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Bursick’s first J vintage a delight

By Dave Buchanan
HEALDSBURG, Cal. — There's something special about meeting someone you've always admired from a distance, and so it was in early 2006 when George Bursick, the Sonoma County native who has become a winemaking legend in his own time, was introduced to me at at J Winery. This was a spring-time press tour, a small one but still the sort of thing where wineries go out of their way to impress the visitors. We saw a winemaker saber a bottle of American methode champenoise sparkling wine, which was pretty entertaining (it's not that hard if you know a couple of key secrets), tasted some fine wines from new French barrels and even played bocce under a canopy of century-old olive trees.
George Bursick J 2.jpg
George Bursick at J Winery, photo by Dave Lansing Mostly we met some great people who, since it was spring and bud break still was a week or more away, had plenty of time to talk nosy reporters and share a tale and a glass of wine. So it was at J, where the effervescent Judy Jordan took a couple minutes from her hectic schedule to introduce Bursick, whom she had recently lured out of retirement (or away from Ferrari-Carrano Winery, depending on which story you chose to believe). Bursick spent 21 years as winemaker at Ferrari-Carrano where he made great white wines and really proved that Sangiovese can make a great California varietal. But it's Pinot Noir that Bursick is making at J, a varietal that he said excites him because "no one owns it." Bursick was upfront and candid during the formal interview and even more so when he guided us on a quick tour of one of Judy Jordan's vineyards, on a ridge above a sweeping bend of the Russian River. Noting he spent several years making Pinot Noirs at Ferrari-Carrano, Bursick said, "The grape and the wine are not a mystery to me. I’ve already made all the mistakes." A winemaker knows for his attention to detail, he said one reason he was attracted to Jordan's sophisticated winemaking facilities was because of Judy Jordan's desire to produce world-class wines. In an interview last July with Thom Elker of Appellation America, Bursick said, "You can’t lower your standards. That’s my whole approach. Break everything down into the details, and get every detail right." He just released his first vintage under the J label and the initial impression is that Bursick nailed every detail. His emphasis on a small-production, single-vineyard Pinot Noir resulted in six different labelings. I tried the J Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, at $38 the least-expensive of the six (but still well up in the premium price range) and found it full of bright red fruit with a luscious mouthfeel and layers of flavor. At a time when Pinot Noirs are suffering from their popularity, becoming terribly overpriced and under-made and sometimes tasting very un-pinot-like, this is a delicious, well-made wine. I'm lingering over the bottom of the glass, sorry to see it go. Even I would pay $38 for this.

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