Rob Davis, just 22 and fresh out of UC Davis, became the first winemaker at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Alexander Valley in 1976. Remarkably, he’s still there.
Davis is up to his gumboots in Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, working his 40th wine harvest at Jordan. It’s an atypically long run, given that talented winemakers are often lured to greener pastures. Yet Davis, 61, has not been compelled to leave his first, and what will likely be his last, winemaking job.
“Every day I drive into the estate, I feel fortunate to work here,” he said. “I’ve worked for the same ownership and have been given the OK to make the viticultural and winemaking decisions. I’ve been able to exercise the pure joy of what I do.”
Davis was hired by Tom and Sally Jordan at the insistence of Napa Valley winemaking guru André Tchelistcheff. The diminutive, chain-smoking Russian immigrant was the chief winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford from 1938 to 1973 and continued to advise the winery and others until his death in 1994. If Robert Mondavi is the father of the California wine industry, Tchelistcheff is certainly its father of winemaking.
“Everything André taught me has come to fruition,” said Davis, a triathlon competitor who combines vineyard inspections with running and cycling in Alexander Valley. “I learned humility, and that Mother Nature is in charge and you take what she gives you. I learned to not be afraid to experiment. To smell the soil, because you can judge grape quality from that.
“André showed me that wine is an ongoing mystery. I could be doing this a thousand years from now and not stop learning.”