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Five Changes to Jordan Chardonnay Winemaking: Can You Taste the Difference?

The inspiration for Jordan Chardonnay is the White Burgundies from Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, and while we never want to change our crisp, balanced style of wine, John Jordan believes in constant evolution; we are always trying to find ways to make every vintage better than the last.

Here are five key steps taken in the last four years with winemaking techniques to continue elevating the bright fruit flavors and elegant structure of Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

1. Intimate relationships with grapegrowers

Selecting the best vineyard site is a primary goal, but success is not rendered a possibility without the stewardship of our assembly of grower families and their employees. Ranch Manager Brent Young and myself work closely with growers to ensure that blocks are farmed to our specifications, adapting to every change during each growing season. Controlling grapevine uniformity and protecting fruit from the elements is crucial, and this can only be achieved when the winemaker and farmer share the same vision and commitment to quality. A cornerstone of that commitment is vine balance. Burgundy vigneron Frédéric Magnien said it best: “You cannot reconstruct balance. You cannot, through winemaking techniques, achieve balance in what was not balanced beforehand, however, you run every risk of destroying harmony.” Technique is important and simplicity is key, but the fruit is everything to a winemaker. That’s why I spend twice as much time in the vineyards of Russian River Valley than Alexander Valley. The delicate-skinned Chardonnay grapes simply demand more attention to achieve balance (see my last blog post). The deep relationships we’ve forged with growers over the decades, coupled with frequent examination of the health and progress of the vines each season, allow us to nurture the vineyard at the highest level. Like any business, mutual trust, respect and friendship go a long way in getting the job done exactly how you want, when you want.

2. Reducing malolactic fermentation

The first Jordan Chardonnay in 1979 went through 100 percent malolactic fermentation—a commonly used technique of converting malic to lactic acids to give the wine a buttery, creamy mouthfeel. Since the 2005 vintage, we have been gradually decreasing malolactic fermentation for Jordan Chardonnay. Our 2015 vintage, which releases April 1, underwent only 19 percent malolactic. The buttery note is delicate, and the natural acidity is vivid. We’re looking for subtle integration and roundness on the mid-palate and finish without masking the varietal character of the grapes, providing a harmony of flavors throughout each sip. Too much brass and percussion in the wine, and you can’t hear the orchestra’s violins and woodwinds.

3. Changing barrel aging regime

During the first vintages of Jordan Chardonnay, we employed 100 percent barrel fermentation in all French oak, with barrels ranging from brand new to three years old. We review the barrel cooperage program every year, looking for opportunities to frame and lift the intensity of chardonnay’s alluring stone fruit flavors. Since 2014, we’ve moved to aging in 60 percent stainless steel and 40 percent French oak—all new barrels with no carry-over from previous vintages. The resulting fruit is cleaner, more robust with just a suggestion of creaminess from the new barrel. Used barrels simply hamper the freshness of the chardonnay fruit.

4. Taking a new approach to batonnage

Recent experiments have led to better utilization of batonnage—the important practice of stirring the chardonnay lees after fermentation. Since the 2015 vintage, we’ve stirred the young chardonnay lots in both stainless steel and new French oak barrels, whereas Jordan batonnage used to occur only in wood. This subtle change has incorporated the creamy texture of yeast into the mid-palate and a long, silky finish at the same time.

5. Bottling with state-of-the-art equipment

The improvements made to wine bottling—installation of a new, state-of-the-art bottling line in 2013—illustrate the commitment that John Jordan has made to ensure that perfection extends all the way to the bottle. Every machine on the line is equipped with a camera that catches any imperfection in the bottling process. Employing the latest technology ensures that every cork, foil and label is perfect and that our wine does not suffer the ill effects of oxygen transfer from the filling process. This has virtually eliminated bottle shock, and has the same effect on aromatics as aging six months in bottle.
Every vintage always has the thumbprint of Mother Nature, but can you taste a difference in the brightness of the stone and citrus flavors? It’s a subtle change, but a quality queue in our quest to craft a California chardonnay that honors France’s best and is crisp, delicious and versatile for food pairing.

 

5 Comments
Roseanne Souza

Yes, every natural cork stopper from cork oak forests harvested with the utmost care and precision come from trees like Whistler that continue to share their gifts and blessings with families and communities that depend on the forests for their survival. Jordan Winery, The Ukrainian Cork Info Bureau, 100% Cork, Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance, Amorim, APCOR and others like American Forest Foundation work to create shared value and corporate social responsibility and celebrate the pure natural corks that this excellent winemaker loves. The Story of The Whistler Tree, the first ever children’s book written about the world’s oldest LIVING cork oak tree, can certainly help get this message out and into every home in the USA. Souza.com/the-story-of-the-whistler-tree-2

(Reply)
Bill Schallert

Rob
It has been a privilege and pleasure to have represented the Wines of Jordan from the very 1st vintage.
Following your adventures and selling these great wines has been so much fun.
I had the 1979 in magnum recently to celebrate my sons birth year. Still showing very nicely.
Love the current vintages of the Chardonnay.
All the best and hope to see you on my next visit to the winery.
Best regards
Bill

(Reply)
Peter Marks

Excellent article Rob. Your passion and attention to detail have allowed you to improve Jordan’s wines throughout your career. Keep up the great work and don’t retire!

Best,
Pete

(Reply)
Dennis Lewman

Mr. Davis,

I purchased a bottle of the first release Jordan 1976 Cabernet when first available. This bottle has been resting under cool cellar conditions ever since. Can you let me know how well that vintage has been holding?

Cheers,

Dennis Lewman

(Reply)
Lisa Mattson

Hi Dennis,

Rob is busy with harvest, so I’m responding on his behalf.

At this point in its life, the 1976 is past its prime. Because the corks are almost 40 years old (and ideally, a natural wine cork should be replaced every 20 to 25 years to ensure optimal longevity of the wine), we’ve noticed a fair amount of bottle variation in any 1976 Jordans tasted in the last five years. Some taste of herbs, leather and stewed fruit. One bottle last year was actually quite interesting and still had a little bit of acidity. Open it soon and let us know what you think.

(Reply)

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Rob Davis

Winemaker since Jordan's first vintage in 1976. Rob takes advantage of our estate's hillside trails for triathlon training.

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