JACK Wines was founded by two partners, former major league baseball teammates – Chris Iannetta and Vernon Wells. Despite both of their careers overlapping for a very short time while playing for the Los Angeles Angels they became friends through a mutual interest in wine and rehabbing together from injuries suffered during the 2011/2012 baseball season. For three months of the season both were on the disabled list.
They would often visit fine dining restaurants with teammates. When it came to choosing the wines for the meal, their teammates would often defer to Chris or Vernon to make the choices. During one such meal they both talked about their passion for wines, interest in the Napa Valley and pondered starting their own wine label.
Chris was born in Providence, Rhode Island and has played for several teams throughout his career (as a catcher) including the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angeles, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. Vernon was born in Shreveport Louisiana but raised in Arlington, Texas and played (as a center fielder) for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Los Angeles Angels for a short stint (where he met Chris) and the New York Yankees before retiring in 2013.
On one of their visits to the Napa Valley they were introduced to wine maker Grant Long. Hearing of their interest in producing wines he offered to be their winemaker and has been so since their inaugural vintage of 2012. Grant made his first wine at age 16, has lived in the Napa Valley most of his life, owns several wineries and provides consulting wine making services to several premium brands.
Grant does not cut corners when it comes to wine making. He judiciously chooses oak that accompanies the wine – his philosophy is to use oak as an integrating tool rather then a dominating one. And a tool that does not impart harsh tannins. His wines finish smooth (even when they are young) without the coarseness or roughness of jagged tannins. And Jack’s partners use Grant’s long time vineyard contacts in the valley to help with securing vineyard sources as needed.
The wine is named from taking the first initial of each of their children’s names – Jayce, Ashlyn, Christian and Kylie. Ashlyn and Kylie are Chris’s children.
Today there are four partners involved including Steve Distler who is the only one to live in the Napa Valley.
Purchasing property high on the slopes of Atlas Peak as an investment, ultimately some of the grapes from their property are used in their own wines. These are vineyards with arguably one of Napa’s best views to the east from this appellation – on a clear winter or spring day one can easily see the snow capped Sierra Nevada Mountains far in the distance (about a 3.5 hour drive from the property). At night the lights of Sacramento can be seen in the Central Valley, beyond the Coastal Foothills and looking further to the south, one has excellent views of another part of the Central Valley, near Vacaville, with numerous wind machines on the furthest hills barely seen at times from the property.
The property is 30 acres at over 2,000 feet and usually sees some snow each winter. Twelve acres of Merlot are planted on site on a wide variety of slopes with various exposures. Some of the fruit is sold and some is kept for the Proprietary Red wine they produce each year. And despite the terrible damage the Atlas Peak fire caused on much of this area in October 2017, their vines were spared from the fire. Remarkably the home on site was not damaged either – despite burning right to its edge and destroying other homes nearby.
Looking for a Sauvignon Blanc with weight and richness? This wine delivers in that regards. A grassy citrus focused wine of this variety? No, that is not its style. The 2016 vintage is golden in the glass with a nice mix of tropical aromas including honeysuckle and pineapple along with various dessert spices including caramel and a hint of brown sugar. The wine was fermented for six months in neutral French oak barrels – sur lie. Shows some weight with flavors of melon and a hint of citrus. Lingers softly for some time.
The 2015 Jack Proprietary Red Wine is a blend of 50% Atlas Peak Estate vineyard fruit with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain. Features an aromatic party on the bouquet – rich and layered with fruit shows aromas of blackberry, raspberry with lesser pronounced aromas of dark chocolate along with nuances of cedar box and hints of dessert spices. Immediately invites a sip – with mouth filling flavors of blackberry and plum. The finish is long with pronounced tannins.
The 2015 Jack Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 6% Cabernet Franc. One can almost smell the soils in the bouquet of this wine as it initially breathes. As it opens, more fruit shows including spicy plum and dark cherry. Ripe but not overly so. Shows bright aromatics with hints of floral notes – the bouquet is focused mostly on the fruit rather then any secondary characteristics. There is a richness on the palate showing flavors of blackberry, chocolate and a kiss of vanilla that lingers on a big finish (both structure and flavor). While Grant doesn’t play baseball, he has certainly hit a home run with this wine.
And in a nod to their careers, when the wines are turned on their sides they certainly are easily identifiable from the red baseball stitching that is printed on the end of every bottle’s capsule.
Two Old Dogs
This companion label (originally called the EII label) was a second label started by Herb and Jennifer Lamb and was created as a tribute to two of their vineyard dogs – both now deceased. JACK acquired this label from Jennifer. Two wines are produced under this label – an estate Cabernet Sauvignon and a 500 case production of Sauvignon blanc sourced from a small vineyard in Yountville. There are several “sweet” spots for Sauvignon Blanc in the Yountville area and we have tried more than a few wines made from this variety grown in that appellation.
The 2007 EII Sauvignon Blanc has subtle tropical aromas with some melon, pear and citrus flavors. This is a more flinty steely Sauvignon Blanc rather than some of the viscous ones we have tried. This is not a bad thing, it just depends on your palate and preference. The mouth feel is well rounded.
The 2005 E II Napa Valley Red wine is very approachable now, a cooler year produced more blue berry flavors rather than big blackberry notes. The palate also has a slight herbal or minty quality, and the finish is refined, balanced and very smooth.
The Two Old Dogs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was sourced from one of Napa’s sweet spots for this variety – in Yountville. This wine strikes a nice balance between two prominent styles of Sauvignon blanc – ripe & creamy (often associated with California) and the more tart and tangy (often associated with New Zealand wines from this variety). This vintage has a lively nose that aromatically shows a pretty collection of tropical notes – yellow pineapple, floral notes – honeysuckle, and the sweet smell of orange blossom as well as just a hint of apricot. The palate is pleasing both in texture and flavor – it is rounded and soft. It shows mineralities with an underlying flint like note towards the finish. Some citrus notes on the palate. A finish that is zesty, clean, lively and very refreshing. For summer Sauvignon Blanc lovers – this wine is an easy choice.
The 2011 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon initially shows dark fruit aromatics – as it opens showing more red fruit aromas – red currant, red cherry and earth notes with an underlying dusty and dried grass component. The nose is pretty. The palate shows a variety of fruit – raspberry and cherry with lingering bright fruit on the finish – higher toned fruit left by a pleasing afterglow of nuances of coffee, and darker chocolate. Decent acidity. The wine is approachable young especially considering this vintage in Napa was a bit challenging (cool and rainy until late Spring and a harvest that was somewhat delayed by rain). There is a nice balance between tannins and fruit. And the alcohol is under 14% – somewhat rare for Napa these days.
After acquiring Two Old Dogs – JACK also took over the space on Fulton Lane in St. Helena in the same building as ACME Wine Shop to offer tastings for both Two Old Dogs and the JACK wines. Tastings are hosted by appointment only.
Total production is about 100 cases per each wine – with usually 300-500 cases annually. The wines are sold direct to consumer via their allocation list. For more information and to signup for this list, visit: www.jackwinery.com