Maggie Kruse is part of a rare winemaking transition at Jordan Winery, which celebrates 50 years in 2022.
Winemaker Maggie Kruse
Walk among the grounds at Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., and it feels as hallowed as Wrigley or Lambeau, other fields where legends are made. The winery celebrates its golden anniversary in 2022, and it has marked the occasion with everything from special bottle releases to social impact dinners. The latter are a nod to the John Jordan Foundation, which is committed to improving the lives of disadvantaged children and families through philanthropy.
An aerial view of the rolling hills around Jordan in Healdsburg, Calif.
I asked Maggie Kruse if she felt any pressure taking over winemaking duties at such an iconic place. She refers to the press release announcing her appointment, which noted this kind of change only happens once a century. “In 50 years, I’m the second person to hold the title of head winemaker at Jordan,” says Kruse, who worked, learned and studied under Jordan’s first winemaker, Rob Davis, for 14 years. “Rob taught me how to make wines in the Jordan style, and you cannot buy that kind of consistency. When I start to feel the nerves of taking over such a large role, I try to focus on how amazing our team is at Jordan.” Kruse took a break from her busy summer to discuss the winery’s new releases and what oenophiles can expect next.
How do you strike the balance between maintaining a legacy of excellence and putting your own imprint on the bottles you produce?
The style of our wines was established by our founders, Tom and Sally Jordan, 50 years ago. They wanted to create wines that they liked to drink. While our business model is very clear at Jordan—to make a Bordeaux-style cabernet and a Burgundy-style chardonnay—this doesn’t mean our wines haven’t evolved or changed throughout the decades.
Over the past 16 years, I’ve seen a huge change in the cabernet fruit sourcing. Better fruit meant that we could finally go with 100% French oak. Right now, I’m more focused on tweaking the chardonnay program. Our fruit sourcing has moved further west into even cooler climates. We’ve started to incorporate concrete eggs into the fermenting and aging.
Jordan’s model is to make Bordeaux-style cabernet and Burgundy-style chardonnay.
Let’s talk a little about the latest releases. What do you think the winery’s fans will love about them? The 2020 chardonnay has beautiful aromas of Fuji apple, magnolia blossom, Meyer lemon and Bosc pear. The acidity has so much length to it, allowing this wine to pair with many different styles of cuisine. The 2018 cabernet was a year I was very excited to release. An absolutely beautiful growing season allowed for such richness and concentration in the fruit. The black cherry, boysenberry and black fig mixed in with chocolate flavors—finishing with great acid and integrated tannins. While all our cabernets are certainly age-worthy, 2018 is a year that I’ll be putting additional cases away for cellaring.
Terroir is everything. How does it impact your wines?
I need to be very specific about the sites where we purchase fruit. From a grower’s perspective, I’m asking for the moon. I want concentrated fruit flavors with richness and high acid, and I want all of this at a low sugar level to make a lower-alcohol wine. Many vineyards still have a fair amount of green and herbaceous characteristics when the sugar is lower. This specific need is why we are very lucky to be in Alexander Valley. We are cooled directly by the Pacific Ocean at night, so when the fog rolls in, we’re cooled much faster than our Napa neighbors, but we also get these hot days that are perfect for ripening Bordeaux varietals.
John Jordan, CEO of Jordan, created his eponymous foundation in 2012 to help disadvantaged families.
The best advice you ever received about making wine?
I can’t remember who was the first person to say it to me, because it’s such simple advice, but it’s wisdom that I use regularly and at the most challenging times of my career: Trust your palate. As winemakers, we have all kinds of new technology and resources at our fingertips. Many winemakers get locked into pressing wines when a tannin is a certain level or pick grapes based on sugar. It’s best to make decisions based on your palate and let science back up your decision.
In 2020, the wildfires started in August, much earlier than normal. Everyone had fruit on the vine, and was sending in samples to our local lab for smoke-taint analysis. The labs were so backed up, they had a lead time of up to three months, which obviously isn’t going to work during a crush. So, the only option I had was to trust my palate. I’m very glad I did, because there was a lot of amazing fruit that we picked that wasn’t smoke-tainted, and we were able to have a vintage when many of our neighbors weren’t so fortunate.
What are you most excited about in the months ahead?
Since taking over as winemaker, I’ve been working to add more depth to our chardonnay. We’ve been working to incorporate a larger variety of chardonnay clones and field selections. We’ve worked to source fruit from even cooler areas of Russian River Valley. The cooler sites are giving our fruit a new dimension of flavors. We’re using concrete in combination with new French oak barrels to find that perfect balance of a wine with backbone and structure, but also with delicate minerality.
Photography by: FROM TOP: MAGGIE KRUSE PORTRAIT BY MATT ARMENDARIZ; PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDAN; PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDAN; PHOTO COURTESY OF JORDAN