California Winemaker Hails From Maryland



A look at some of Jeff Cohn’s wines.


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  June 18, 2008


JC Cellars ZinfandelJeff Cohn did not expect to become a winemaker, although he started in the food industry at age 16.


After earning a degree in hospitality management, the Maryland native took a series of jobs including a stint on a Caribbean cruise ship. He ‘‘learned to appreciate wine” at a friend’s wine store on the island of Martinique. Upon returning to Maryland, he worked at Sutton Place, ‘‘which also had a great wine department,” as well as at the Boordy Vineyards outside Baltimore while completing the prerequisites to study oenology at Fresno State.


After graduating in 1996, he joined noted California wine producer Kent Rosenblum, ultimately becoming the winemaker, then the vice-president for winemaking and production. During the ensuing decade, they made numerous types and styles of wine, sourced from different varietals and locations throughout the state. Cohn made a small amount of his own wine from that first harvest in 1996, a well-regarded Zinfandel from Mendocino County. He continued to make his own while working with Rosenblum.


Cohn left his full-time position with Rosenblum in January 2006 to devote his energies to his own winery. At JC Cellars, he focuses on Rhone varietals, Petite Syrah and Zinfandel ‘‘that are meant to be consumed with friends and food,” he says, ‘‘the ones that make me think of cold winter days or hot summer ones, wines with and edge to them, not just known for their fruit, but for other characteristics such a spice or gaminess.”


He is reluctant to work with Cabernet and Merlot.


‘‘I made some good ones with Kent, but I feel there are other winemakers who do a better job,” Cohn says.


Each varietal has, he believes, ‘‘its high and low points. The idea is to figure out what is its potential and then work to achieve it. My goal is to the best job for the grapes that I am passionate about.”


‘‘Tasting other people’s wines is probably the most important thing that a winemaker does,” Cohn says. ‘‘I am most influenced by the Rhone winemakers. They work hard in the vineyards but are hands-off when fermenting.”


Cohn has always worked closely with his grape growers.


‘‘They are the reason that you get the fruit that you do, and are able to make the wines you want to make,” he explains. ‘‘I know the positives and negatives of each grower and what we needed to do to be able to work with their grapes. We taste the barrels with them, not only their own stuff, but other growers as well. That allows them to compare their fruit to other vineyards.”


‘‘Every year is a new experience, a new experiment. A well-respected Rhone winemaker told me he likes my wines because they ‘walk a tightrope between France and California.’ I am going to frame that quote and hang it in the winery.”


Perfect with burgers or steaks from the grill, the JC Cellars Syrah California Cuvee 2005 ($25) has spicy deep dark plum, pepper and blackberry flavors. Another favorite is the earthy JC Cellars Syrah Fess Parker’s Vineyard 2005 ($30) with layers of rich berry, currant and licorice notes. Delightfully big with cherry, blueberry and chocolate flavors is the JC Cellars Zinfandel Arrowhead Mountain Vineyard 2005 ($35) that ends with black pepper and coffee. The JC Cellars Petite Syrah Frediani Vineyard 2005 ($45) is a powerhouse with floral and blueberry aromas, jammy cherry and spicy dark fruit flavors, a bit of vanilla at the end and the tannins to require aging for at least five years.



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