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Jessie's Grove Winery

Lodi AVA

Old-vine Zinfandels are admittedly a favorite of ours.

At first glance, the new Jessie’s Grove Winery in Lodi could be counted among the new wave wineries that have sprouted up during the past decade, entities that have ridden the crest of popularity that has fueled the wine industry’s remarkable growth.

A closer look would, however, reveal a number of dissimilarities between Jessie’s Grove and her more pretentious peers. The simple fact that the 320 acres (mostly planted in Zinfandel and Chardonnay) that comprise Jessie’s Grove Winery has been in the same family since the 1860’s, sets Jessie’s Grove apart and that fact is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Jessie’s Grove, named after a spectacular 32-acre oak grove on the property, is indeed a family affair, with the winery’s three principals closely related. President Nick Sikeotis is married to his partner Greg Burns’ sister. Burns serves as head grower and winemaker and is assisted at the winery by his sister, Joline Meyer, who handles all books and related matters for the growing concern.

Nick Sikeotis explains that he was a successful bonds trader a few years ago, making a good deal of money. Only trouble was that his job was located in Los Angeles and necessitated a very early weekly Monday morning flight to be at work. He would return to Lodi on Thursday night, but the ordeal was a grind on his lifestyle.

Sikeotis loved Lodi and its surrounding area where he had spent his entire life. His family’s longtime wine property was always a consideration and at one point during 1996, he approached his brother-in-law Greg Burns, who was then a general contractor. The two agreed that the wine business was very kind to a number of people and so decided to pursue their dream of starting their own winery.

Lacking any real practical experience in the wine business, Sikeotis then approached venerable wine guru Jerry Mead about a referral who could serve as a wine consultant. Mead, who has since passed away, befriended Sikeotis and found Barry Gnekow (knee-co) to assist the fledgling enterprise. Gnekow held a masters in Enology from UC Davis, consulted for a number of prominent wineries including Smith and Hook, and was perfectly suited to Jessie’s Grove’s needs.

Another salient fact was that the fruit available to the new winery was mostly exceptionally aged vines, some planted as early as the late 1880’s. From the beginning, it was decided that Jessie’s Grove wines would be produced to the highest quality standard, and a unique strategy was devised to insure that quality would be maintained in each vintage.

It was decided that a three-tiered quality control system be installed. First, all grapes from the estate are hand harvested, with only the finest bunches selected. Next, a staff of three again carefully scrutinizes the fruit as it is placed in the bins, once again excluding any imperfect fruit. Finally, the grapes are placed on a slow moving conveyor belt where both Nick Sikeotis, Greg Burns and at least three other individuals again pick out individual clusters, a very time consuming practice.

“While we are still small, this selectivity can be controlled,” Sikeotis offered. “But it really takes a lot of time. Last year we produced about 4,000 total cases. This year our goal is around 5,500. The more we produce, the more time our grape selection process takes. Larger wineries can’t possibly match our type of control system. We use only the very best fruit grown.”

Such attention to detail insures that Jessie’s Grove will be around for quite some time. The old vines designation used on the 2000 release refers to the fact that the original vines for its Westwind Vineyard were planted in 1941, well beyond the 50 year-old mark generally used in the industry. By the way, “Westwind” is named after one of Joline Meyer’s favorite quarter horse mares, a side business that is also located on the family property. Other vineyards are also named after favorite horses.

Jessie’s Grove Winery should be considered a “quality of life” concept by its three principals. It is more than just a business or a pastime, and each has put something intensely personal into its makeup. Jessie’s Grove Winery will be around a long time and its wines will give our Platinum members a real treat.

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