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2010 Best Sparkling Wine: J Vineyards & Winery

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2010 Issue

“Anytime you’re selected by consumers, it’s a great honor,” says winemaker George Bursick. “To be recognized by the people who actually buy and drink your wine…it doesn’t get better than that.”

Bursick joined J Vineyards & Winery in 2006, following a long and esteemed career at Ferrari-Carano. The two couldn’t be more different—and that was a large part of the appeal, he says. After decades focusing on Alexander Valley varietals, Bursick is now fully enmeshed in cool-climate, Russian River Valley fruit. Add to that the challenge of tackling sparkling wine, and you have one happy winemaker.

“Sparkling wine has always intrigued me,” says Bursick, “as has Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. They’re two of the most difficult varietals to master, but Judy [Jordan, owner of J], has magnificent vineyards for me to play with. I’ve done pretty much everything else as a winemaker. This is like the Holy Grail for me.”

J produces four distinct sparkling wines. According to George Rose, public relations director, the Cuvée 20, J’s “frontline” sparkler, “had a major rebirth. It was the hit of the season. It sells for about $20; we brought the price down a bit and found a sweet spot. It competes nicely there with all the other California sparklings.

“Then we have the Brut Rosé, which sells for $30 to $35. That’s a gorgeous, Pinot Noir-based wine—that’s what gives it that beautiful color. The Brut Rosé is everybody’s favorite as well.” (It’s certainly mine!)

A vintage Brut ($50 per bottle) and late disgorged Brut ($90 per bottle), both of which are available only in the tasting room or through the wine club, round out the foursome. In addition to these, J has turned its focus to Russian River Valley varietal wines, notably six different Pinot Noirs, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vin Gris, Viognier and Pinotage.

“It’s all about the Russian River Valley,” says Rose. “We have 10 estate vineyards, about 257 acres. What we’ve done here at J is mix it up a little bit by where we located our estate vineyards. They’re scattered throughout the appellation to capture different elements.

“This is one of the great growing regions in the world for cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two main components of sparkling wine. We are still a sparkling wine producer,” Rose adds, “but the focus going forward will be on our varietal wines.

“Judy Jordan has been making Pinot Noir since 1994, but there was never a real ‘program’ for these wines. It went to club members only, for the most part, and wasn’t a real focus for the winery,” he continues. “When George Bursick joined in 2006, his task was to create a full program for the varietal wines from our estate vineyards. 2010 is the ‘coming out’ party for these wines: We have vintage 2007 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and an ’08 Pinot Gris.”

Translation: Expect J to be a contender in our other wine categories as well in the years to come. 



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