J Vineyards & Winery, located just south of Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley, is well worth a visit any time of year, but there’s just something extra magical during the summer months when the weather is at its finest, the grapes are growing in the estate vineyards, and the patio is bustling with satisfied guests.
Founded by Judy Jordan in 1986, J Vineyards was originally best known for its sparkling wine — which is made the traditional Méthode Champenoise way — and for being one of the first Sonoma wineries to introduce food and wine pairings in a tasting room setting. Today, J Vineyards continues to be recognized for its outstanding culinary program, as well as its pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot gris. It’s a must-visit for any self-proclaimed epicurean, as well as anyone who enjoys bubbles, warm hospitality, and a charming setting. Best of all, J Vineyards has four different tasting experiences, so that you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
If you want to experience the J Vineyards wines, but don’t have a lot of time to linger or don’t know your exact schedule, the J Signature Tasting is a great choice. You don’t have to make a reservation (though you can); just sidle up to the bar in the contemporary tasting room between 11am and 5pm any day of the week. There, you’ll be served a tasting flight of five Russian River Valley sparkling and varietal wines from brut rosé to pinot noir. The entire experience takes around 45 minutes. While you sip, be sure to take in the glowing floor-to-ceiling steel, glass, and light art installation from Napa Valley-based artist Gordon Huether, as well as peruse the items for sale in the merchandise area.
The Legacy Tasting is a step up from the Signature Tasting and a more relaxing experience. This seated wine tasting takes place year-round in the Legacy Lounge with views overlooking the terrace, but when the weather cooperates (like in the summer), you can request to sit at a table outside every Friday and Saturday. The tasting includes small production and reserve wines, as well as the option of a wine and cheese pairing, available for an additional fee. This wine tasting takes about an hour and reservations are required.
Though you’ll learn a little about the wine production process in the Signature and Legacy Tastings, if you’re eager to get a true behind-the-scenes look at the Old World methods used to make the wines, you’ll definitely want to make a reservation for the J Tour & Tasting. During this walking tour, you’ll be led around the grounds where a J Wine Specialist will tell you about the history of J Vineyards, as well as the entire wine making process starting with picking the grapes in the vineyards and finishing with bottling. Along the way you’ll stop at two estate vineyards, the crush pad, and the riddling, bottling, and fermentation areas, with tastings of five wines offered throughout. Reservations are required for this tour, which takes about an hour and a half and begins at 11:30am and 2:30am every day.
Again, every tasting experience at J Vineyards & Winery has something fantastic to offer, but a visit to The Bubble Room for the five-course gourmet food and wine pairing is where the winery really shines. The meal takes place in an elegant dining room with hand-blown glass “bubble” chandeliers and expansive windows that offer picturesque views of the patio and estate vineyard.
Unlike most food and wine pairings, the menu at The Bubble Room actually starts with the wines selected by J Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock. Chef Carl Shelton then creates his dishes to complement the nuances of the wines, and even adjusts ingredients in the food as the wine ages, which is even more impressive once you learn that the menu changes every six weeks.
While the wine is the main inspiration for all of the dishes, as one would expect, seasonality and local California and Sonoma ingredients also play a big part in Chef Shelton’s exquisitely plated (and very Instagram-worthy) creations. Because Chef Shelton and Winemaker Hitchcock work so closely together to create the menu, each pairing is an utter delight that causes you to rethink your preconceived ideas about flavor concepts in a way that Shelton and Hitchcock hope inspires home chefs to experiment in their own kitchens.
This pairing, which is offered Thursday through Sunday at 11am, 11:30am, 12pm, 2:30pm, and 3pm, is the kind of experience you really want to savor. Guests are encouraged to take their time throughout the two-hour experience, and you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that because, even though you’ll be perfectly sated after the last bite of dessert and the final sip of bubbles, you’ll still be a little sad your time in The Bubble Room has come to an end. The good news is that there will be an entirely new menu in just a few weeks — the perfect excuse to make another reservation before you leave.
Images courtesy of J Vineyards