From Jay's first sip of Burgundy, there was no turning back. Old World wines are what he has always loved to drink. And since starting J. Christopher Wines in 1996, that's the style of wine he has worked to make here in the New World. We follow biodynamic principles, and all of our wines are handcrafted in small lots, with fruit sourced from some of the best vineyards in Oregon. Our specialties are Pinot Noir made in the traditional style of Burgundy, and Sauvignon Blanc modeled after the great wines of Sancerre.
In 2010, we cemented our bond with the Old World by forming a partnership with famed German winemaker Ernst Loosen. Erni and Jay have a longtime friendship based partly on the fact that they are both Pinot freaks. Working together to produce Pinot Noirs that combined Old World and New World ideas just seemed like a natural. Together, they purchased a beautiful 40-acre property on Chehalem Mountain in Newberg, Oregon. This is the home of the new J. Christopher winery, and the Appassionata vineyard, our first estate vineyard.
Meet The Team
Jay Christopher Somers wanted to be a rock star. One of his earliest memories was the day his mother came home with the new Creedence Clearwater Revival album, Cosmos Factory. As the 4-year-old Jay listened over and over to John Fogarty's wailing guitar solo in "Heard it Through the Grapevine," he knew that's what he wanted to do. And yet, rooted somewhere in that song, another message planted itself in his subconscious. Something about grapevines.
Jay eventually did get a guitar — today he has quite a collection — and learned to play with great skill. In terms of careers, however, he did what any college grad with a degree in philosophy would do: he made beer. After several years as a brewer for McMenamins, he met a beautiful woman named Ronda. Ronda liked Jay, but didn't care for beer. Making two of the best decisions of his life, Jay married Ronda and got out of the beer business, deciding to focus, instead, on his latest passion: wine.
In the years leading up to the launch of his own winery, Jay had the great fortune to work with Don Kautzner at Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon, Neil McCallum at Dry Creek Vineyard in New Zealand, and John Paul at Cameron Winery in Oregon. From Don, he learned that it was possible to make Burgundian-style Pinots in Oregon. Through Neil, he gained a passion for white wines. And in John, he found a lifelong friend and mentor.
In his five years at Cameron, Jay adopted an Old World style of vineyard management and winemaking — a style that resulted in wines that tasted more like the Burgundies he loved to drink. With John's encouragement, he bottled his first J. Christopher vintage in 1996, using the Cameron facility and fruit purchased from the neighboring Charlie's vineyard. (Side note: Jay is the first and only winemaker ever to make wine from this excellent vineyard.) His first vintage, like many to follow, sold out in less than a week.
After Jay's third vintage of J. Christopher, his mentor gently and encouragingly nudged the fledgling from the nest. Jay spent the next 11 years making J. Christopher alongside Holloran Vineyard Wines at the Holloran facility in the Willamette Valley. Here, he continued to develop his Burgundian winemaking style: "Don't force the vineyard, don't irrigate the crap out of it, don't spray a bunch of chemicals on it, and do all the hand labor right."
In 2004, an opportunity arose to help the shorthanded crew at the Dr. Loosen winery in Germany's Mosel Valley. A big fan of German Rieslings, Jay pounced on it. Over many bottles of wine after long days of work, he and winemaker Ernst Loosen discovered that they had a mutual taste and passion for Pinot Noir. Erni had long dreamed of owning vineyards in Burgundy, but, turned off by the price, had begun thinking about the second best place in the world to grow Pinot Noir: Oregon. Over many more bottles, the two hatched a plan, and soon began making a collaborative Oregon Pinot called Appassionata. In 2010, they formalized their partnership, bought a 40-acre property on Chehalem Mountain in Newberg, Oregon, and began building a new J. Christopher winery. Jay continues as the winemaker for the partnership, while Erni provides Old World expertise and financial support.
Today, in addition to making wine, Jay plays lead guitar for the Portland band Reduction. Fans of both his music and his wines tell him he's a rock star. So all in all, he feels, things have turned out very well.
Ernst "Erni" Loosen was born into the great tradition of German winemaking. Since the Dr. Loosen estate on the Mosel River has been in his family for over 200 years, you'd think it only natural for him to take up the family legacy as a profession. The truth is, though, that as a youngster, Erni was more fascinated by the area's numerous Roman ruins than by the family vineyards. So off he went to college to study archaeology.
In the mid-'80s, however, his father decided to turn the estate over to the next generation, and Erni's siblings nominated him for the job. Happily, this turned out to be his true calling. After completing studies at Germany's renowned winemaking school in Geisenheim, Erni assumed control of the Dr. Loosen estate in 1988, and proceeded to elevate the quality of the wines to a world-class level. The Dr. Loosen estate is now a member of the prestigious VDP, Germany's association of top-rated wine estates, and has been named one of the 10 best estates in Germany by nearly every wine publication in the world. Erni was named Germany's Winemaker of the Year in the 2001 edition of Gault Millau's Weinguide Deutschland, and Decanter magazine's Man of the Year in 2005.
In 1996, Erni took over a second winery — Villa Wolf, in the Pfalz — and launched a dramatic turnaround in that estate's quality and reputation, as well. Located in a warmer and drier part of Germany, these vineyards gave Erni the opportunity to make Pinot Noir for the first time. A lifelong Pinot Noir fanatic, he began producing Pinot at Villa Wolf in 1996, the same year that Jay Somers started J. Christopher.
Erni's partnership with J. Christopher grew out of his friendship with Jay and their mutual interest in great Pinot Noir. "I'm very excited to be collaborating with Jay, because his wines are the most Burgundian and Old World in style that I've seen from the United States," says Erni. "Jay doesn't try to replicate Germany or Burgundy in the New World, but rather to bring an Old World sensibility to the creation of New World wine — a sensibility that favors great structure and expression of terroir."
Erni's joint venture with J. Christopher is his second in the United States. He also makes "Eroica" Riesling collaboratively with Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington.
If you go to one of winemaker Jay's gigs, you're bound to run into his No. 1 fan, Ronda. Ronda has always had a fondness for guitar players, so when she first saw Jay wailing away on his 1979 black Stratocaster* more than 20 years ago, what could she do? She and Jay have been an item since 1990, and a married item since 1995.
Before joining her husband at J. Christopher, Ronda worked on the other side of the business — the Italian side. She developed the wine list for Delfina's, one of Portland's best Italian restaurants back in the day. And she spent many years as the wine buyer for PastaWorks, which carries one of the best selections of Italian wines in the city. Back then, she even had time to pursue a side interest in jewelry making, which she studied at the Oregon School of Art and Craft. But as the demand for J. Christopher wines grew, she shifted her talents to the home front.
Ronda joined the winery team in 1999. As part of this small, family-run winery, she has done more than her fair share of vineyard work, bookkeeping, and feeding hungry harvest crews. But her chief responsibility is sales. If you are a buyer for a Portland restaurant or retail shop, it's a pretty good bet that you've seen Ronda's smiling face. Otherwise, you can always find her at Jay's gigs.
*By the way, that Stratocaster — the first thing Jay ever worked hard to buy, scraping together all his earnings from a summer job in 1983 — was stolen in 2003. If you see it anywhere, let us know.
Kelly Stewart brings a well rounded sales & hospitality background to the J. Christopher tasting room. Having worked in the wholesale, retail, and hospitality he has found a way to connect all the dots.
After serving in Sardinia for the US Navy, Kelly sailed on to the world of food and wine, with stints at Hominy Grill and the Sanctuary in Charleston, South Carolina; and Customshop and The Wine Shop at Foxcroft in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following what he describes as a "progression of passion," from restaurants to wine, he came to Oregon five years ago, working for Beaux Freres and Bergstrom wineries.
He joined us at J. Christopher in 2016 and is excited to be here because...
"The Wines! Jay makes the best Sauvignon Blanc in the Willamette Valley and delicate old-world-style pinots." Most days you'll find Kelly in the J. Christopher tasting room, pouring pinots and helping visitors navigate the ever-changing currents of new and old vintages. When not at work, he enjoys cooking, hiking and hanging out with his wife, Leslie, and Chevy the dog.
Without Sandra West, there would be no J. Christopher Wines. As the proud mom of winemaker Jay Christopher Somers, Sandy literally started it all by giving Jay life. Her late husband, Darrell, also gets credit for introducing both Sandy and Jay to the joys of fine wine. "Darrell would be over-the-moon proud of what Jay has pursued and worked tirelessly to accomplish," says Sandy.
At J. Christopher, as in most small wineries, everybody does a little bit of everything. Over the years, Sandy has assisted in the cellar, dropped crop and pulled brush in the vineyards (she is a brush puller extraordinaire), pitched in at harvest, catered meals for the always-appreciative harvest crew, made deliveries, helped with special events and — her favorite part — enthusiastically consumed the end product. (The Sandra Adele Pinot Noir, by the way, is named after her.) These days, she most often is found helping out in the office.
Sandy — and Jay, too — was born and raised in Oregon, the descendant of one of the original pioneer settlers of the Aurora Colony (now Aurora, Oregon). J. Christopher, therefore, is rooted as deeply in Oregon's history as it is in the soil.
Before joining her son in the wine business, Sandy spent many years working in advertising and communications. If she ever has free time again, she hopes to rekindle her long-lost piano skills.
Kory Sumner joined J. Christopher in 2015. He was born, raised and went to school in southern Illinois. Moving to Portland in 2005, he began working in the restaurant industry and then fell in love with wine and everything about the Willamette Valley.
THE DOGS - NINA & AJA
Our dogs are a huge part of our lives and a big help around the winery, filling important roles such as welcoming committee, alarm system, pest control and comic relief. They have always been our loving best friends and a constant source of inspiration.
We will forever miss our sweet Tache and Bella. Tache was named after the great La Tache vineyard in Burgundy. She came to the winery to work with Jay every day of her life and always sported a big smile. She was quite skilled and had perfected the art of working any hors d'oeuvres table for handouts. Tache lived to be 15, which is ancient for a German Shepherd, but just about perfect for a Burgundy.
Bella, a German Shepherd/ Lab mix, was at work with Jay every day of her nearly 14 years of life. She came to us in a dream and was a dream dog. She continually applied her expert skills as Queen of Squirrel Patrol to keep the property safe from marauding rodents, a job she took very seriously. Although, she always knocked off the reindeer antlers she was supposed to wear at Christmas, she was one of the sweetest dogs you could ever meet.
Nina, who is very smart and very funny, is now the oldest. She is always happy, often with a big German Shepherd smile on her face and always looking for a job to keep her busy. She loves to walk the property with Jay and will joyfully chase a ball over every inch of it from sunup to sundown. Nina had difficulty adjusting to the loss of Bella, so we welcomed Aja to the family in early 2013. Named after a great Steely Dan album, she is learning the ropes of being a winery/vineyard dog from her older sister. She is still quite mischievous and she loves to play with other dogs. She also loves food, so keep a close eye on your lunch if Aja is present.
Winemaking is more fun when we are lucky enough to have such great companions join us at the winery every day.