This article is part of a series highlighting the exemplary wine experiences that California has to offer, partnered by E. & J. Gallo. Check out the article series here!
For J Vineyards & Winery, storytelling has always come naturally. Founded in 1986, the first story it set out to tell was that of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. By honoring the California land where its vineyards were sown and implementing traditional winemaking techniques, J Vineyards has not only been able to craft exceptional sparkling and varietal wines but also has managed to bottle the very essence of Sonoma County. Over the last 36 years, its efforts have only increased, first by developing a five-course food and wine pairing experience that takes advantage of the abundance of local ingredients, and now by tapping other notable storytellers to share in the bounty, like chef Jenny Dorsey.
Dorsey has made it her mission to use culinary art as a statement that advocates for inclusivity in today’s world. As a Chinese-American chef and activist, she continuously upends expectations on the plate by combining unusual ingredients or making a metaphor out of the dish’s components, like baking a Chinese mooncake using traditional French techniques. She runs a nonprofit, Studio ATAO (āh-tào stands for “all together at once”), which serves as part-think tank, part-educational platform for the food industry, and she’s known for pushing the limits of what a dinner party should be.
Now, she is bringing her creative energy and passion for evolution in the food industry to J Vineyards & Winery, which will soon launch a new take on its legacy of wine and food pairing experiences in the Bubble Room, centered on the diversity of perspectives that can be shown through the culinary arts.
Dubbed “Shifting the Lens,” the limited series premieres this summer with a rotating roster of resident chefs, including Dorsey. Each chef will develop and showcase a special pairing menu for ticketed experiences in the property’s Bubble Room, a cheese pairing available in the winery’s Legacy Lounge, and a chef’s table dinner experience for one night. The latter is an opportunity for each chef to personally explain their thesis on how wine and food can change the conversation around representation in the industry.
“My mission is to use culinary arts as a platform to evoke introspection, empathy, and real emotion,” Dorsey says. “I don’t plan on being complicit with the way things are; I want to change the world with my art, even if it’s just one honest conversation at a time.”
Dorsey pulled inspiration from the J Vineyards Canfield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 for her menu. She says that she feels its versatility on the dinner menu will complement several types of dishes.
She also admits that she simply “loves every expression of Chardonnay,” particularly the J Vineyards ‘Strata’ Chardonnay 2020.
For her menu, Dorsey plans to blend culinary traditions, serving dishes like duck fat-poached oysters with raw corn juice, aromatic perilla, and peeled tomatoes in shrimp stock — which pairs with the 2020 Estate Pinot Gris — and ending the meal with a layered cake comprised of serrano peppers and iru shortbread, vanilla mousse, and mango juice jelly with an ice cream foam. That she will serve with the J Vineyards 2013 Late Disgorged Vintage Brut.
It echoes the ethos of J Vineyards and why the team is embarking on this collaborative series. The team at J Vineyards wants you to experience food the way you do wine — by understanding the people behind the meal rather than simply focusing on the sensorial experience. For them, the world of food and wine goes far beyond the ephemeral qualities of a meal; it actually allows for the discovery of and connection with other cultures, perspectives, and, of course, individuals.
“J Vineyards & Winery was founded on the premise that representation, diverse perspectives, and personal histories are essential to creating a memorable experience,” Nicole Hitchcock, the head winemaker at J Vineyards, says. “As a female-founded and led winery, inclusivity has continued to be a central part of our heritage, and we are committed to fulfilling our vital role in shaping racial and gender representation in the wine industry for generations to come.”
In addition to Dorsey, two chefs will also take up residency: James Beard Award-nominated Preeti Mistry, who was a “Top Chef” contestant and penned a recipe compilation based on their popular Oakland restaurant, Juhu Beach Club; and Shenarri Freeman, a rising star applauded for her plant-based take on Southern soul food at her New York City restaurant, Cadence.
Mistry advocates for a broader definition of what high-end cuisine is and who is considered a professional chef, especially those without a history with European cuisine. As a queer, nonbinary, first-generation Indian person, Mistry is as known for empowering women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and other minorities in the restaurant industry as much as they are for their innovative take on popular Indian street food.
“What I’d like to see change in the industry is we celebrate different types of cuisines — we celebrate different types of people,” Mistry says.
Freeman’s perspective centers largely on health and wellness, something she brings to her plant-based menus and what she plans to do with her pairing dinners at J Vineyards. A vegan herself, Freeman draws from her years as a holistic researcher, education in physical therapy, and experience with various cultural food traditions from her travels when she approaches her dishes. At Cadence, she serves a buffalo oyster mushroom sandwich with “buttermilk ranch” and a pretzel bun, as well as a cornbread covered in sage maple syrup — all plant-based. Which, if you know Southern food, replacing ingredients like butter and lard is quite the challenge.
She simultaneously fills you with healthy food while piquing your culinary curiosity. J Vineyards wants to showcase that plant-based cuisine belongs in the upper echelon of dining as much as traditional creamy sauces and luxurious cuts of meat.
Even the chefs are excited to see what the others develop as part of this program — and how they design for the crowd-pleasing wines. The hope is that guests will depart with a clearer understanding of complicated issues in the industry as well as ideas for how to think outside of their normal boxes while cooking at home. Plus, of course, the versatility of J Vineyards’ wines.
“Seeing this kind of variety of what is possible and being inspired by the wine is really fun,” Dorsey adds. “Guests can come to all three residencies [and] walk away inspired to try new things in their own kitchens.”
The residencies kick off July 7 with Dorsey and run through Oct. 9, with the end of Freeman’s takeover. Click here for more information.
This article is sponsored by J Vineyards & Winery.