December 10, 2019 | by Rob Davis
When I was hired by the brand new and unknown Jordan Winery in 1976, who knew that my six-week internship would last more than 43 years? My whole life has been well-defined by serendipity. Born to wonderful parents that provided a nice stepping stone to the University of California at Davis, I arrived at college with the plan of being pre-med but was paired with a fun-loving roommate who was majoring in enology. I had no idea that the competitive mecca for future doctors was also the home of one of the great schools for viticulture and winemaking. Friendships with fellow students, as well as professors, became eternal.
After college graduation, it was a most serendipitous moment to have met Tom and Sally Jordan, who introduced me to André Tchelistcheff, one of the most amazing persons I have ever met— someone who left a profound and everlasting imprint on my life. With more than 50 harvests of experience, André immersed me in his European approach to winemaking rather than the more conventional style that was lauded by the local critics. From the first vintage of 1976, the Jordans chose the lofty goal of a less common wine style: a style to rival the great grands crus of Bordeaux and later Burgundy. In the process of crafting the wines for Tom and Sally Jordan, as a winemaker, I was greatly challenged by the terroir of the estate fruit from our valley floor vineyard off Lytton Station Road. We prevailed in the cellar, however, and the wines were well-received. Again, serendipity presented itself in the change of command in 2005. With John Jordan’s assent to opt for vineyards with better terroir, I was in heaven. I was able to apply all those lessons I learned in the vineyard with André. In the benchlands and hills of Alexander Valley, there were promising vineyards that could produce the intense fruit flavors that would be the base of a wine that could be favorably compared to a truly great Bordeaux. I felt so lucky to have the support of John to choose all of our grape sources. I am so thankful to the Jordan family, and especially for the last 14 years, working with John and a great team of winemakers to craft wines that are lauded for their elegance and balance.
Similar to wines that age, time does not stand still. With enormous pride, I am happy to see a winemaking team that has prospered for many years, and with their advanced winemaking skills, it is time for me to allow the room for this team to continue to grow. The truth is that I feel nothing but gratitude to the Jordan family for trusting me with their winemaking for four decades. Maggie Kruse has grown into an excellent winemaker, and I fully expect the wines to be even better under her supervision. Winemakers are very control-oriented; we have to be, and after 43 years of calling the shots, it was time to embark on a new journey of learning. I felt it was important that Maggie have complete control of all the winemaking and so much of winemaking is being out with the grape growers. All the growers love Maggie, and she will become even better in the vineyards and the wines will prosper under her exacting command. Certainly, 43 years as a winemaker for one family is very rare, and the fact that Maggie worked with me for 13 years is ample experience for her to take the helm. With Maggie and her team, along with our amazing growers, Jordan wine will get even better; indeed the future is very bright for Jordan Winery. And I feel I am leaving on a very high note—2019 was perhaps the best year I witnessed for fruit that had such intensity and balance; it’s truly an extraordinary vintage.
I am reminded of an observation by the Roman poet, Horace, “When one looks into a glass of water, they see one’s own face. But when one looks into a glass of wine, they see the heart of another.” So true. My career at Jordan has brought me many wonderful friends. And the constant yearning to learn more has not waned. In departing each time on his visits to Jordan, André would remark, “Every day I learn something new, my dear Sir.” Even at 90 years old, he shared his inquisitive nature with me. Earlier this year, I was at a wine conference in Cortina, Italy, and a winemaker from Sicily enthusiastically shared two of his wines with me: one from vines grown at the base of Mt. Etna on volcanic soil, the other from a vineyard closer to the ocean on alluvial soil. With more 1,000 varieties in Italy alone, I realize how vast the wine world is. There are so many different approaches to winemaking. My next journey follows André’s many lessons and desires of obtaining more knowledge. And if you ever met André, you could never move fast enough. Whether it was racking a tank or making an amendment to a wine lot, he would say, “You just got to, Man!” And I hear his voice today. I have many places to visit and friends to see, more lessons to learn; “I just got to!”
Whenever I open a bottle of Jordan, it will always be about the memories—of the growing season, the vineyards, the growers, my team, our coworkers, colleagues and our customers. I feel so blessed with so many great memories of times with all of you. God bless you all!