John Jordan: Vintages from the Soil, Vintage in the Hangar
In Sonoma County, you’ll likely find John Jordan pouring fine wines or poring over vintage cars.
The second-generation vintner, with winemaker Rob Davis, oversees the production of Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Alexander Valley, one of the storied county’s northernmost wine regions. Five miles north of Healdsburg, the winery is just 90 scenic minutes north of San Francisco by car.
Inspired by the French wine estates his parents, Tom and Sally, enjoyed in the 1950s, the winery was founded May 25, 1972 –– the day Jordan was born –– with the purchase of their first land, 275 acres of prune trees in bucolic Alexander Valley.
Once the orchards had been replanted to grapevines, the couple purchased a nearby 1,200-acre property two years later as the home for Jordan Winery. They produced a first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976 and followed three years later with a Chardonnay.
Completed in 1976, the chateau houses the winemaking facilities, Executive Chef Todd Knoll’s kitchen, a dining room, guest suites, wine-tasting library, cellars and offices. Knoll prepares food for tours and tastings, winery events and dinner parties.
Today, Jordan and his 87 employees keep 112 acres under vine, most for Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery has been awarded many accolades for its wines and hospitality by Wine Enthusiast, Wine & Spirits, Sunset magazine and TripAdvisor.
In 1998, the family also planted olive trees, and the estate now has 18 acres producing three Italian varieties and one Spanish. Tim Spence, who started working on the bottling line in 1989, is the director of Facility Operations and oversees facilities, maintenance and security.
“We also have 14 acres of cattle pastures for about 30 cows, a one-acre garden with fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, greenhouse, an apiary, our chef’s gardens and, of course, a chicken coop,” says Jordan, a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles and the Empire College School of Law and the University of San Francisco. In 2005, he began focusing on the winery full time and built a hilltop home on the estate the following year.
His cars are predominantly military: a 1942 Command Car, which has been featured on the show Reality Rides; a jeep; a motorcycle; and a 1926 Jordan Playboy. “We also have an old rusted-out military jeep outside on a hill, which we like just the way it is and just where it is,” Jordan says.
The vehicles are kept in his airplane hangar on the back of the property, which is also his hang-out, pool room, “officers club” with a large bar, and where he shows his World War II memorabilia. Here he hosts more casual gatherings with members of the trade, including restaurateurs and sommeliers.
In 2010, Spence realized the need to demolish the aging redwood water tank because it was failing; it was a landmark in Jordan’s growing up and for the winery. “John was disappointed, and I promised him we would use the lumber for a future project,” Spence says. “The hangar siding was the perfect opportunity. We had one board left over.”
By 2011, the new building, re-using much of the redwood from that ’70s structure, was up. Here Jordan placed his Piper Cub, which he regularly pilots.
The creation of the hangar led to acquiring the military vehicles with the guidance of Spence, as he realized there was ample space left over. “It helps capture the 1940s. And, what’s more fun than swing dancing and martinis?” Jordan asks.
He’s always loved history. His grandfather was a commander in the US Navy, and John also served in the Navy, rising to commander for Naval Intelligence. He is still in the Naval Reserves, commissioned an officer in 2000.
Recently, after the bottles at the chateau were opened, the hangar doors swung wide for a look at the Jordan Winery cars, a tour graciously led by Jordan and Spence.
•1942 Dodge WC Series Command Car –– This was restored as part of the show, Reality Rides, in 2012 by Carl Meredith at Carl’s Custom Cars outside of Dallas, Texas.
“We located it in a junkyard in Colorado just outside of Denver, where my parents lived before building Jordan Winery,” Jordan says. There he and Spence, accompanied by Meredith, inspected the vehicle, which was badly rusted, had numerous nonoriginal welds as well as a wood canopy added. Still, it was complete and original. They bought it and began a full restoration.
Command cars were used by officers but soon became underused. “Turns out from what we’ve read, the enemy started identifying them for what they were and began targeting them,” Spence says.
The frame-off authenticity restoration took six months to complete. Meredith estimates the cost at about $90,000 in yesterday’s dollars. “We sourced a lot of the parts from military surplus and other locations, and, when we couldn’t source it, we fabricated using sheet metal,” says Meredith, who learned his craft as a child from an uncle.
“One of the interesting aspects of the command car is that we found a six-digit number in crayon under the hood and we re-created it for the restoration,” he says. “That number would tell you, we’re thinking, where this car was in service.”
•1954 Willys Jeep –– “Tim bought this soft top from a man in Sonoma Valley who had restored it, but we have no specific history on the vehicle,” Jordan says. This vehicle is either a Willys M606, produced from 1953 to 1968, or a Willys M170, 1954 to 1964.
John Willys bought the Overland Automotive Division of the Standard Wheel Company in 1908, and four years later it was the Willys-Overland Motor Company. From 1912 to 1918, this was the nation’s second-largest automobile company, following Ford, according to Wikipedia.
When the War Department wanted an automaker to produce a lightweight truck, the Willys company was one of the companies responding. Ex-Studebaker chief engineer Barney Roos perfected an engine capable of enduring battlefield abuse, and in 1941, Willys, Ford, and the original designer of the vehicle, American Bantam, began production. Eventually 653,568 military Jeeps were manufactured, again according to Wikipedia.
The word ‘jeep’ probably derives from Eugene the Jeep, a character with supernatural abilities appearing in the Popeye comic strip of the 1930s. Because of their innovations such as four-wheel drive, the vehicles needed a new name, so the Willys company came up with this catchy monosyllable.
•1939 Zündapp Motorcycle with sidecar –– Spence bought this at an antique store in Petaluma, about 45 minutes from the winery. “The guy who owned it had passed away and the widow had put it up for sale,” he says. “It had never been started up since it got shipped over from Europe. We had it running in five hours; it hadn’t run in years.”
Founded in 1917 in Nuremberg by Fritz Neumeyer, Friedrich Krupp AG and manufacturer Thiel, Zündapp began producing motorcycles in 1921, beginning with the Z22 and continuing with the larger K-series in 1933.
The Zündapp KS600 was first released in 1938 and had a 28-horse horizontally opposed twin-cylinder overhead-valve motor. The KS600 was often coupled with a sidecar (BW38) and supplied to the Wehrmacht; this combo may be one of those.
•1926 Jordan Playboy –– Sally Jordan bought it in the 1980s, and it’s registered with the Jordan car collectors club. The marque name is coincidental.
In the early 1990s, the Jordan car club brought several cars to the winery. Tom and Sally divorced in 1993, and she took it to Santa Barbara and then restored the classic and gave it to John as a gift when he built the hangar.
Founded in 1916 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Edward S. Jordan, the Jordan Motorcar Company continued manufacturing until 1931.
The Playboy targeted free-minded women of the era, as this 1923 Saturday Evening Post ad indicates: “Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race. She loves the cross of the wild and the tame. . . . Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.”
For more information on wine tours, food pairings, tastings and accommodations, see jordanwinery.com, 800.654.1213 or 707.431.5250 and see jordanwinery.com.
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