Kansas winemaker Jennifer McDonald is on the fast-track to breaking the mid-west winemaking mold. The young woman made wines at home and worked on her business plan for 4 years before releasing her inaugural vintages of her Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And with the opening of her downtown Witchita winery just around the corner, she looks forward to increasing her portfolio to include Moscato, a Red Blend, a single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and even a Fruit Blend made from local Kansas produce.
McDonald calls herself a huge advocate for entrepreneurship. Her personal motto is “Have faith and never give up!”
Jenny Dawn Cellars is the product of one woman’s passion for wine and pride of place….
CEO Jennifer McDonalad has always been, what she calls, a wine connoisseur. However, her curiosity and interest went past the bottle and into the science of it. She began experimenting with at-home winemaking kits, but swiftly mastered the basics. She moved on to sourcing grapes and other fruits from local Kansas growers, continuing to make wine on a small-scale for fun. But in 2016 her wine world expanded: McDonald began sourcing grapes from some of California’s best wine regions, crafting wines that won many awards and accolades. Though her grapes come from several states away, she insists on keeping her business local to her Witchita, Kansas community.
“Jenny Dawn Cellars is excited to open its brick-and-mortar winery and tasting located at Union Station in downtown Wichita, KS in November of 2018,” says McDonald. “We will be a wine production facility, tasting room and event center.” This will be the first urban winery in downtown Wichita. The dual CEO and winemaker notes that though the city has a thriving downtown, it’s yet to see an influential wine scene. Jenny Dawn Cellars plans to be that influence. McDonald will also be the first African American female wine CEO and winemaker in the state of Kansas. “We are very proud of that fact and excited to bring diversity into the Wichita small business and wine community,” she says.
Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate this week of love I’m featuring “Perfect Partners in Wine Crime.” Looking at my wine collection, it occurred to me that many California winemakers — especially those in Northern California — who produce Pinot Noir also specialize in Chardonnay. These two grapes couldn’t be more different — from their biological make up to how vintners go about turning them into wine. (Learn more about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.) Yet, they keep coming to my door in pairs — one white, one red; one Chard, one Pinot. So this week’s experiment celebrates that, maybe even in wine, opposites do attract. Each of the producers below “specializes,” if you will, in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the exception being my New Zealand case study), so I tasted them each together within the span of an evening to see if and how these wines complemented each other.
I feel like everything Grgich Hills produces has an element of fun to it. Even their rustic Zinfandels and hearty Cabernets take the intimidation out of the Napa red wine stereotypes. But nothing says a whimsical night of wine drinking than a fumé blanc. Even the name has a bit of witticism: an accepted synonym to Sauvignon Blanc, the nickname was given to the varietal by Robert Mondavi in the 1960s — purely as a marketing gimmick. So cheers — gimmick or not — to a fun fumé by a fun producer.
I first met Randall Grahm at one of the annual Rhone Rangers events in San Francisco, after which he was kind enough to invite me to his Davenport tasting room and take me through a full line up of his — then — current releases. I was enthralled, not just with Randall’s obvious passion for wine, but his innate ability to teach about wine and pass his passion forward. That first one-on-one meeting will always be a special memory for me.
The thing about Bonny Doon Vineyard wines is that there’s, well, a lot of them — reds, whites, pinks, even oranges and more obscure colors — the common thread being Rhone varietals and Rhone-style blends. As a young winemaker, Grahm sought to recreate the great wines of France here in his native California home, but soon realized that one cannot make French wine if one is not, in fact, in France. So now the very core of his Rhone-style wines is the idea of vins de terroir — wine that speaks of its specific place and time. He’s constantly experimenting with new-to-California wine grape varieties to see if and where they’ll thrive — and if he finds a vine’s sweet spot, rest-assured a wine will soon follow. He also plays with the idea of Rhone-style blends. This eclectic mix of Iberian grapes Tempranillo and Graciano along with the well-recognized Rhone grape Grenache Blanc was, for me, a new concept — and one I couldn’t leave behind in the tasting room.