Jonata Winery & Wines

I was unprepared for my recent trip to the Jonata winery.  Its not that I wasn't ready, it was more that I was bringing misinformation with me that I'd picked up through the grapevine.  Case in point; I didn't know that Jonata was started and well underway before the owners had anything to do with Screaming Eagle.

There are two labels that Jonata produces; Jonata and Paring.  The Paring wines are their 'entry level' wines which are designed to go well with food and be approachable at a younger age.  I found The Pairing wines to be very good, and felt that they over-delivered.  With that said, the Jonata wines are the main event and ended up stealing the show.

The estate is in Ballard Canyon and was purchased around 2000.  They soon were faced with the challenge of planting the estate vineyards.  It was a difficult decision as to what varietals to plant and how to farm the vineyards because the soil is sandy and quite unlike what the neighboring vineyards were successfully growing; Syrah on limestone rich soils.  Because of the difference in soils they couldn't simply do what their neighbors were having tremendous success with (being pioneers like Stolpman.)  Without having a proven playbook for what was going to thrive on their property, they planted a little bit of everything; ten varietals in all.  You can taste them all at the same time in their 'Todos', a blend of the 10 grapes grown on their estate.  To date, they are still farming all 10 varietals and producing some outrageously high quality fruit and juice from the estate vineyards.

After getting caught up on some of the history, we were able to get down to business and taste some wines.  When moving from story to glass, Jonata turns from a good story to something completely ethereal and moving.  The wines are nothing short of delicious, intriguing, haunting, educational, complex and dynamic.  To give you an iea for the dedication that they have to their wines; they harvest in 170 separate lots and ferment that way-in an effort to let each vineyard-each lot-undergo development individually so that they can understand the vineyards they are working and how the fruit expresses itself into wine.  Once they have the fermented and aged wines in barrel, only then will they start the blending process.  This might seem trivial, but it requires meticulous attention to detail in the cellar for extended periods of time, and you can only imagine how brutal the blending sessions are!

The Wines

There are notes on some of the wines that we tasted, but I would like to make an overall commentary here.  The wines of Jonata are incredibly complex and have an underlying soundness to them that is uncommon by todays standards.  Consumers, take note.  These wines possess spectacular build and have layer upon layer of intricate palate nuance.  Several of the wines we tasted were open for almost four days when I got there, and they were magnificent.

My host and friend Matt Dees, the winemaker, was our tour guide for the day and it is worth noting that he is not only a gifted winemaker, but he has a passion for wine that is uncommon and contagious.

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October 2010
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