Globetrotting winemaker offers Kiwi in a glass


lchaim_Goose Bay_2013_reserve_fumeOne of the best parts of being a scribbler on wine and spirits is the opportunity it affords me to interview the folks who make this stuff. Recently, I spoke with winemaker and businessman Phil Jones of the Goose Bay (New Zealand) and Pacifica (Washington state) kosher wines.

A former researcher, consultant and an expert in integrated pest management and sustainability in agriculture, Jones has been making wines for decades.

He was born in England to a French father and British mother. “Dad always drank wine at dinner. Always. It’s just something I was brought up with,” he says.

In the early 1950s, Jones’ parents moved the family to Canada and later to California. Jones was 8 when they settled in the Bay Area, in Sunnyvale.

“In the Santa Clara Valley back then, the electronics industry was just coming in,” he says. Back then “it was still mostly all orchards. That’s what got my love of agriculture going.”

Before turning to wine professionally, Jones started and ran an agricultural consulting company in Fresno, Calif.

“It dealt with the EPA and state government,” he explains. “We did a lot of agricultural research” and ecological impact studies. The company grew to 100 employees, and then, at age 40, Jones got restless. His wife, Sheryl, was expecting their first child, and the stress of running the business was getting to him. “Finally, I guess I burned out,” he says.

Meanwhile, the couple had visited New Zealand and quickly fell in love with the place. “I said, ‘Let’s get rid of the business. Let’s sell it and go to New Zealand,’” Jones says. “That’s just what we did.”

Jones planted vineyards and in 1990 began the Spencer Hill Estates winery, named after the couple’s first son. Their first vintage was 1994, and by 1996 they were gaining international critical praise. By 2000, the company was expanding to accommodate demand, and Jones began to explore other avenues for growth. He heard about the kosher market, saw an opportunity, connected with Nathan Herzog of the kosher Royal Wine Corp., and that’s how Goose Bay came about.

The success of the kosher side of his business, now 35 percent of his output, led him to make his Washington State winery, Evan’s Vineyard, named for his second son, a fully kosher operation.

“I’m not interested in doing non-kosher,” Jones explains. “There are 1,200 wineries up in the northwest. Why do I want to compete with them?”

His kosher focus is starting to pay off, and both Pacifica and Goose Bay seem to be doing well. And at 67, he has no intention of slowing down his hemisphere-hopping wine adventure. “It’s all about health and passion, and I’m lucky to have both still for now,” he says.

So as spring arrives, it’s his typically lovely and reliable Kiwi wines that command my attention.

Goose Bay, Reserve Fume, Oak Aged Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, 2013 ($24): Bright and dry, with a lovely fruity bouquet of oranges, mangos, kiwi fruits and honeysuckle, and a whiff of sweet oak, followed by favors of oranges, lemons, gooseberries, peaches and nectarines. This zippy, flavorful and refreshing warm-weather sipper isn’t yet tired, but do drink up as it’s not meant to hang around much longer. The light touch of oak makes for a lovely, subtle, California-style of what is otherwise unmistakably Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. L’chaim!

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