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John Jordan Remains True to His Roots
By Robert Whitley
Dec 1, 2015
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You could say John Jordan was born into the wine business, although he spent most of his adult life avoiding it.

His parents, Tom and Sally Jordan, were dedicated Francophiles. They signed the deed on their Alexander Valley wine estate in May 1972, the same day John was born, so the story goes. John and his sister Jenny grew up amid the vines, while older sister Judy was away at college. Tom and Sally redefined California cabernet.

Over the years, Jordan's reputation for cabernet sauvignon made in a Bordeaux style, with elegance and balance and the ability to age, established it as a benchmark California cabernet house (the winery also produces a Burgundian-style chardonnay).

John eventually got away from it all and pursued dual careers as an attorney and a naval intelligence officer. Running the Jordan winery wasn't his driving ambition as a young adult.

"I wasn't sure for the longest time if it was something I even wanted to do," he said over a recent lunch in San Diego.

Now, 10 years into his tenure as CEO of the iconic Jordan Winery, it seems as though it was always meant to be. When John took over the winery in 2005 it was his challenge to improve upon perfection or not. He could have done nothing but serve as caretaker and the iconic California winery would have been none the worse for his unwillingness to try to fix something that wasn't broken.

Or he could dig a little deeper and take Jordan to a higher level.

"My parents' vision was the (Andre) Tchelistcheff vision of balance in wine," said Jordan. "But you're always learning something new in the wine business."

That's when John went to Rob Davis. Rob was handpicked to craft Jordan Winery's first vintage in 1976 by Andre Tchelistcheff, the legendary wine consultant who made his mark on California wine when he created the iconic Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon over in the Napa Valley.

John asked Rob if there was something he wanted to do with the wine at Jordan that he had been constrained from doing in the past. Rob said yes, and set about creating what John called "a super blend."

"It really was extraordinary," said Jordan. "I said, 'Rob, wouldn't it be great if we could do this all the time?' Rob said, 'We can.'"

Now, most vintners would have taken that as a cue to create a reserve cabernet.

"We would never do that," John said emphatically. "It would break the covenant Jordan has with wine consumers. If a wine has the Jordan label, that label represents that it's the best we can do. I have other outlets for my entrepreneurial ambitions. Messing with the Jordan brand isn't one of them."

There was but one thing to do, then, and that was to turn Davis loose and make all Jordan cabernet sauvignon in the same manner as the "super" blend.

That meant reaching outside the Jordan estate, where 200 acres of vines were planted on the valley floor, and sourcing additional cabernet from the nearby benchlands.

The grapes from the valley floor had always imparted an herbal quality to Jordan cabs, but Davis had to work diligently each harvest to eliminate patches of the vineyard that produced more vegetal aromas, what John Jordan refers to as "the green beans and bell pepper."

"Rob had stumbled across these cabernet vineyards in the benchlands, and we were able to rid ourselves of the green beans," said Jordan.

But that wasn't all. Jordan had always used a blend of French and American oak barrels. Slowly the regimen changed to work in more French barrels. With the 2014 vintage the evolution was complete, and the Jordan barrel regimen became 100 percent French oak.

What's remarkable is that John and Rob were able to tweak the Jordan cabernet to a higher level without abandoning Tom and Sally's original vision to produce California cabernet sauvignon with Bordeaux sensibilities.

You might say John Jordan was true to his roots.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.