Lisa Mattson, director of communications at Jordan Winery, works on her weekly video blog on Monday, November 1, 2010.

Decades-old Alexander Valley cabernet house reinventing itselffor the modern age

It's not every winery site that has video of a nighttime harvest, tips on Halloween appetizers and cocktails and yummy fall menu ideas, like Maine lobster with chanterelles, not to mention links to video tweets and Flickr photos.

That the winery being described here is Jordan Winery, a decades-old cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay stalwart in the Alexander Valley, is an interesting statement about how a winery can simultaneously change its image, upgrade its wines and bring a whole new slew of consumers into the conversation with a little new thinking and a whole lot of fun.

Step one was generational transfer. Founder Tom Jordan in 2005 handed the day-to-day leadership reins to his son, John, a lawyer by training who was born on the day in 1972 that his parents signed the deed on their Alexander Valley estate.

The younger Jordan was committed to honoring his father's original vision, inspired by the great chateaux of Bordeaux, to make elegant, approachable wines intended for the dinner table.

"We've always made our wine in a traditional, Bordeaux-inspired, food-friendly fashion and resisted the trend over the years toward bigger, more extracted wines," he said.

"My parents had fallen in love with food first and felt wine should be a supporting factor, not be a food item itself."

Shaking things up

But he wasn't opposed to shaking things up a bit at the same time. So, step two was making things more interesting for longtime winemaker Rob Davis, who's been at Jordan almost 35 years.

Davis, who trained for decades under legendary wine guru Andre Tchelistcheff, Jordan's consulting winemaker in those early years, had been itching to source fruit from outside of the estate, a chance to raise the quality. John Jordan gave him the green light.

"John told me, go get better fruit, I'm not tied to anything in particular," Davis noted. "He's not just keeping things the same."

Davis went out immediately and found new sources of cabernet sauvignon in Alexander Valley to blend with his own estate hillside fruit.

"I felt like I had four wings," he added. "I did a lot of trespassing, started discovering new sites."

Cabernet franc vines that weren't adding much to the mix were replanted to petit verdot, a small percentage of which Davis uses to blend with the cabernet sauvignon. The use of more French oak barrels was introduced to better balance the wine's tannins.

And yet Davis stuck to making wines with relatively low alcohol levels, crafting his cabernets to be between 13.7 and 13.9 percent alcohol, the range he feels is optimally food friendly.

Jordan's chardonnay began to come from Russian River Valley vineyards, typically cooler than the sites where they had been growing and sourcing grapes in Alexander Valley. That allowed Davis to make a more Burgundian-style white wine, using less malolactic fermentation and less oak, letting the fruit's intensity speak for itself.

Pristine wine

Leslie Sbrocco, author, TV host and founder of Thirsty Girl, a multimedia lifestyle company devoted to wine, food and travel, recommended the 2008 Jordan Chardonnay recently on "The Today Show."

"It's a beautifully pristine wine," she said.

"It's got that beautiful California fruit with classic European styling. It really goes great with food. It was a rediscovery."

Davis has worked hard to get it there.

"Wine's not linear," he said. "It's not, if I do this twice as much it'll be twice as good. One of the goals is to make sure when our wine comes out it's round, soft, fruity, very drinkable and accessible, that largely comes from balance."

Jordan's wines also remain fairly priced. The Jordan 2006 Cabernet, the current release, may be one of the best they've ever made, a mouthful of bright, lush blackberry, cassis and vanilla braced by enviable acidity. It costs about $52 retail. The 2008 Chardonnay, full of minerality and green apple freshness, is $29.

But making better, still fairly-priced wines is only half the fun nowadays at Jordan.

Since John Jordan came on, the winery has done more to open its doors to visitors, inviting the interested to stop by for tours and tastings (appointments necessary), where wines are paired with bites from estate chef Todd Knoll, who sources from the winery's own organic garden and olive oil groves.

"We want to reach as many people as possible with wines that offer genuinely affordable luxury," Jordan said.

They've been reaching more people as well since the hiring of Lisa Mattson as director of communications. Mattson is a skilled blogger and videographer who has brought the Jordan story to life in multiple forms since coming on board last year.

Visit Jordan's website or its presence on Facebook or Twitter and all aspects of the family winery's existence are deftly on display -- the night harvest of merlot, the chef's favorite kitchen gadgets, viticulturalist Brent Young's use of soil mapping to farm grapes, aerial videos of vineyards from John Jordan's airplane (he's got an Airline Transport Pilot license) and even personal memories from Sally and Tom Jordan about how they found the winery and were "adopted" by Andre Tchelistcheff.

It's an in-depth, personally compelling and open dialogue with anyone interested in taking part, a very modern turn for an esteemed winery that's been around almost 40 years.

'Glampire' ball

This Halloween, Jordan also indulged in a favorite tradition, throwing its annual Halloween party at the winery grounds, sending invitations to its "Glampire" themed ball in a coffin box that included a USB drive that when linked into a computer brought viewers to a "Shining"-esque video of glamorous vampires, (fake) bloody scenes, looming ravens and more.

"We have to be very creative in how we do our storytelling," Jordan said. "We like to do it in context, a lot of fun and friends together.

" It's an opportunity for us to connect and reconnect."

Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at

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