Early Mountain Vineyards welcomes new winemaker

By Posted on Dec 14 2015 | By

Native Virginian takes keys to Madison cellar

Ben Jordan is a man on the move. Or was. He’s held a host of jobs in locales as diverse as New York City and San Francisco. Now he’s circled back to Virginia for what appears to be the end of his peripatetic travels.

“I’m a Virginia boy born and bred,” Jordan said. “So there is that draw. But it’s also the draw of being part of something that is growing and finding itself.”

Indeed. Virginia wine is increasingly recognized nationally for its quality. The industry is at a stage similar to the early years of Napa Valley. It’s an exhilarating time for a talented winemaker.

Ben Jordan

Ben Jordan

“It’s a lot more exciting and interesting to be one of the people that gets to decide what works and what doesn’t. At Early Mountain, with its state-of-the-art cellar facility and focus on quality, it’s a great opportunity,” Jordan said.

The winery has 55 acres of grapes under vine—predominately Bordeaux varieties—producing 6,000 cases of wine a year. With the emphasis on quality, production will top out at no more than 10,000 cases.

The cellar employs a gravity fed system enabling wine transfer to occur throughout the production process with minimum pumping and oxygen exposure. There are 40 stainless steel tanks and 250 oak barrels in use. French oak predominates because of its delicate impact on wine.

Country boy
Jordan, 39, was born in Staunton and raised as a young child on the Middle River in Augusta County near the family farm he regularly visited. He later attended Duke University studying biology and screenwriting. Upon graduation he moved to San Francisco.

Screenwriting was his first love and he returned east to attend Carnegie Mellon University earning a Master of Fine Arts degree.

After graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in screenwriting. He worked at a wine shop while trying to establish a career as a playwright because “Nobody pays playwrights.”

His job selling wine sparked a serious interest in the beverage and he returned to San Francisco to work for a wine wholesaler and retailer.

“I got to know a lot of California winemakers, mostly boutique, and got to know them very well. I told them I wanted to learn what they were doing,” Jordan said.

Their advice was to do the actual work so he signed on as a volunteer during harvest at a winery. His talent was obvious and he was soon offered a job working both sales and winemaking.

From there Jordan went on to other wineries, making Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley and a variety of wines in Sonoma. Screenwriting began to fade into the background.

Homeward bound
Realizing what was unfolding in Virginia, Jordan secured a job with Michael Shaps, owner of Virginia Wineworks in Charlottesville. Shaps is a respected winemaker who produces both his own wines and wines for other Old Dominion wineries.

Jordan became Shaps winemaker in 2012. “That job was my first real exposure to Virginia. I got to see much of the state. It was a terroir boot camp,” said Jordan, referring to the distinctiveness created by where the fruit is grown.

Early Mountain Vineyards

Early Mountain Vineyards

“I made more wine there in a year than most winemakers make in five years. It was very educational.”
Because of his wide ranging contacts established at Virginia Wineworks, Jordan was offered a job at Early Mountain.

“That’s the cool thing about Virginia. It’s more of a colleague thing than a competition thing. There’s a lot of sharing of information. Everybody is still figuring it out. You ask each other questions.

“Virginia is exciting. I could have stayed in California and made a career there” but he chose to come home and devote himself to the state of his birth.

Family vineyard
In addition to his full-time employment at Early Mountain, Jordan’s father owns a five acre vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley that he and his brother Timothy manage. Timothy Jordan is Michael Shaps vineyard manager so he comes with his own wine bona fides.

There are plans to establish a family labeled wine at some point in the future.

And who knows, someday Ben Jordan may also pen a screenplay on the fascinating world of Virginia wine.


John’s pick of the month

Early Mountain Vineyards

2013 Reserve Chardonnay


With the holiday season upon us, chardonnay is a go to wine that complements a wide variety of foods from roast turkey to veal and pork. This 2013 rendition from Early Mountain is unique in that 15% petit manseng is blended in to brighten its acidity and aromatics. The delicate, even risky, technique of wild fermentation was employed to add further depth to an already big wine.

Aged on its lees (spent yeast cells) for nine months in predominately new oak and bottled without fining and filtering, a glass of this chardonnay is a fine example of one of the world’s most popular wines.


Published in the November 12, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES