The Story of our J Cole Blend
And the One Named Celebrity of Healdsburg
James and I are often asked why we didn’t name our company Blanchard Brothers Wines, instead of Blanchard Family Wines. After all, we are the sole founders and owners. However, we know in our hearts that from the beginning there has been an entire network of friends and family members that have helped us make this continued dream come true. None more vital and important than our winemaker, mentor and craftsman, Healdsburg’s own Renaissance man, Jene.
I first met Jene in 2007 while I was working at a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. Jene’s best friend Karl lived in an apartment upstairs in the same building, and the two of them would frequent the tasting room. I took an instant liking to both of them, because they were charming, older veterans of the community and wine industry. My belief is they took a liking to me, because I gave them free wine tastings and discounts. Eventually these gentlemen befriended me enough to start inviting me upstairs to dinner parties with their wives and other friends.
I soon realized that Jene was quite an interesting individual, a jack of all trades sort of guy. He was in construction, he could build or fix about anything, he was one hell of a chef, and he even made his own wine. His label was called J Cole. “J” for Jene, and “Cole” was actually his mother’s maiden name. So why didn’t he use his own last name? Well, after months of knowing Jene, I realized I didn’t even know his last name. And despite the fact that most of the town of Healdsburg seems to know Jene personally, almost no one knows his last name. It’s like when a celebrity is so famous, they can be known simply by one name, like Madonna, Oprah, or Prince. He is simply known as Jene, and if you ask anyone around Healdsburg, they will have nothing but good things to say about him.
When James and I started forming the plan to create Blanchard Family Wines, we knew we could not do it alone. We needed someone who knew the local industry, someone with a strong reputation, someone who knew how to stretch a budget, and someone who would mentor me in winemaking. We needed Jene. I can recall it clearly, the day I sat down with Jene and Karl in the Healdsburg town square. I enthusiastically tried to sell them on the idea that James and I were very serious about wanting to make wine and just needed help. Keep in mind that they has never met James, we had no real business plan yet, and I was basically just pitching a pipe dream to them. But I’ll never forget when Karl turned to Jene with a smile and said, “Hell, what do you say Jene, want to help the kid out?”
As it turned out, Karl owned a little vineyard property just outside of downtown and he sold us our first ton of grapes, which of course Jene helped me turn into our first vintage of wine. The original plan was that he would help me make Blanchard Family Wines and I would assist him in making J Cole wines. It was a perfect deal. But he did so much more than that really. He taught me winemaking and viticulture, he loaned us thousands of dollars in equipment we couldn’t afford, and he introduced me to countless professional connections in the community. It became clear that when doing business in the Healdsburg area, all I had to do was to mention one phrase, “I’m working with Jene.” Immediately I was taken seriously, given respect and treated as a legitimate member of the wine industry.
Shortly after our first harvest began, James and his wife Sylvia came to visit, partially to witness what I was doing with my big brother’s business investment, and partly to meet this guy Jene that I had been telling them about. After one dinner with Jene I remember Sylvia pulling me aside and saying, “Jene is amazing. So don’t screw it up!!” It was now clear to them what I had known all along, that Jene’s advice, guidance, connections, and over all generosity was priceless to our company.
Now Jene’s wine label J Cole was always a passionate project, but never a full time job. He received high acclaim for his wines, won numerous awards, but always supported himself as a full time construction foreman. Jene is among many things, a humble individual. He truly loves making wine, everything about it in fact, but doesn’t care about the attention or recognition. So it wasn’t long into the partnership that we created, that Jene made the decision to throw in the towel on his J Cole label, and simply be a part of Blanchard Family Wines. We actually had the discussions over burritos after a long day of winemaking work, when he said, “You know what, I’m in. Let’s do this together. I don’t care whose name is on the bottle. I just want to make good wine.”
This was of course the most selfless sacrifice anyone could have made for us as a company. I’m not totally sure if the impact of the gesture really sunk it right away for us either. I mean, it’s our names on the bottles, our pictures on the webpage, James and I get much of the glory of owning a winery. And yet we could never have done any of it without Jene. James and I knew that a simple thank you wasn’t enough. Buying Jene dinner and saying, “appreciate it buddy!” wasn’t going to cut it. We had to somehow pay tribute to Jene in a way that let him know how much we truly recognized all that he had done for us. We had to bring back the J Cole. So we set out to create a J Cole label within Blanchard Family Wines, a wine that would serves as a thank you letter, a tribute, and a homage to this amazing man that took me under his wing all these years.
The tricky part was making this all a surprise for him. James and I worked with our graphic designer to create a label that represented the style of his old J Cole labels, while also serving as a tribute story. Jene and I created a fantastic blend for the bottle, all the while me not letting Jene know what the blend was going to be called. Then one day we were approached by the amazing webpage called Cellar Angels to be a featured winery for their site. Cellar Angels actually films short videos of their featured wineries, and focuses on one particular wine and story for each segment. James realized this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the J Cole to the world.
The night before the crew was scheduled to come film us, Jene came by the winery to see me. He said, “Mark, we’re filming tomorrow right?” I responded, “Yup, crew should be here in the morning.” Jene continued, “Well Mark, what the hell are we talking about? You haven’t told me the theme of the segment. You haven’t even told me what wine we are featuring yet. If I’m expected to be in front of the camera, I kind of need to know these things. “
I realized that there would never be a more perfect time. I walked into my office, grabbed a completely finished and labeled bottle of the new J Cole wine and put of the bar in front of Jene. I said, “This is the wine we are featuring. And what are we going to be talking about? Well… we are going to talk about you.” Jene and I had a moment, the kind of moment that only two grown men trying to hide emotion can have. Not a whole else needed to me said though. And maybe there are no real words to express our gratitude for Jene. Maybe there was only one way to truly show our appreciation, our admiration and our love for Jene. It had to be in a bottle of wine.
You can watch this short video on our webpage of course. It still gets me a little choked up thinking about it. And obviously Jene is still making wine with us, still fixing things when they break, and still helping us make our dream come true. And he still hates the fact that we put his last name on the back label of J Cole. You’ll just have to get a bottle to find out what it is. He prefers to simply be known as Jene.