40 Years of Fabulous
A legendary winemaker celebrates a milestone harvest.
By Matt Armendariz
Years from now, most winemakers in Napa and Sonoma counties will remember the 2015 harvest for its exceptionally early start. Winemaker Rob Davis will remember it as the year he marked his 40th harvest with top-rated Jordan Vineyard and Winery.
Davis started working at Jordan in Healdsburg when Gerald Ford was president and Charlie’s Angels debuted on TV. Since then, he’s watched the industry grow and consolidate, and has learned from the best in the business. He’s made great Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, too—juices that are considered among the best from the region.
“If you had told me going into college that I’d become a winemaker and spend 40 years working at the same place I would have laughed,” he says. “Now, looking back, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.”
Davis began his career at Jordan as an intern during the 1976 harvest, which yielded 36,000 cases of Cabernet. Fresh out of the University of California at Davis, he jumped at the chance to work with famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff, who was known for his Bordeaux-style wines, and who had been hired to run Jordan’s then-fledgling program.
Davis joined the staff full-time the following year, and Tchelistcheff became his mentor. They traveled the world together and became close friends. The elder winemaker helped the rookie apply classroom concepts to the real world. Tchelistcheff also taught Davis the importance of getting a visceral feel for a vineyard, of connecting with the vines by walking rows daily, and visiting with grape-growers as often as possible.
Although Tchelistcheff died in 1994, Davis still espouses this hands-on philosophy.
“He’s in our vineyard more than any other winemaker we work with,” says Bret Munselle, an Alexander Valley grape-grower who sells fruit to Davis each year. “If winemakers are going to have an opinion about what we’re doing, we prefer them to get the knowledge firsthand. [Davis] has high expectations—but he has high rewards and high praise.”
While Davis keeps notes on every harvest, he prides himself on being able to remember details from each of the years he’s worked. This year, he will oversee 90,000 to 100,000 cases.
Davis says that with constant improvements in technology, the vagaries of each growing season, and a winery owner, John Jordan, who challenges him to continue to strive for excellence, the business is just as exciting to him today as it was when he began.
In other words, even after 40 harvests, it’s as if Davis is just getting started. A happy anniversary, indeed.
Jordan Vineyard and Winery, 1474 Alexander Valley Rd., Healdsburg, (707) 431-5250, jordanwinery.com. Open daily.