by Fred McMillin
for February 7, 1997

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Winery of the Week

Jekel's Rocks, Vines & Wines

Prologue: "Jekel Vineyards Winery demonstrates that growing one's own grapes makes possible the achievement of quality wines not otherwise obtainable." Robert Lawrence Balzer in "California Wines"

The Rest of The Story: When it came to picking vineyard sites, it was clear that Bill Jekel had rocks in his head. His Gravelstone and Sanctuary vineyards in Monterey county were a "322-acre rock pile." However, he knew that marginal fertility meant fewer grapes with more flavor. Futhermore, they were in a marine-cooled area, particularly suitable for the vines of the Rhine, Burgundy and Bordeaux. How did it work out? Here are comments by some wine authorities.

Chardonnay: "The estate-bottled Chardonnay is superb." Leon Adams. Riesling—"All that one could hope for." James Halliday. Cabernet Sauvignon—"Fine varietal breed, classic in style, and promise of higher peaks of perfection with cellaring." Balzer.

The Winemaker

Speaking of rocks, Jekel has a rock'em, sock'em winemaker, too.. a University of California-Davis All-Conference football linebacker while earning his viticulture degree. His name is Rick Boyer, and he looks like he could still hold his own on the field (see photo) in spite of his subsequent 18 years in the wine business. His general approach is to not to have a general approach. That is, all grapes are not handled pretty much the same way. Instead, each variety is treated differently from budbreak to bottle. One of those getting maximum attention is Pinot Noir. A long process of site and clone selection has given Rick some great grapes. They yielded a fruit-laden pinot that paired perfectly with my Veal Scaloppine. The Jekel winery is doing just fine, thank you, in spite of its rocky start.

Just the Facts

Name Jekel Vineyards
Location Geenfield, Monterey County, CA
Founders Identical twins Bill and August Jekel, owners of a film studio in Southern California
First Vineyard 1972
Winery Founded 1978
Current Owner Brown-Forman Inc.
Wine Maker Rick Boyer
Capacity 70,000 case range
Vineyards Gravelstone, 135 acres, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County Sanctuary, 187 acres, Arroyo Seco
Contact phone (408) 674-5522, FAX (408) 674-3769

Postscript: I've kept Jekel bottles in my cellar for some time. In 1993 Bill wrote me, "Glad to see our 1985 Jekel Vineyard Pinot Blanc won Best White in your S.F. City College class.. but where in the world did you find it? It has long since sold out." Bill's very first wine was a '78 Riesling. I'm heading for the cellar to see if the vanishing 1970's section might contain another Jekel surprise. Stay tuned.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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