JAX Vineyards, formerly known as Jackson Ridge has been producing wine since 1996. The name JAX is an abbreviated version of the family surname – shorter and a bit catchier. Our visit with this winery incidentally was a milestone for us, as it was the 400th Napa winery/producer we visited during our Napa Wine odyssey. Yes, we do keep track of these rare milestones that end in 00!
JAX owns a small 14-acre vineyard in the far northern reaches of the Napa Valley at the base of Mt. St. Helena (one of the most northerly vineyards along Highway 29). This 11-acre vineyard was purchased by David Jackson in 1990 as place to retire and farm vineyards. Initially some fruit was sold to nearby Chateau Montelena for use in their own wine. Some of the original grapes on site are quite old – dating back to 1968 (mostly since replanted). The family also owns a small piece of land across the highway from their main property – and have plans to plant 1-2 acres of grapes here.
This vineyard is entirely dry farmed and the tonnage per acre for almost valley floor fruit is extremely low at around 1.9 tons. The flavors are more concentrated with the thicker skins as these vines have to survive without water through the long dry hot northern valley summers. Today this winery is run by a brother sister team, Kimberly & Trent Jackson with partner Dan Parrott. All are extremely energetic and passionate about the business. Once Kimberly returned from college – she began marketing their small production wines to area restaurants – today they still have strong distribution in restaurants.
The produce wines under two labels; the Y3 focusing on lighter more approachable wines – made in a style that focuses on the varietal rather than the wine making techniques. Y3 is a dedication to Trent and Kimberly’s grandparents whose cattle brand was Yarrane3 or more succinctly, Y3 (from their cattle ranch near Brisbane Australia – still under the Jackson family ownership). In addition Y3 signifies three farming generations within the Jackson family. The JAX wines focuses on red wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc. They currently make just under 10,000 cases annually.
For a number of years two winemakers produced their wines; currently Kirk Venge, who along with select other Napa winemakers could be known as the “King of Cab” (son of famed Napa winemaker, Nils Venge) runs their wine making program. Wines under the Y3 label are all sourced from area vineyards and their JAX Cabernet Sauvignon is from their own small estate vineyard.
The 2013 Y3 Chardonnay was fermented in concrete and immediately after fermentation was transferred into nearly neutral oak barrels for aging. The wine shows some nice tropical nuances on the bouquet including honeysuckle. The palate is balanced between a creamy round feel and crispness. This wine is easy to drink; more of a balanced style showcasing the varietal rather than oak or malolactic fermentation.
The 2013 Taureau Red Blend (named after a family bull on their ranch) is a very good value. It is a proprietary blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. Each varietal is treated separately with it’s own aging regiment until the final blend is made. The wine is dark purple in the glass with pinkish tinges on the rim. On the bouquet notes of blueberry, blackberry and hints of mocha show. The palate is juicy with well integrated tannins and drinks quite smoothly as a very young wine.
The 2013 JAX Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal. Of all the wines we tried, this is the darkest in the glass. The bouquet shows a sweetness of fruit – perhaps similar to a cherry liqueur – mocha and notes of blackberry. This wine has good acidity on the palate – with broad shouldered tannins anchoring a long finish.
If you cannot make it to the Napa Valley consider a stop at their tasting room in the South of Market neighborhood (SOMA), San Francisco at 326 Brannan Street. The Jackson Family has been associated with this neighborhood since 1950. Trent and Kimberly’s grandfather ran a print shop in the building next to the tasting room for many years (they still own this building and rent it out) and now own this tasting room (a former auto-body shop). Many of their clients are employees from the numerous (mostly high tech) businesses located nearby. They are also only several blocks from AT&T Park – a visit here makes a nice pre or post game stop (depending on the game time).
They have imported a Napa Valley feel here with a real olive tree, two appropriately 50 years old grapevines from their Calistoga estate – and a fire-pit for those invariably cold San Francisco evenings. Current releases from their rosé through to the heavier Cabernet Sauvignon are paired with local artisan cheeses. They are open from Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 8pm and by prior appointment (local businesses often reserve the tasting room for small events).
Over the years JAX has received some excellent publicity courtesy of Hollywood – their wine appeared in a Will Ferrell produced movie called “The Goods” as well as in a popular HBO show. Top restaurants in select markets also feature their wine. Visit: www.jaxvineyards.com
San Francisco Tasting Room