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 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.