in great company.

He resides in Hermosa Beach, California, and looks forward to sharing Jordan wines with our fans in the Western United States.


Jordan Uncorked Video #15: 1968 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Georges De Latour Cabernet Sauvignon

Many years ago, Mrs. Jordan shared the story of her “a-ha moment” with a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet that inspired her and Tom Jordan to plant a vineyard and found Jordan Winery. The wine was a 1966 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Georges De Latour Cabernet Sauvignon. They quickly sought out André Tchelistcheff, the BV winemaker, and convinced him to help them realize their winemaking dream in neighboring Sonoma County. (There’s a great background story on the BV Private Reserve Cabernet in Decanter.)

Though we don’t have any bottles of the 1966 in our cellar, we do have a few prized bottles of the 1968 vintage, so in honor of the 50th anniversary of this legendary Napa Valley red wine, we decided to open a bottle in this episode of our monthly YouTube series, Jordan Uncorked. The wine surprised them in more ways than one.

Comment below with your pick for which wine these winemakers should open next for a chance to be featured.

Tune in every month for “Jordan Uncorked” on our YouTube channel or Facebook page.


Sips for Smiles: John Jordan Foundation Charity Spotlight on Dental Health

Many of us dread going to the dentist, especially when we know that visit will involve shots and chisels. A few years ago, I was sitting in my dentist’s chair, cringing at the whine of the drill and thinking to myself: This must be the worst thing in the world. On my way home from the appointment, it hit me that not having the opportunity to have quality dental care is truly one of the worst things in the world. Few ailments are more painful than unhealthy gums or teeth. The emotional impact of oral health issues can’t be overlooked either. Numerous studies have linked a great smile to a person’s career advancement. Smiling boosts self-esteem and self-confidence. The road to success is often paved in smiles.

But, we can’t forget that the most important things in life have nothing to do with business. Smiling is central to how we communicate in every aspect of our lives with the people who matter to us most. Those smiles are what makes life meaningful and add a layer of richness to our days—not unlike a glass of wine. That is why the John Jordan Foundation has taken on pediatric dentistry as one of our causes. A significant portion of the proceeds from Jordan Winery fund the foundation, which works to fight the negative effects of poverty.

Our first dental care project was a two-year commitment of $250,000 to build Santa Rosa Community Health’s (SRCH) first pediatric dental wing. SRCH is a network of ten health centers in Sonoma County that provide medical, dental and mental health care to families with inadequate or no insurance. Located at SRCH’s first Dental Campus in Santa Rosa, the pediatric dental wing was completed in 2013. There are five dentists, including one pediatric specialist, who provide full restorative and diagnostic services to an average of 2,100 children per year, from toddlers to teenagers.

“This project filled a critical need,” says Naomi Fuchs, chief executive officer of SRCH. “Our Dental Campus has already changed the lives of thousands of low-income children and families, many of whom have never seen a dentist before. Preventing and treating dental decay is critical to giving every person the opportunity for a full and healthy life.”

So, next time you uncork a bottle of Jordan, know that we make wine to bring our customers pleasure, but it warms our hearts equally as much to see the impact winery revenue can have on impoverished families. That’s another reason to smile while enjoying our wine.

Learn more about the John Jordan Foundation on our website.

Jordan Uncorked Video Episode 14: When to Drink 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon in Magnum

Ever wondered if a magnum of wine tastes different than a standard bottle? In this episode of Jordan Uncorked, winemakers Maggie Kruse and John Duckett taste the 2012 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon in magnum. 2012 was truly a phenomenal growing season, yielding a harvest that was both stunning in quality and quantity. The grapes were just gorgeous. This 2012 magnum just released in May, and the winery staff has been waiting to taste this wine for six years.

What bottle of wine would you like to see our winemakers uncork next, and where would you like them to taste it? Leave your comments below for a chance to be featured.

Tune in every month for “Jordan Uncorked” on our YouTube channel or Facebook page too.