Social media didn’t exist in 1986, when Judy Jordan founded J Vineyards & Winery in the Russian River Valley. Nearly 35 years later, J, currently owned by E&J Gallo, offers more than 200 acres of estate vineyards that produce both sparkling and varietal wines under the leadership of Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock—and social media has played a key role in J’s direct engagement with current fans and Club J members while welcoming new ones during Sonoma County’s shelter-in-place orders.
The winery is known as both a wine and culinary destination thanks to Hitchcock and Executive Chef Carl Shelton, previously of the Restaurant at Meadowood and Healdsburg’s Spoonbar. At the helm of the onsite Bubble Room, Shelton and his culinary team typically create five-course seasonal explorations of Sonoma-inspired food and wine. (The Legacy Lounge and Signature Bar also offer daily tastings.)
When these experiences had to be suspended, the J team pivoted to Instagram Live (@jwinery), where Hitchcock has been offering Friday Happy Hours at 3PM and Shelton has been hosting Sunday Supper cooking demonstrations, also at 3PM.
Each week makes the most of a theme. “I’ve gotten my Instagram mojo going,” says Hitchcock, who has taken viewers inside the world of small-lot winemaking and celebrated J Chardonnay and Rosé, while Shelton has paired J wines with one dish of locally purveyed ingredients, such as cooking with aromatics while highlighting J’s popular Cuvée 20. “We’ve been doing cooking demo classes here at J for a few years, which gave me the opportunity to meet our guests in person and show them how to create a full meal,” Shelton says. “I see the Sunday Supper series as an extension of those classes, but now our guests are invited into my kitchen—both my kitchen at J and in my home. In some ways, it’s even more personal than what we’d been able to do before.”
“We still have a lot of work, getting blending done, bottling. No matter what else is going on, things are still ripening, and we’ve still got a wave of fruit heading our way in early August.”
During Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, Hitchcock offered her take on J’s adaptive spirit, which never really slowed down.
“I’m sitting here in our Legacy Room, which is normally filled with guests, but it’s a beautiful view and I have it all to myself,” says Hitchcock, who was born and raised in Carmel and now lives in Santa Rosa. “We still have a lot of work, getting blending done, bottling. No matter what else is going on, things are still ripening, and we’ve still got a wave of fruit heading our way in early August.”
Hitchcock is coming up on her 20th harvest, having started in the winemaking business soon after graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. In 2015, she both earned her MBA from Sonoma State University for an academic perspective on the ever-evolving wine industry and joined J as head winemaker.
“It was refreshing to do something new at that point,” she says of taking on her first role as a sparking winemaker as well. “Not many other producers in California, the U.S., or worldwide have such a dual focus,” she says of J’s 11 sparkling wines among their portfolio of just under 30 wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. “Our newest addition to the Pinot Noir family here at J is called the Noir collection,” Hitchcock says of a now yearly effort to strive for a unique concept from sourcing to blending. For the recently released Edition No. 2, the concept is the “Tale of Two Coasts,” blending grapes from J’s Annapolis Ridge Vineyard by the Sonoma Coast’s rocky shores, and Canfield, in the cool airflow of Sonoma County’s Petaluma Gap. “There’s a very coastal influence, but the profile of the fruit off of each property is incredibly different,” Hitchcock explains as she might during a Friday Happy Hour. “There’s always something new that we’re cooking up,” she continues of J’s overall ethos in striving for that element of surprise and delight. “Things are not stagnant around here.”
With new health and safety protocols in place, J is now open for reservation-only outdoor tastings on the Terrace. Watch social media channels and jwine.com for further updates about indoor dining in the Bubble Room. In the meantime, Curbside Concierge Service remains available and virtual events and online tastings will also continue.