E. & J. Gallo Winery announced Tuesday its purchase of Healdsburg-based J Vineyards & Winery, which was founded almost 30 years ago by Judy Jordan and made its name through its high-end sparkling wine.
The sale is another example of increasing consolidation within the U.S. wine industry as Gallo, the nation’s biggest wine producer, picked up another specialty brand, this time in the premium market where bottles are priced at $25 and above.
It also closes a chapter in the amazing winemaking career of Jordan, who at the age of 25 broke away from her father, Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan. She launched her own sparkling wine house that picked up accolades, while also navigating the difficult financial pressures of the economic downturn to acquire and hold onto 10 vineyards.
“She made some great decisions, she brought on some great people and asked the right questions,” said Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division. “She’s a real pro.”
The acquisition includes the Healdsburg winery and more than 300 acres spread over nine vineyards within the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley American Viticultural Areas.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though industry analysts noted the land cost could fetch between $25 million to $30 million at current market rates, and speculation in Wine Country put the overall deal at as much as $90 million. The sale is scheduled to close Friday.
“I am proud to announce today that I have found the perfect fit to take this beautiful company to even greater heights,” Jordan said in a statement. “E. & J. Gallo is also privately owned and shares similar core values as both companies are dedicated to a balance of quality, community and financial sustainability. I look forward to my new chapter of building a mentorship platform as I honor and salute the outstanding new stewards of J Vineyards & Winery.”
Jordan, a 53-year-old mother of two, began her business out of an old prune-processing barn, which in 1995 flooded under 5 feet of water.
Yet the winery made a name for itself under its sparkling brand that hit shelves in 1991, focusing on the premium market. In 1997, she bought the former Piper Sonoma facility just south of Healdsburg, where the J company offices are still located.
“I do believe things go in phases,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Press Democrat. “That’s the great opportunity in life, to re-invent and re-engineer yourself to be relevant for new times. It’s very important to stay relevant and avant-garde.”
Jordan made some key decisions along the way besides her land acquisitions, even conceding she was once “mortgaged up the wazooo.”
She was one of the first in Sonoma County to have J’s tasting room devote a portion to food-and-wine pairing, as its Bubble Room, which now offers tastings at $75 a person, became increasingly popular.
She also branched out beyond sparkling wine and focused on pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris. Its pinot gris, a genetic cousin to pinot noir, was well received in the wine world and helped J stand out again in the competitive wine marketplace. She also made some key personnel decisions during her tenure, bringing in public relations veteran George Rose from Kendall-Jackson to handle communications and then recruiting winemaker Melissa Stackhouse from La Crema. Also, Kathryn Lindstrom left Opus One winery to become J’s chief operating officer.