27th Oct 2022
USA, California, Napa Valley & Sonoma County
27th Oct 2022
Perhaps best known for his flamboyant fashion sense and decadent cabaret/burlesque events, behind the scenes, Jean-Charles Boisset has become a tour-de-force to contend with in the wine world.
Owner of 35 wineries in California and France, Jean-Charles Boisset is now a significant player in the premium and luxury wines scenes. That’s without even considering his marriage to Gina Gallo, one of the world’s most powerful producers/winemakers. But what gave me cause, some years ago, to first give his collection of eponymously named wines—JCB—more than a cursory glance beyond the designer packaging is what’s in the bottles. The wines are high quality, which is a commendable attribute, sure, although not surprising given Boisset’s resources. But apart from quality is the ability of these wines to deliver imaginative, compelling stories with their singular styles.
“JCB has become an important part of my life,” Boisset said as we tasted his new releases together last month. “I’d always promoted other people’s wineries—wineries with others’ histories and names. Then I started JCB, mainly in Burgundy with bubbles. One day, I was challenged by my French friends and family. They asked me, ‘Well, if you love California so much, why don’t you show us how great it is and make wine from there?’ So, in 2006, I started making Sonoma Pinots and Chardonnays under my JCB label. That year, Gina and I also made a Burgundy and Sonoma blend for our wedding wine.”
Each JCB wine has an unmistakable style and meaning behind the label, suggested by the number or name it is given.
“This is called No 7,” Boisset said, pouring me a taste, “because I was seven years old when I started tasting Pinot Noir. Seriously, there was no water added to my glass. Our barrels were in the living room back then. I was transformed.”
Given his current status, you might think that Boisset grew up with a silver tastevin in his mouth, but his beginnings were humble. “My father’s winery, Jean-Claude Boisset, only started in Burgundy in 1961,” Boisset said. “I was born in 1969, so you can guess what the No 69 bubbles label represents. I came for my first visit to the USA in 1981. I decided then I would come back to the USA and make wine here one day—so that’s my No 81 Chardonnay.”
Additionally, Boisset assigns three words to associate with the style of each of his JCB wines. The words for the No 7 style are Debonair, Charismatic, and Seductive. Now, you could argue that Boisset’s story and three words are just a sales pitch, but what I can see, as someone who has tasted some of these JCB labels over numerous years, are distinct style definitions in the minds of Boisset and his dedicated JCB winemakers, Stephanie Putnam and Brian Maloney, which come through in the glass. It’s the same style vision a Champagne chef de cave must have for blending to a house style. The vision is vivid, and the result is a consistent expression of style that is itself a story.
Jean-Charles Boisset has numerous vineyard resources to pull from for his JCB collection. Yet, it’s important to stress that the production for these wines is grand-cru-Burgundy tiny. Of the recently tasted labels, the largest production label was the new 2019 Enrapture at 352 cases. The smallest volume was the 2019 Knockout at just 50 cases. Therefore, these JCB wines showcase some of the best estate-grown and purchased fruit from growers across Northern California. “The sourcing for the wines differs from year to year,” said Brian Maloney, JCB’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay winemaker. “Ultimately, we’re looking for the best fruit to achieve the style of the label.”
His Napa-based winemaker, Stephanie Putnam, also in charge of his Raymond Vineyards winemaking, explained: “We had been making JCB for years without a Cabernet. I said to Jean-Charles, ‘You are talking about JCB being the best of each location. Why not make a Cabernet?’ So, he challenged me to make a Cab for Pinot lovers—elegant, not too alcoholic. This was Cabernet Sauvignon No 1. Then we had to make No 10, which is the opposite side.”
The array of chic perfume-like, jewelry bedecked, velvet, and animal-skin coated bottle packaging appeals to a surprisingly broad wine audience and not just to hard-core collectors. Boisset has homed in on a set of consumers that love fine wine and are willing to pay a premium for it but are looking for more than just deliciousness, seeking out the multi-sensory, opulent experience of JCB.
“We have three main ways of promoting the wines,” said Boisset. “Fine dining, direct to collectors via our ambassadors, plus we distribute through a few iconic retailers around the US. And some are only sold through the winery and our JCB tasting salons.”
The entire JCB collection of labels now includes over fifty different small-lot wines.
“Every JCB wine needs to have a raison d’etre,” smiled Boisset. “Having four Pinots makes perfect sense because each and every one has a very different style. Yes, JCB is a complex lineup. But it represents my passions, my stories.”
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photos by Johan Berglund
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