In the movie Sideways, English teacher and hobbyist oenologist Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) ventures from San Diego into Santa Barbara’s wine country with friend and marginally successful television actor, Jack Cole, (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip underscored by one comical circumstance after another. As engaging as the characters and story line were in this movie, the real hero was the pinot noir, a varietal that Giamatti’s character helped propel to rock star status among wine enthusiasts in the real world.
Spend 15 minutes with Brice Cutrer Jones, owner of Emeritus Vineyards in Sebastopol, California, and part time resident of Telluride, and you’ll find yourself rooting for pinot noir like a Bronco fan cheers for another Payton Manning touchdown pass.
Award Winning Chardonnay Takes Flight
Jones, who spent much of his childhood in Colorado Springs (his father was at that time stationed there), returned as an Air Force Academy cadet in 1958. Shortly after graduating in 1961 Jones was deployed to Vietnam where, as a fighter pilot, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and 14 Air Medals. Once his service commitment ended he put his engineering degree and post-Vietnam-earned Harvard MBA to work in California’s fledgling premium wine industry. In 1973 the emerging wine aficionado coaxed Wall Street investors into creating Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, whose entire focus was on growing chardonnay grapes.
Eight years after the vineyards debuted, the company unveiled plans for a winery. Over the next 18 years, Jones and his team were credited with innovations that revolutionized wine production, including sorting tables and cooling tunnels to preserve the quality of grapes, membrane presses to crush whole clusters of grapes and the construction of a temperature- and humidity-controlled cave-like cellar for improved barrel aging. When Jones sold the company in 1999 to Brown-Forman (think Jack Daniels, Finlandia, Korbel), it was known for producing some of the world’s most exceptional and award-winning chardonnays.
A Love Affair With Pinot Noir
Not one to sit on the sidelines, it wasn’t long before Jones and his management team decided to launch Emeritus Vineyards, dedicated to producing amazing pinot noirs. After purchasing Hallberg Ranch, a then-apple orchard in the Russian River Valley, Jones set out to make winemaker, Don Blackburn, part of the team. “I’d heard about this guy being down at Bernardus Vineyards and that he was making a pretty darned good chardonnay,” commented Jones. “So when I started Emeritus, I called Don and he told me he was happy where he was. I called the next year and he said he wasn’t going anywhere. The third year he was at yet a different winery, not very happy and ready to come aboard. He produced our very first vintage and it was fabulous.” What Jones valued so highly about Blackburn was that he was trained in, and had received his degree in, oenology from Burgundy, France and had spent the subsequent 10 years along the Côte de Nuits making pinot noir. To have him on board was a real coup.
Continue reading the full story in the December/January issue....
Kim D. McHugh, an award-winning writer and luxury real estate marketing consultant, is a frequent contributor to Colorado Expression. His articles have appeared in SKI, Rocky Mountain Golf, Hemispheres, Luxury Golf & Travel, Wild Blue Yonder and Colorado AvidGolfer.