Tell us about yourself and your company: J Vineyards & Winery is an exceptional family-owned winery in Russian River Valley founded on the idea that great sparkling wine can be made in this region. Our founder, Judy Jordan, is the daughter of Tom Jordan, who owns Jordan Winery. The J brand has evolved into not only sparkling wine but also expressive pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris table wines.
I came to J with the intent of amplifying the quality of the pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris programs, while continuing the legacy of J sparkling-wine production.
I grew up in Lansing, Mich. and attended Calvin College from 1984–1987. After studying psychology then nursing, I dropped out after three years because I wasn’t feeling passionate about either choice.
I bummed around for a while, watched a lot of MTV and eventually moved to Bellingham, Wash., in 1989. Still not knowing what I wanted to do as a career, I spent four years doing miscellaneous things: classified advertising at The Bellingham Herald, worked on organic farms in New Zealand, drove a motorcoach and gave tours in Skagway, Alaska, drove a delivery van for Kinkos (now FedEx), mowed lawns for a landscaping company and painted greenware at a pottery studio.
Thankfully, I was winetasting one day on one of the San Juan Islands — Lopez Island — and discovered that a person could go to school to learn how to make wine. It was a gestalt moment for me.
I immediately moved to the Napa Valley and enrolled in the University of California, Davis, to study grape growing and winemaking. From there, I apprenticed in Napa Valley, Australia, and Sonoma County then accepted my first assistant winemaker position at La Crema in 2001. After spending 10 years with La Crema, I accepted the vice president of winemaking position at J in 2011.
What is a major accomplishment in the past year or so?: A true believer in teamwork and collaboration, I am most proud of putting together our upcoming trip to Burgundy and Champagne. As California winemakers, we need to understand Old World grape growing and winemaking. This trip will be a good R&D experience to, I believe, only further the quality of J grape growing, winemaking and authentic messaging.
What achievement are you most proud of?: So far in my career, facilitating the growth of La Crema from 2001 to 2011. It was a great journey, and I learned a lot from my time there.
What is your biggest challenge today?: Balancing motherhood with career. Balance in life has always been important to me. Funny how certain life changes require shuffling things around so balance can still be achievable.
Words that best describe you: Unfreakable, mellow, measured, transparent, supportive.
As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced, and how did you overcome them?: Only one strange experience as a female winemaker. I was working at an Australian winery in the 1999 harvest, when the winemaker one day said, “Ah, it’s so great to be a winemaker. It’s a lot better than being a woman.”
Nearly 14 years later, I still remember that moment because it was so shockingly inappropriate. I completed my apprenticeship there and came back to California to accept an amazing harvest position at Peter Michael Winery. It still puts a smile on my face when I think about the day I heard that this particular winemaker was fired.
Who was your most important mentor?: I have three people in the industry who helped propel me forward. Rob Hunter, formerly of Sterling Vineyards and now a consulting winemaker in Napa Valley, introduced me to Jeff Stewart, winemaker at La Crema. I worked with Jeff for three years until he left to oversee winemaking at another brand.
I cannot stress enough the impact Jeff and Tom Hinde — then-general manager at La Crema — had on my life and career. They provided support, education and fostered the ability to calmly make wine during both good and challenging vintages.
What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?: Get your education, apprentice as much as you can, and find a mentor to learn from.
Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Jess Jackson was someone who I admired and learned from. Jess always expected you to be solutions-oriented, and I take that advice with me in everything I do.
Current reading: In preparation for a trip to Burgundy: The Pearl of the Côte by Allen Meadows.
Stress relievers: The Super Slow strength-training regimen. I train a couple times a week with Tim Rogers at Break Through Fitness. He is such a great personal trainer, and this helps to alleviate both work and personal stress.
Favorite hobbies: Travel and watching my daughter grow up. Not much time for hobbies at the moment.
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