Friday, August 12, 2011

Tasting with James Brian Judd and Eric Alvarez their “A Cellar Full of Noise” and Judd Family Wines in Paso Robles, California

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with James Brian Judd (in the middle) and Eric Alvarez

When I was in Paso Robles a few months ago I bumped into James Brian Judd and Eric Alvarez at our hotel. James Brian Judd is the son of Jim (James Thurston) and Janis Judd, the founders of J&J Cellars in Paso Robles. Eric is James’ partner in life; they are legally married.

The Judd family markets its wines under several lines of wine. One of them is “A Cellar Full of Noise” which is co-owned and co-managed by James Brian and Eric. I tasted a couple of “A Cellar Full of Noise” wines as well as other Judd family wines and had a chance to talk about winemaking in Paso Robles in general and Judd family wines in particular with James Brian Judd and Eric Alvarez.

Picture: The Wine Regions of California

Paso Robles

The Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA) is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in San Luis Obispo County on California’s Central Coast. The growing season is defined by a climate of warm inland afternoons and cool marine breezes that arrive each evening. Daily temperature swings of 40 degrees or more are not unusual during the growing season. Such conditions are ideal for growing world-class wine grapes, as they lengthen the growing season for the achievement of fully defined flavors with balance and structure. More than 26,000 acres are planted to vineyards that provide fruit for Paso Robles wineries and others throughout the state. Today there are more than 170 wineries.

Pictures: The Town of Paso Robles and View from our Hotel

The Judd Family

“We come from a long line of farmers,” said James Brian. “We have been farming in the U.S. since the mid-1800s.” When James was still a child, his father James Thurston bought land in San Miguel — eight miles north of Paso Robles — to grow apples and raise cattle. Then, surrounding farms planted wine grapes. “We were among the last people in San Miguel to convert to grapes.” Thus began the family’s wine business. Jim Judd later bought more vineyard land — in Shandon, about 20 miles east of Paso Robles.

James Brian initially wanted to become a lawyer and studied law in New Hampshire. But after he passed the bar, James moved to California and took over from his father. Though he does not practice law, he maintains his license. James is also a San Francisco writer/solo performer. His one-man show 7 SINS has been performed around the globe and has enjoyed multiple runs in San Francisco.

After having started to grow vine, for years, the Judds sold their grapes to other wineries. The first vintage under their own label (750 cases) is 2002.

6 Different Labels

Today, there are 6 different labels, as far as I can see. (1) The J&J Cellars label is reserved for premium wines. (2) The Vintage Flight label celebrates the Judd’s replica 1938 WACO biplane. (3) The sparkling wine and non-estate white wines are bottled under the Julie Fiero (James’ sister) label. (4) The Autumn Flight label is used for bottling some of the more unusual or limited production wines. (5) The James Judd & Son Vineyards label offers premium wines and unique blends made from estate-grown grapes. (6) The A Cellar Full of Noise wines feature evocative, original art on their labels and are sold at sensible prices.

At the tasting where I met James Brian and Eric, they served only James Judd & Sun Vineyards and A Cellar Full of Noise wines. Also, on the web site of A Cellar Full of Noise, you find only these 2 lines of wines, while on the J&J Cellars web site you find all six.

2 Vineyards

The Judds own 2 vineyards in the eastern foothills of Paso Robles, totaling 114 acres. The Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in San Miguel is a mostly flat vineyard close to sea level with some gently rolling hills on the eastern side, which block the morning sunlight. It is twenty-five miles from the ocean. The vineyard is frequently covered in coastal fog. This area is considered the premier Cabernet Sauvignon growing region in California’s Central Coast.

The second vineyard is twenty-five miles east of Paso Robles in Shandon. It is located atop of a hill that is significantly higher than the San Miguel vineyard. The vineyard receives unobstructed sunlight for the duration of each day. Temperatures are on average ten degrees higher here than in the San Miguel vineyard. The terrain is very rocky. The sweeping divergence between day and night temperatures and the extended growing season are ideal for enticing high-maintenance Petit Verdot and Tempranillo grapes to ripen fully. Long hot summer days without shade are perfect for the sun loving Malbec and Barbera.

James said: “A wine is only as good as its grapes. As growers, we believe that the best way to make remarkable wine is to grow remarkable grapes. We limit our Cabernet Sauvignon vines to just one bud per cordon. We manage our vineyards on a block-by-blocks basis, tending to the individual needs of each varietal in matters of irrigation, pruning, and harvesting. This fine-tuned approach enables us to get the most out of each block, varietal, and vintage.”


The winery is located adjacent to the vineyard in San Miguel. James said “We age our red varietals in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, bringing a multidimensional texture to our wines. Prior to bottling, we conduct extensive blending trials to achieve the highest possible quality and complexity in the finished wines.”

James continued: “Our case production is based on the harvest. We bottle approximately 15-20% of our total grape production. We choose the best grapes and we sell the rest to other local vineyards. We have the capacity and flexibility to increase or decrease production based on the quality of our harvest and the needs of our customers.”

A Cellar Full of Noise

All of the A Cellar Full of Noise wines are made with grapes from the Shandon Vineyard (Malbec, Tempranillo, Barbera, and Petit Verdot) and the San Miguel Vineyard (Cabernet Sauvignon).

“The name is inspired by the lyrics to the 60's pop song I Know A Place sung by Petula Clark” Eric said “the song embodies the spirit in which our wines should be consumed - with friends, food, and always with music. Our musical label art is created by Denver-based artist Venita J. Hawkins-Bird. Our packaging is emboldened with unique artwork that celebrates the happiness and good times that accompany fine wine.”

The Wines James Brian and Eric Poured

James Brian and Eric poured 3 wines.

James Judd & Sun Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007
A Cellar Full of Noise, Barbera, 2006
James Judd & Sun Vineyards, Malbec Verdot, 2006

Pictures: The Judd Wines we Tasted

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