Don’t let the magnitude of Jones of Washington Vineyard and Winery fool you. With vineyards spread about a 45-mile radius from Quincy to Mattawa, and the winery housed inside an expansive custom bulk winery, everything seems large-scale. But it’s a hands-on, family-run operation that focuses on quality and bringing out the best in its grapes and wines.
The Jones story starts with Jack Jones who moved to Washington’s Columbia Valley as a child in 1954. In the early 1950s, and even through the 1970s, the Columbia Basin represented opportunity, with plentiful water from the Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project and loess soils suitable for a wide variety of crops. Jack’s father grew potatoes and other field crops and built a successful fresh potato storage and packing operation.
When Jack began farming, he diversified beyond field and row crops to plant his first tree fruit orchards in the early 1980s. “In the mid-1990s, I was thinking about expanding again,” he said, adding that he was pretty well settled in the potato deal. He considered expanding his apple and cherry acreage, but with interest in wine grapes running high in the state, he planted his first vineyard in 1997 and hasn’t stopped yet. Through the years, he also vertically integrated some of the farming operations, building a cold storage facility for tree fruit and adding a winery for the grapes.
The Jones farming operation is about as family as a farming business can get. Two sons, Greg and Jeff, are involved (Jeff with potatoes and row crops, Greg focused on the grape and wine side) and daughter Megan helped develop and launch the winery and tasting room. Another daughter is not involved with the family farm. Additionally, Jack is a partner with his brother Mike in some farming aspects, such as the potato processing business and a large orchard.
Today, Greg manages more than 1,000 acres of wine grapes. Planting has been continuous, and he has another 60 acres of Riesling to finish planting near Quincy next year. Then, he hopes to take a break from vineyard planting—maybe. Jack is a planner, and always seems to have another project in mind for Greg to implement.
Most of their white varieties are grown near Quincy in the proposed Ancient Lakes American Viticultural Area, while the red varieties are planted near Mattawa in the Wahluke Slope AVA. Whites have proven to do well in the silty loam, glacial soils near Quincy, which is a cooler area than Wahluke.
Red varieties on the Wahluke Slope, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, have performed well in the sandy loam soils and warmer temperatures, and the region is developing a reputation for growing premium quality red varieties.
Greg’s emphasis in the vineyard is on uniform, balanced vines. His attention to detail is evident in consistent and uniform cluster size, canopy density, and vine growth. Using just one training system in the vineyards—a bilateral cordon with vertical shoot positioning—also lends to uniformity in the Jones of Washington vineyards.
Greg, who received a horticultural degree from Washington State University, monitors shoot growth during the season and uses regulated deficit irrigation on the red varieties to help control vine and canopy growth. Capacitance soil moisture sensors placed throughout the vineyards help guide his irrigation scheduling, though he still uses a shovel and visual vine observations when making irrigation decisions.
Much of their grape plantings were originally quarter sections (160 acres) of field crops grown under center pivot irrigation called circles. When circles were converted to grapes, pivots were removed and replaced with drip irrigation. About 150 acres of apples have also been converted to vineyards.
Greg recently purchased two mechanical leafers to remove leaves, opening up the canopy for disease control and creating a more uniform sun exposure on the clusters. Leaves are removed on the morning sun side, but he allows a few extra shoots on the afternoon sun side to provide “fluff” for sunburn protection. A hedger is used to trim any long, hanging shoots that may shade the canopy.
“Each year is different, but you have to have a strategy for what you’re after in the vineyard,” he said, adding that he has a targeted tonnage and quality style for each vineyard. Yields from the 2011 harvest have been better than he expected, considering last year’s November freeze and this year’s cool growing season.
In the last five years, Greg has planted trials of clones (Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon) and lesser-known varieties to see how they respond to Wahluke Slope growing conditions. His test vineyard of five-acre variety blocks are a winemaker’s dream because the quantities produced amount to about a tank full of wine, enough for serious experimentation. Most other test plots consist of a row or so of a new variety, not five acres.
Varieties under trial include Grenache, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Roussanne, Marsanne, Cinsault, Counoise, and Mourvèdre. From the trial, Greg has learned that Mourvèdre, a dark-skinned, Rhone variety, has trouble ripening in a cool year. “The other varieties are doing okay, but I would recommend not planting Mourvèdre,” he said.
Jack made his first move into winemaking in 2001, establishing the Jones of Washington winery in Quincy. He was motivated to start a winery when a handshake contract for 300 acres of grapes did not materialize, leaving him without a home for his grapes. He scrambled to find a winery for them, grateful that Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was willing to work with him on a year-by-year contract, which has subsequently developed into a long-term contract.
In the early years of Jones of Washington winery, Ron Bunnell, wine consultant from Prosser, served as winemaker and consultant. Greg worked with Bunnell in all aspects of winemaking, which has proved valuable in helping him understand what winemakers want in their grapes.
In 2008, Jack partnered with Dick Shaw, a Mattawa grower, and converted an onion and potato warehouse in Mattawa into J & S Crushing, one of the largest custom bulk wineries in the state.
Greg and Victor Palencia, current winemaker at Jones of Washington and head winemaker of J & S, work as a team in the vineyard. “Greg’s a huge asset in making decisions,” said Palencia, who joined the winery in 2008. “He understands the vine but also the flavor profiles that I’m looking for.”
Conversely, Greg said he appreciates Victor’s unique talent in bringing the berry to the bottle.