Jeff Cohn, got his start in the industry almost 20 years ago. As an intern at Boordy Vineyards in Maryland, he drove an hour and half each way to prune vines in frigid weather, pick grapes in stifling heat, and scrub everything from barrels to floors.
Long before he began his winemaking career he received an associate degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, and a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Florida International University.
Jeff had always loved the hospitality industry, and as he worked through several high profile positions after college he found his passion for wine steadily growing. The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn, until he realized that becoming a winemaker was his ultimate goal. The job at Boordy was a deciding factor in the trajectory of his career -- in spite of all the scrubbing.
With the encouragement and support of his family, Jeff moved to California in 1993 to follow his dream. He earned his master’s degree in agriculture chemistry, with an emphasis on enology, from California State University, Fresno in 1996. It was here that Jeff discovered French winemaking techniques and the concept of terroir. "The flavor profile was so different than anything else I had ever tried," he says of the first Chateauneuf-du-Pape he tried in school. "It was a shocker. To go from tasting only single varietals to a blend really opened my eyes."
Upon graduation, Jeff joined Rosenblum Cellars as an enologist. He rapidly moved beyond lab work and soon found himself in charge of the entire white wine program. In 2000, Jeff was officially promoted to winemaker, and in 2004 was named vice president of winemaking and production at Rosenblum. He was instrumental in creating cutting-edge barrel and yeast programs at the winery. It was through experimentation at Rosenblum that Jeff perfected the technique of using different types of yeast to create even more subtle, specific characteristics in the wine he was crafting.
He began his own label, Jeff Cohn Cellars, in 1996. Jeff Cohn's first vintage was the 1996 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel. 75 cases were made. Over time, case production at Jeff Cohn Cellars slowly increased from that small, intimate introduction to over 5,000 cases annually. In January 2006 Jeff finally parted ways with Rosenblum to focus exclusively on his own winery, but not before crafting the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel, which placed 3rd on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list that year. This was a coup for not only Jeff but all of California’s winemaking industry, as no Zinfandel had ever appeared so high on the list before. In fact, no Zinfandel from California had ever even cracked the top ten.
Jeff goes to great lengths to marry California fruit to the aspects of terroir and minerality you'd find in France's oldest winemaking regions. He does so by travelling all over California, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino, in search of the finest fruit and the best vineyards. Among some of Jeff's most important discoveries include the Rockpile region in Sonoma, where he began sourcing the Syrah grapes that are now the main component of his most elegant and complex wines; the Buffalo Hill Syrah, Haley's Reserve Syrah, and the stunning2008 So Serine Syrah, to name a few. The craggy soil of the aptly named Rockpile produces some of the most complex and distinctive minerality in all of California.
In 2014, JC Cellars became Jeff Cohn Cellars and and we are located in downtown Oakland in a 15,000 sq. ft. warehouse. The winery's unlikely location is part of its charm. It was also a conscious decision, as Jeff is a resident of Alameda. "Being in Napa and Sonoma, the world of winemaking surrounds you all the time," says Jeff. "I like being where I am because I like a private life. I'm close to the winery without being immersed in the endless competition of that environment…and I like living here," he jokes, "because I've always wanted to live on an island."
Being housed in downtown Oakland also gives the community a first-hand glimpse at what really goes on behind the scenes, especially during harvest. The most hectic time of year, it's during harvest that you can really experience all that goes into the craft of winemaking. "Harvest is my absolute favorite time of year," says Jeff, “and it’s also nerve-wracking because there is just so much to do. We easily put in 12 to 14 hour days for weeks on end. But fermentation...I love the aroma. I love the smell.”