J Vineyards & Winery has long been a go-to Russian River Valley producer for world-class sparkling wine. With six estate vineyards that reflect the valley’s range of expression, J’s wines are, at this point, California icons. The sparkling house was founded in 1986 by Judy Jordan, daughter of the Jordan Winery founders, and she bought the current property (formerly Piper Sonoma) in 1996 and opened the tasting room in 1999 after a complete renovation. Jordan decided early on to go for quality over quantity. When the property was purchased by Gallo in 2015, it was with the intention to maintain both the high-touch winemaking process and the now-classic style. Head winemaker Nicole Hitchcock has done just that, shepherding the brand’s legacy into a new era.
During the pandemic year, once Sonoma wineries were allowed to open outdoors, J offered one of the loveliest tastings in the valley, amply spaced out overlooking the estate with leisurely, expert service. But now, the Bubble Room is open to guests, and it’s a must-stop on any RRV visit, for both wine and food. Executive Chef Carl Shelton’s current menu is five small plates paired with both sparkling and still wines from the portfolio (see full menu below).
I visited just prior to the indoor opening but was able to see the space and enjoy a terrace tasting outdoors. The Bubble Room will add a layer of luxury to the creative, coherent, very thoughtful food and wine pairings.
Of all the wonderful sparkling wines offered, the non-vintage Cuveé XB Extra Brut is one of my favorites, as it represents the driest style and carefully balances the impulse to showcase the fruit with calling out the yeasty notes that give it depth and elegance. And Hitchcock’s still wines are equally reflective of their terroir — don’t miss the Foggy Bend Pinot Noir, which shows the classic dark berry fruit the region is known for and has inviting savory impulses underneath.
In addition to the Bubble Room tasting, there are other choices for experiencing the wines, including the Legacy Tasting of J’s most exclusive wines (with optional cheese pairings), which I highly recommend if you want to get a full sense of the winemaking here.
When you visit, you’ll be able to buy some wines that are only available on property, and there are yet additional bottlings reserved for wine club members. A membership also gets you access to exclusive events, which I predict will be a highlight of 2021-22 as the world re-opens.
I’ll leave you with Chef Shelton’s exquisite Bubble Room tasting menu.
VINTAGE BRUT ROSÉ, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, 2016
Hamachi | Strawberry | Cucumber | Hijiki | Pancetta
CHARDONNAY, BARREL 16, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, 2017
Black Cod | Rock Shrimp | Morels | Ramps | Popcorn
PINOT NOIR, FOGGY BEND VINEYARD, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, 2017
Lamb | Nantes Carrots | Spring Onion | Shiitake | Fava Leaf
BLANC DE NOIRS, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY, 2016
Flower Power | Rhubarb | Honeycomb | Oat Porridge Sourdough
Demi-Sec, Russian River Valley, NV
Mochi | Fromage Blanc | Strawberry | Rose Geranium | Mint