A winemaker with a heralded bio, Jordan Fiorentini has previous stints at some big names in the industry including Chalk Hill in Sonoma, Arauju Estate in Napa and Antinori Winery in Tuscany. She has an engineering undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and a masters degree in viticulture from UC Davis. Prior to coming to Epoch she was making some fantastic Chardonnay and red wines at Chalk Hill, serving as head winemaker there. If you haven’t had the chance to run through her new release wines from the great 2012 vintage, you are truly missing out. These new releases show wonderful poise, intensity and viscosity.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Jordan and talk about her career in wine, as well as some of the absolutely outstanding new release wines at Epoch. I found her to be extremely approachable and knowledgeable, as she has a storied history in the wine industry. I think you will really enjoy learning more about her. Learn more about her wines at epochwines.com. Here is my interview with Jordan Fiorentini, Head Winemaker at Epoch Wines
WWB: You come from a strong educational background including a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth and a master's degree from the esteemed viticulture program at UC Davis. How does your educational background make you a stronger winemaker? Were there any particular inspirations at UC Davis that taught you key vineyard management or winemaking techniques?
JF: This is a very thought provoking question. I chose my educational path because it was what I wanted to do and made sense way back when. I definitely didn’t know I was going to be a winemaker when I went to Dartmouth as an undergrad, however if I hadn’t gone there I might not be a winemaker today. Since it is a liberal arts school, my father wanted me to choose engineering as my major course of study so I wouldn’t be limited to anything in particular. I took the engineering classes but also a lot of Italian and art as well. I studied in Italy and spent a lot of time in the art studio. When I was done at Dartmouth, all my friends were getting jobs in management consulting or on Wall Street but I know that wasn’t what I wanted to do. My father was planting a vineyard in Georgia, of all places, and had planted to seed indirectly about winemaking as a career. I had no idea what it would involve but it seemed like a good mix of art and science and was in California! I had the fall of 1999 free from school and I decided to try it out, interning at Markham Vineyards in Napa. I was supposed to go back to Dartmouth for a second Bachelor’s that winter, but instead decided to apply to UC David for the Viticulture & Enology Masters program. Part of the reason I wanted to go to Davis was because the program had a harvest internship opportunity in Tuscany. I knew I’d be selected to go to Italy because I would most likely be the only student who spoke Italian. So, looking back at myself almost 15+ years ago, I was looking for a career that mixed art and science and that would get me back to Italy.
My UC Davis education was more theoretical than hands on. I took a few Viticulture classes but mostly Enology. Actually when I first got into Davis, Enology was a separate masters from Viticulture. Right before I finished my studies the gov’t passed a new degree of Viticulture & Enology from Davis so I just qualified for that (made a lot more sense). I met great people and learned about wine chemistry and biology mostly. I did my master’s thesis under the sensory scientist, Ann Noble, and I think focusing on the perception of aromas and flavors in wine was a nice balance to all the theoretical studies. Now Davis has a state-of-the art new winery and a whole new wing of buildings for studying wine. I think the degree has gotten more hands-on. And phenolics in wines is more commonplace study among winemakers than it was in the past, with the new analysis techniques.
WWB: Your 2012 Epoch 'Authenticity' Red Wine (WWB, 96) was a rich and scintillating effort that is one of the most exceptional California red blends that I have sampled in the past year. Can you talk about this amazing vintage in Paso as well as the blending into this wine and how you chose the blend? Can you talk about capturing the art of tension and viscosity that you have managed in this amazing wine?
JF: Wow! Thank you so much. You mention two yin and yangs, especially in Paso, which are the goals of my winemaking. I like to call it capturing all the gorgeous fruit and sunshine we inherently have in Paso but still making wines with gravitas (earthiness, minerality, texture, verve). When I moved here from Northern California I was used to making Cabernet off of a Sonoma County site at Chalk Hill. It was a gorgeous site btw but we were always trying to compete with the velvety tannin in the warmer Napa appellation so I was reared on blending for texture. I brought that training here, however soon learned that we had lots of big but velvety tannins and big fruit in Paso. 2012 was our first in a string of warm, dry vintages, and I knew I never wanted any of my winemaking friends or anyone for that matter to say my wines were “too big” and lacking “finesse.” So I set forth many goals to bring elegance and gravitas to the wines by hopefully: 1.) Picking grapes on the early side of ripe to perfectly ripe vs. perfectly ripe to over ripe (2.) being very gentle with the grapes in the winery and not beating them up too much (3.) using whole cluster whenever I felt possible and (4.) Fermenting in concrete when possible and aging in larger format oak barrels and sometimes concrete. These are the generalizations that apply to all our wines and the only one that doesn’t apply to the 2012 Authenticity is the aging in concrete. The Syrah component is usually fermented in oak puncheons, but sometimes stainless steel tank. Authenticity is its own wine, as its name implies. It comes from one slope of own-rooted Syrah at our Paderewski Vineyard that is east sloping and highly limestone. Its stems get riper/browner (more lignified) than any other block we have. It is blended with a neighboring Mourvedre block to bring a little lightness and earthiness to the Syrah as well as sometimes we co-ferment the Syrah with Viognier. So it’s site-driven but also stylized by winemaking.
WWB: You have a rich array of winemaking experiences including the famed Araujo Estate in Napa Valley, Antinori Winery in Italy, and most recently as head winemaker at Chalk Hil. How have these compelling winemaking experiences prepared you for working at Epoch? How different did you find winemaking to be in Italy?
JF: Yes I have had a wide array of winemaking experiences indeed! I also worked in Georgia making wine at my dad’s winery before moving to CA for the job at Chalk Hill (after working in Italy). For the most part my early years were spent getting comfortable in vineyards and with grapes/fermentations/tasting. Once at Chalk Hill, as I mentioned above, I started really focusing on top tier winemaking and directing this charge is where I really started to focus on my desires for the wines. But it wasn’t until arriving in Paso and having a couple vintages that I really started to feel in the groove. I had a great mentor, Steve Leveque, who is now the director of winemaking at Hall. He really set the example for me of doing whatever it takes in the vineyard and winery to achieve the best possible wine.
WWB: What are some of the challenges when working with exceedingly hot vintages like 2012, 2013 and 2014 in Paso Robles? How can you help improve the minerality in the wine in these hot vintages?
JF: Another great question! Well, my goals I started in 2012 I have held tight to through 2014. We have acquired more concrete for fermentation and aging (being at our own winery helps with that!). Also, in 2011 we moved to biodynamic farming practices in the vineyards. We aren’t certified yet but it was a timely switch in my opinion as we are focused on what’s underground first and foremost. We started tilling and using more compost. I honestly can’t say biodynamic farming is the reason our vineyards are getting through the drought, but it makes me feel better knowing we’re being very holistic in our vineyards. Outside of striving to achieve our desired level of subtlety and sublimity in hot vintages, we also have the worry of stuck or problematic fermentations and issues surrounding overall vine health.
WWB: When you are not enjoying Epoch wines do you have any particular wines of the world that you gravitate towards?
JF: I am not very loyal when it comes to other wines, but I do love Sauvignon Blancs, especially of the Loire Valley and White Burgundy. But I am open to new places all the time!