Judy Jordan’s next act: helping young women in Sonoma County achieve their dreams

The founder of J Vineyards and Winery is back with a new wine brand - Geodesy- that will help fund a local nonprofit to help young women.|

For four years, Judy Jordan has been working on her next act.

During that time, many of her friends and fellow colleagues from the North Coast wine world kept asking about the next chapter for Jordan, the 57-year-old Sonoma County resident who sold her beloved J Vineyards and Winery in March 2015 to E. & J. Gallo Winery.

And she kept them waiting and waiting. But there is a good reason that her Geodesy Wine company has taken so long to come to fruition. It’s much more than a boutique winery that offers premium chardonnay and pinot noir that starts around $75 a bottle. It’s also part of a philanthropic endeavor with an ambitious aim to transform the lives of young local women whose families work in agriculture.

“The charity grows up side by side (with the winery),” Jordan said in an interview. “Let’s see if we can put our focus of the mentorship program at the center and build the winery and the team and the expertise around that.”

In a sense, Jordan is now a committed philanthropist along the lines of Bill and Melinda Gates - albeit with a small side business. She has established a nonprofit, Wild Goat Edge, to handle the mentorship effort with its own dedicated program director. The program is starting this summer with a small pilot group of young women who will attend Santa Rosa Junior College, giving them wraparound services to ensure they can complete their associate’s degree; and providing them internships and other mentorship opportunities to learn more about various agriculture fields and future job possibilities.

Wild Goat’s assets were $2.4 million at the end of 2017, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

But Jordan has thought through the long-term viability of her new project. The revenue generated through wines sales from Santa Rosa-based Geodesy will make the philanthropy program self-?sustaining for the future and put it on more fertile ground. Her pitch: “Drink well. Do good. It’s that simple.”

Those who know Jordan aren’t surprised by her latest endeavor, which she refers to as a “BHAG” - a big hairy audacious goal.

“I know this has been her dream since we met,” said Jean Arnold Sessions, the former executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group, who has known Jordan more than 30 years. “Her dream has always been this camp for young people.”

But it took a long while to get there. Jordan readily acknowledges she is a product of privilege. Her parents, Tom and Sally Jordan, founded Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley in 1972. She graduated from Stanford University with an undergraduate degree in geology.

She broke away from her father in 1986 when she launched her own wine brand, named J. (Her younger brother John now owns and operates Jordan Winery and he also has his John Jordan Foundation.) The J brand became lauded by wine critics, especially for its sparkling wines.

Meanwhile its Bubble Room became popular for its wine-and-food pairings. Jordan grew her wine empire by buying more local vineyards - 300 acres spread over nine vineyards - and was able to maintain them throughout the 2008 financial crisis. J was producing around 90,000 cases annually when she sold the business.

Jordan confessed that she was nervous when she sold J, but noted that her two children - Nicole and Robert Webber -“had other dreams” than running a winery so there would be no family succession. She also wanted another act to start in her 50s that could fulfill her goal of mentoring, which she attempted to do at J while also running a multimillion-dollar business.

“I didn’t want to be 90 and trying to figure it out,” Jordan said.

She took steps in the summer of 2015 by buying vineyards: the Eola Springs Vineyard in the Eola Amity Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Rickreall, Oregon; the Chehalem Mountain Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountain AVA in Newberg, Oregon, and the Sage Canyon Vineyard in the Napa Valley with 60 acres primarily planted to cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

In late 2018, she made a Sonoma County purchase with Manor Lane Vineyard located on Manor Lane in the Petaluma Gap AVA with 47 plantable acres of chardonnay and pinot noir. She also had formed the Capra Co. to oversee management of the vineyards, bringing back Scott Zapotocky who worked in a similar role under her at J.

But it took Jordan a lot longer to educate herself in the nonprofit world - and that explains the delay in unveiling Geodesy, where the wines can be purchased through its website. A couple of hundred cases will be available initially - a minuscule number compared to J. Megan Baccitich, former director of winemaking for Paul Hobbs Wines, who is making the wines.

“It was humbling,” Jordan said. “I didn’t really have the skills.”

She reached out to her friend, Joan Platt, founder and president of the Joan and Lewis Platt foundation, a human rights nonprofit with a focus on women and children. Joan and her late husband, Lew, who served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and Kendall-Jackson, had established the heralded Platt Vineyard near Freestone.

Jordan was soon on a discovery that was akin to another undergraduate degree, she said. “I’m grateful for the years to really take the deep dive,” Jordan said.

There were intensive programs with The Philanthropy Workshop, a global organization with a network of 450 world leaders trying to solve major social issues. Jordan brought along her general manager, Kathryn Lindstrom, who also worked at J, for these courses, including one where she learned about all the progress happening with nonprofits in Detroit. She also spent time at Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design - commonly referred to as the d.school - looking at ways to rethink the intersection of technology and agriculture.

“Her drive, persistence and constant desire to learn has been inspiring,” said Bill Silver, CEO at CannaCraft in Santa Rosa and former dean of Sonoma State University’s School of Business and Economics, in an email. “Judy has really taken the time to fully understand the challenges that face nonprofits and has come up with a brilliant plan, combining her passions, to allow this nonprofit to be financially self-sustaining.”

Jordan has already started mentoring two young women in the Roseland area who have family members working in the agriculture industry. But her training taught her the need to step back to find out more about the person and her family. She refers to it as the ability to “listen generously.” Humility is a word that pops up often in a conversation with Jordan. She concedes that she is willing to “take a few faceplants” in order to determine what works for the nonprofit.

“Oftentimes we think we know what’s best. … It takes the time to understand and ask the question,” Jordan said. “There is oftentimes a subconscious lens that somebody such as myself will have in an interpretation on how to fix something.”

For example, there could be an issue with a family member, such as a close uncle who needs a job, which could be weighing on the student.

“What I learned is the most important thing is to step back, be inclusive (and) make sure that we are interested in doing something with young women and that their families are included; that they are at the table,” Jordan said.

SRJC provides a nice platform to work with the program because it offers the Doyle Scholarship, which provides ?$1,200 in tuition awards for qualifying students. In addition, its Shone Farm facility in Forestville is a first-class agricultural learning laboratory with its own vineyard and winery.

Wild Goat Edge will provide the wraparound services to be tailored for the student’s needs, which could include books, transportation, housing or other additional costs that make it harder to obtain their degree.

The program also will offer mentorship. Jordan is assembling her own “village of women” who she personally knows and who can provide everything from advice - such as what to put on a resume - to internships in a field of interest.

“Her (Jordan’s) relationships are one of her greatest assets,” said Tony Lombardi, a fellow vintner who is helping her out on the project.

“If you have one great mentor, one great person who believes in you, you have a shot,” Jordan said. She credited her own father and Lew Platt for being instrumental mentors in assisting her to achieve her dreams, and wants to see more women in that role. “That’s something that doesn’t cost us money.”

The program’s goal is for the student to obtain an associate’s degree within two years. Academic research shows the longer it takes a student to complete the degree, the less likely he or she will graduate, Jordan said. The next step would be an undergraduate degree with the intention of the young women returning to Sonoma County to work their way up in the agriculture industry ­- though Jordan stressed that other fields of study would be fine.

“There is flight of our youth. We all are living and breathing it,” Jordan said. “How can we make sure our wonderful ag families stay here and thrive in community?”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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