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Gold Medal Wine Club
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Santa Barbara, California 93111
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JC Cellars - Northern California

94 Pts. Wine Spectator - 93 Pts. Connoisseurs’ Guide - 91 Pts. Robert Parker

His career started in the unlikely winemaking state of Maryland and the reason he came to California was because it was a warmer place. His story is not unlike a number of passionate winemakers that have thrived in the Golden State over the past few decades.

His name is Jeff Cohn, originally from Bowie, Maryland. Cohn became interested in the wine business and began his career with the well-respected Boordy Vineyards. Boordy is Maryland’s oldest surviving winery (1965) and is nestled in the Long Green Valley of northeastern Baltimore County. Cohn learned the basics of winery work and winemaking but sought a warmer venue for his winemaking ambitions.

“I had a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales as well as a BS in Hospitality Management from Florida International,” he explained. I knew I wanted to be in the wine industry so I got another degree in Agricultural Chemistry and Enology from Fresno State.”

Cohn was also introduced to the inner workings of numerous California wineries and decided to make California his new home.

“I had an opportunity after graduation to interview with a number of wineries about a job,” Cohn recently recalled. “The wineries I met with were mostly well-respected and fully-established entities. Then, I had an interview with Kent Rosenblum (Rosenblum Cellars) and the meeting lasted more than three hours. I also brought a pair of Zins I had made while I was a student at Fresno State. Afterwards, the winery staff and I all sat around and enjoyed the wines. I was delighted that I was offered the job a short time later.”

Rosenblum Cellars was at the time a major player in Zinfandel circles and has remained so until this day. A close relationship soon developed between Cohn and Kent Rosenblum that has helped Cohn in the formative years of his own JC Cellars. Cohn calls Rosenblum his “mentor” and frequently confers with him on winery matters.

In 1997, JC Cellars became a reality with the introduction of a microscopic 75 cases of initial release. Like Rosenblum, JC Cellars has followed the innovative approach to industrial winemaking. Both wineries are located in industrial areas of Northern California’s sprawling East Bay, with JC Cellars located in Oakland and Rosenblum Cellars in nearby Alameda.

“The fact that we put all our profits into buying better grapes, barrels and equipment, and, not into vineyard land and intangibles, makes our wines that much better,” commented Jeff Cohn. “We are able to focus on the terroir of the vineyards and everyone knows that the aspect of terroir is most important in making really fine wines.”

JC Cellars’ production has risen steadily since its inception in 1996 and will top out around 6,000 cases in 2012. Cohn’s ongoing ambition is to continue increasing production to some 30-35,000 cases in the future, an accomplishment that would necessitate moving his operation or adding on to its present capacity.

Most of his focus is on single vineyard wines, carefully chosen from various parts of California for their specific character and complexity.

“I prefer fruit that is hillside, with the more rocks the better,” he added. “It seems that the rockier the soil, the more complex and intense the fruit becomes. That combination in the right winemaker’s hands can produce incredibly wonderful wines.”

Cohn’s wife Alex, whom he refers to as his “best half,” plays an integral part in the JC Cellars operation. “She does everything around the winery but make the wine,” he firmly declared. “She is also a CPA and makes sure that our business is run smoothly in many different areas.”

Cohn now consults for a number of other wineries. His passion for the business carries forth on his pet project, one that he calls his Imposter Brand. “I feel our Imposter wines are emblematic of the terroir that can be expressed in California wines. They are the best possible examples that I, as a winemaker, can strive to achieve. I hope to be able to continue making them for a long time to come.”

Jeff Cohn is in many ways, the heart and soul of California’s new wave of winemaking. He produces wines without great fanfare and a glittering environment. He is completely open about his products and gives abundant credit to his growers and others who participate in his winery’s efforts.

We need more Jeff Cohns around who are completely passionate about their businesses. They inject a freshness and approach that keeps more established wineries on their toes.

  1. JC Cellars
    2007 Syrah
    JC Cellars
    Rockpile Haley's Reserve


    94 - Wine Spectator
    id: 1215