By Laura Ness
With a simple, yet elegantly stylized letter, Judy Jordan made her indelible mark on the wine world. The J Vineyards & Winery brand came to symbolize grace, the beauty of hospitality and the eternal appeal of bubbles. Anyone who has ever been to the Bubbles lounge at the J Vineyards site in Sonoma, feels an instant connection to the comradeship of wine. When Jordan sold the brand to Gallo in 2014, she knew this was her big give back moment. Her desire to create mentorships for young women wanting to enter the wine world, led to the development of Geodesy, her latest wine project that involves three exceptional vineyard properties: one in Napa and two in the Willamette Valley. It would be the engine to drive WG Edge, the organization she founded out of gratitude to the local agricultural community in 2017, to give young women an edge through a combination of education, networking and work opportunities.
Jordan started J Vineyards and Winery in 1987, at the age of 26, with the support of her father, Tom Jordan. But it was having Lew Platt, who was the CEO of Hewlett Packard at the time, become her mentor, that made a major impact on her life and her success.
“It was scary being the owner of a winery as a young woman,” Jordan admitted, during a Zoom tasting of the latest release of Geodesy wines. “The business was literally all men at the time. I had the good fortune of meeting Lew Platt, who helped me navigate J Vineyards and Winery’s growth for many years. Even though he had 270k employees at HP, every time he visited J Vineyards and Winery, he would always make each person on my team feel comfortable and that they mattered. From my perspective he was inspirational, by the way he could empathize with others and his ability to lead with strength and wisdom balanced by compassion and acknowledgement. I had the good fortune that Lew loved good wine and appreciated the efforts made to create exceptional wines. And he was very supportive of mentoring young women. To this day I am very close with his family and his legacy continues to inspire me.”
Even though she is grateful to have had two wonderful male mentors, she missed out on having a female mentor. After all, the wine business was and is extremely male-dominated. This didn’t deter her urge to support young women, though. “At J, we had a J mentorship program for young people in their early teens to provide them with new skills and to help grow their confidence. After I sold J, I was able to dedicate myself more to this cause by creating Geodesy and the WG Edge program. Our goal is to give back to the agricultural families and ranchers, and all those who supported me during my time at J.”
Santa Rosa Junior College partnered with the Wild Goat Foundation to create the WG Edge scholarship program which provides significant scholarship support for local young women to study agriculture at SRJC. The idea is to connect them with a village of teachers, mentors, and internship sponsors who can guide, inspire, and open doors for them. Young women are essentially recruited to take advantage of the WG Edge scholarships through high school counselors and presentations made during AG classes and FFA meetings.
Jordan says the program is highly personalized, and is growing a bit each year. They launched in August of 2019 with a cohort of three, and added six more in 2020. She expects the next cohort in 2022 to include ten young women. Diversity is also important. Jordan tells us that of the nine young women in the two cohorts, six are women of color. Eight are at Santa Rosa Junior College now, and one will start at Arizona State in January 2021, while another has already transferred to Fresno State.
Students are offered $7,500/year for two years to cover wrap around fees beyond tuition such as housing, transportation and books. There is no repayment requirement. Jordan says that for Sonoma County residents, tuition at the Santa Rosa Junior College is free for the first year through another scholarship. “The only commitment is to making steady progress in the program and eventually to give back to their community in some way once they are successful,” Jordan explains.
The wine community is incredibly supportive of the WG Edge program, and Jordan says there are many opportunities for “Edgers,” including:
- Farm Bureau Internship
- Horticulture project at local winery (Lynmar Estates Winery)
- Honorary Membership on Marketing Committee
at local winery, La Cienega Winery
- Internship at WG Edge
- Future Project at Sonoma Winegrowers
- Entrepreneur’s Group for interested Edgers
Instead of one-on-one mentoring, there is a village of people who support the WG Edge program in various capacities. Jordan says its base is the Women Gems, a networking group formed to guide, inspire, and open doors for the young women in the program. The village also includes educators, volunteers, the Geodesy team and those who support Geodesy. Members of the wine community who are actively participating are Gina Gallo, Anisha Fritz, Emma Swain and Katie Jackson.
Additionally, key community leaders in other industries are actively involved:
- Lynda Hopkins – Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
- Suzanne Babb – Attorney
- Cathy Barnett – Editor of the Press Democrat
- Elizabeth Gore – CEO of Ask Alice
- Letitia Hanke – Founder of The LIME Foundation
- Benjamin Goldstein – Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Santa Rosa Junior College
Asked what Jordan would define as “success” for the program, she says, “Success for our program is when it is becomes a revolving life cycle—that the current young women become part of the village of leaders who serve as role models and provide opportunities for the next generation. Already, members of the first cohort act as near-peer advisors for the younger ones.”
The funding component of WG Edge is the Geodesy brand of wines, helmed by winemaker Megan Baccitich, a Healdsburg, CA native, and 2001 graduate of California State University at Fresno. Geodesy is a fanciful name that stems from Jordan’s longtime love of geology and the fact that this was her second major lifetime journey, an odyssey of sorts. “It’s a journey we are all on,” says Jordan.
Baccitich first met Jordan in 2015, courtesy of Scott Zapotocky, with whom she had worked at Paul Hobbs for 10 years. Having just resigned her position as Director of Winemaking there, she was ready for the next adventure. Fortuitously, Jordan was looking to make wines from the vineyard properties she had acquired.
Says Baccitich, “At our first meeting, we actually sat for a formal tasting of cult Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. There was little small talk and, because we are both so focused and passionate about winemaking, the partnership and collaboration was effortless and immediate. I would describe Judy as intelligent, mindful, kind, and fun-loving. Effecting positive change, especially on a community level, is simply her way of being and she is not afraid to take calculated risks or to be different.”
Jordan admits that upon leaving J Vineyards and Winery, where she had developed a long and fruitful relationship with winemaker, Melissa Stackhouse, she feared it would be difficult to replace such a trusted partner. It didn’t take long for her to realize Megan’s talent and ability to read a site and bring out its best. “Megan literally hit it out of the park! We work really well together.”
Asked if there were parameters that Jordan had laid out with respect to the Geodesy wines, Batticich says, “No holds barred for wine quality. Be true to the vineyard sites. The wine style is true to Judy’s (and my) background in RRV. The wine style must transcend the varietals and AVA’s of the estates.”
Being a stranger to Oregon made Batticich realize how lucky she was to be in a new place, having the opportunity to go somewhere where she was an underdog. “I knew I had to be a listener, that I had to be humble. Whenever I step into a vineyard, no matter where I go, I just stop and take it in. You use fresh eyes and fresh energy. I realized that I’m a kid in a candy store now!”
Geodesy’s vineyard sites in both Napa and Oregon are truly remarkable. The Eola Springs Vineyard, source of the brilliant 2018 Geodesy Chardonnay, was planted in 1972, well before the AVA was established. The vines are own-rooted and produce about two pounds of fruit per vine. Batticich says they only use about 10% of the vineyard. She considers it a Grand Cru vineyard and feels privileged to be working with it. “I walk the vineyard and taste all the blocks. We retain beautiful acidity due to the significant cooling we experience overnight. We get about ¼ ton per acre. The clusters are like tiny grenades.”
Bringing a bit of California to Oregon, she says they are opening the canopy to achieve better ripeness. “I like hanging the fruit and getting ripe phenolics, which gives the wines better texture.”
As for Chardonnay winemaking, Batticich goes with at least 40% new French, typically a mix of Francois Frères and Louis Latour. For 2018, a warm and ripe year in Oregon, she used 67% new wood. “We use whole cluster press, French oak, native yeast, malo, lees stirring and age for 14 months in oak before bottling. Low and slow ferments.” The resulting wine is stunning, with deep creamy pear, dried apricot, drawn butter and a salinity that expresses as saltwater taffy. Utterly compelling and so not California, in the best possible way.
The 2018 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir also hails from a heritage vineyard planted by Dick Erath in the 1960s, well before that AVA was established as well. Like the Eola Amity Hills Vineyard, these vines are also own-rooted. They are a mix of Calera, Mt. Eden and 667. “I co-ferment them in small concrete open tops to start harmonizing the wine from the start,” says Batticich. “I used 15% whole cluster because I really wanted a savory expression and textural grip.” The wine is fleshy, deep and brimming with energy, broader and more structurally complex than a typical RRV Pinot, satisfying and intriguing with each sip.
We ended the tasting with the 2016 Sage Ridge Cabernet-based blend from Jordan’s Napa vineyard, a vertically mesmerizing series of terraces that looks otherworldly. “This is the most challenging, extremely brilliant vineyard I have worked with in all my years of winemaking,” says Jordan. “Each block is different in her own way, like the girls! Each has her challenges. I am learning to take a customized approach to magnify the magnificence of the girls, just like farming the vineyard.”
She credits vineyard manager Scott Zapotocky for his excellent skills. “He is a brave man! This vineyard has taken us to our knees. We have a bear that eats only the Malbec, but not the Cabernet Franc!”
Batticich says the Cabernet blend is chosen to highlight the best varietals of the vintage. They press it slightly sweet, and it undergoes spontaneous malo in 100% new oak. “It works for mountain Cabernet. Volcanic soils give the grapes bright acid and the wine is alive and fresh without sacrificing ripeness.”
Going forward, Batticich says, the question she constantly asks is, “How do we translate these three vineyards into a cohesive style?” After all, Geodesy is a luxury program. “Vintages 2018 and on, we will produce both a Cab Sauvignon and Proprietary Red Blend from Sage Ridge Vineyard. I would love to eventually showcase each of the 5 Bordeaux varieties in small lot bottlings.”
She wholeheartedly believes all three estates have the potential to produce icon tier wines. “They are heritage and pioneering vineyards in their regions. These varietals also suit Judy’s legacy with Jordan Winery and J, as well as my experience at Paul Hobbs Wines. Teaser: Judy has a 4th estate in the Sonoma Coast AVA coming into production in 2021.”
While she hasn’t yet involved any of the WG Edge participants in the making of the Geodesy wines, she says she’s open to doing so in the future. For now, she’s plenty busy, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
Says Batticich, “Getting to make wines from these amazing estates is really a privilege. Collaborating with Judy and working with the amazing team at Geodesy is energizing. And, helping to support young women in the early stages of their education and careers and, thus, also investing in the future of agriculture in our community brings an inspiring sense of purpose to my work.”
To acquire Geodesy wines, go to the Geodesy website and sign up for one their three membership levels: Gratitude, Empowerment, and Mentorship. The wines are released annually in the fall and spring.
Doing good feels great, and in this case, it tastes even better.