We all have stories, some with a twist of fate that took us on a path to a destination or a place where we asked ourselves, “Where am I going?” These are life’s pivotal moments when you reach deep inside, listen to your heart and follow your passion.
After 13 years in the hospitality industry, Jeff began his wine adventure. In 1996, at 34, Jeff graduated from Fresno State University with a Masters in Agricultural Science and Enology. His first love has always been Zinfandel, so he went to work for Kent Rosenblum, the King of Zin, at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, California. Here Jeff was able to work with many different vineyards and varietals from around the state. JC Cellars started that first year at Rosenblum with 73 cases of 1996 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel from Redwood Valley. It was one of the first urban wineries to offshoot from Rosenblum Cellars, the original urban winery.
Experimentation was key to the wine making at Rosenblum. In that atmosphere Jeff was able to explore with up to 50 different international coopers, and innumerable yeast strains, both cultured as well as native. Experimentation leads to discovery, and it was during this time that Jeff helped design Rosenblum’s Rhône program and he isolated a Syrah yeast from the Rockpile Vineyard, where Jeff still sources Syrah from, that yeast has gone on to become one of the largest selling yeasts for wine making today. After 10 years and much success Jeff decided to leave Rosenblum in 2006 to focus his energies on his own wines.
Fast forward to today and although we have changed our name to Jeff Cohn Cellars, the focus and commitment to excellence remains the same. We continue to produce wines with a heavy Rhône influence, from Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah. Of course Jeff’s passion for Zinfandel stays strong and weaves its American influence through out the winery. We produce unique blends and special single vineyard designates from some of the best vineyards in California.
Jeff continues to bring new, innovative techniques to the production side of winemaking. These include whole cluster and whole berry fermentation, Saignée (bleeding), manual punch downs between 3-5 times a day and the use of large format barrels ranging in size from 300 - 600 liters. During fermentation we utilize multiple vessels: a 600 gallon Foudre (a giant thick walled barrel), a concrete egg for our white program and several concrete tanks for reds, these, in addition to more traditional tanks and bins. Each vessel brings out the best in each vineyard and will take a wine in a different direction then if fermented in stainless steel or barrel. Our newest addition to the fermentation family is our terra cotta amphora from Italy. We use this for a portion of our Cassata Vineyard Zinfandel; bottling it separately under the Orcio label.
The Rhône Connection - a person of passion seeks out others of passion. Thus it is no wonder after meeting Yves Gangloff, Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard and Francois Villard at Hospice du Rhône in 1998 that Jeff was compelled to work with each. They were on his bowling team and of course where there are winemakers; there are wines to be had. Each of these gentlemen from the Northern Rhône produces some of the finest Cote Rôtie, St Joseph and Condrieu wines. Together Jeff and his friends have collaborated to create some of the most innovative Rhône inspired wines to date from both California and French fruit: with Pierre, Cuvée Gaillard, Pourquoi Pas; with Francois, Boules; with Yves Gangloff, 2 Guys • 2 Barrels; and a new Rockpile Syrah project in development with Yves Cuilleron. Each of these projects has given Jeff and his French counterparts an opportunity to explore winemaking in a whole different light, with eyes wide open!
Family Ties run deep within our story. We are small and everyone lends a hand. It is our goal to honor our past and create something worthwhile for the future.
Iris, my mother, was without a doubt, one of the most wonderful people I ever knew. She was kind to a fault, always thinking of others before herself. In fact she was the one who gave us enough money to start JC Cellars (Jeff Cohn Cellars). My goal has always been to make her proud of our wines and of me. The iris on the label is a constant reminder that my mother Iris is celebrated and recognized in every wine we make.
Isabel, our oldest daughter, born on the day the Rhodes Zinfandel was coming to harvest. The perfect wine to put her name on. In fact this fruit arrived at the winery on the same day the next year. Zinfandel is the perfect wine for Isabel. She is easy going, loves to laugh and her smile lights up the room, and like any teenager she has her darker moments. The Zinfandels I produce are very similar to her. Vibrant and fresh, sunshine in a bottle, but the wine also has a dark side to it that makes it intriguing and interesting. Isabel’s name currently graces the Dusi Zinfandel wine.
Haley, our youngest daughter has been hard headed and determined from day one, insistent on doing things her own way. Yet, she too has a soft and generous side not unlike the Rockpile Syrah that carries her name. Rockpile Syrah is a wine of many layers and complexities, just like Haley.
So you ask what our story is and here you have it. Jeff Cohn is a winemaker with an immense passion for creating wines with a true sense of place, a passion that runs deep in his soul. We are an urban winery because we have a zeal for fruit that is grown in the best micro-climates from all over California and we love Alameda. It is great place to make wine, and is a huge part of what we are as a family and a winery.