Nicole Hitchcock is our featured guest on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger today. She is the winemaker of J Vineyards and Winery. Her colleague Chef Carl Shelton is also here and he has brought several delicious appetizers. Tom Simoneau is also on today’s show.
The show starts with a cork popping out of a magnum bottle of J Cuvée 20 sparkling wine. This was Tom Simoneau’s Sparkling Wine of the Year for 2019 and J Vineyards and Winery was his Winery of the Year.
Tom and Nicole agree that sparkling wines age better in magnum bottles. “We don’t mess around at J,” says Nicole, about how their wines age gracefully in the bottle. This is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a little Pinot Meunier, which is a rare classic variety of grape grown in Champagne and elsewhere in France and is often used in sparkling wines. Tom says it’s similar to Pinot Noir but with a bit more complexity. There is very little Pinot Meunier grown in California, these grapes come from Russian River Valley. She likes the earthy note and red fruit flavors and the fact that it evolves a little more rapidly than Pinot Noir.
A sparkling wine producer has to understand a lot of work, starting with the plain wine, then producing the bubbles. Carl Shelton points out that the entire process is done by hand, for the Magnums. They produced about 1000 cases of the Cuvée 20. Dan Berger says it is fabulous now but about 3 years away from being even more fabulous. This wine did spend 3 years on the yeast, but the bottle time is also critical, if your storage is cool enough.
Dan has recently found that you don’t age these bottles on the side, because the corks will become waterlogged. “Stand ’em up!,” says Dan “Lay it Down” Berger.
Carl Shelton has brought some cheese with accoutrements, which he describes. This is what they serve every day at J Vineyards and Winery. They try to change the cheese plate about every 8-10 weeks. Whether you take the sparkling menu, the pinot menu or the variety menu, your appetizers will pair with whatever flight you get. It’s a tricky choice because each cheese has to go with all three wine selections. They try to have as much cheese from California as possible, but in order not to repeat themselves they also use artisinal cheeses from “off the beaten path.” There are many ways to enjoy some food with the wine, at J Vineyards and Winery.
This J Cuvée 20 sparkling wine is a non-vintage wine, as are most sparkling wines. Dan tells about the reserve wines that winemakers keep, in order to blend it into the wine from year to year. This makes the wine more stable but makes it impossible to assign a vintage date (by law, once you have over 5% of the blend from another year).
This is a dry sparkling wine, but because of the Pinot Noir in it, has a little more fruity flavor. Dan says you can smell the Pinot Noir right away as soon as you open it.
Tom reminds listeners that the local wineries and tasting rooms are open, despite the fires.
Next they have the 2015 vintage Blanc de Noirs. This is 93% Pinot Noir and 7% Pinot Meunier. There is a different flavor profile for each of these sparklers. The first one has more acidity, the second was all strawberries and this third one has French and California combined. Carl says it is his favorite wine to pair with because it is so versatile.
Some pairings are contrasting, or else complimentary. Their goal is to open people up to the possibilities of what food can do for wine and vice versa. He will taste something in the wine and then he will try to find a food that will bring that to the forefront.
They also taste some still wines. J Winery is known for sparkling wines but they also produce still wines, such as the 2017 Chardonnay that they are tasting. This is the Bow Tie Chardonnay from Bow Tie Vineyard in Healdsburg. The Clone Z has a floral quality, with jasmine and marmalade.
They are open 7 days a week, where you can choose 3 different flights, all of which is paired with a special selection of cheeses, done with their in-house accoutrements. In the summer they also do oysters. Their feature is the Bubble Room, with 5 or 6 courses each paired with wine. It features whatever is in season and Carl and Nicole determine the pairings.
Finally they taste the 2016 Canfield Vineyard Pinot Noir. The vineyard is in the south part of Russian River AVA and it is influenced by the Petaluma Gap. It is a lot cooler, it is some of the last fruit they pick each season. “Big earthy, savory characters,” says Nicole.