Jeff’s inquisitive mind and thoughtful approach to winemaking are just two of the many reasons he’s the ideal leader to shepherd the Williams Selyem wine program into the future. As a young man he knew he was different from his peers when, on wine tasting trips, he was less interested in the breathtaking views and decadent meals and far more consumed with why the wines taste the way they do.
His desire to discover the “why” was more than passing curiosity, and he left his career as a medical research scientist to enroll in the Winemaking program and the University of California at Davis.
This was hardly a capricious decision. In fact, before he made this radical transition, he was applying his Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Washington in his career as a research scientist in Seattle. In his spare time, he was immersed in the Washington State wine culture, diligently sampling wines from each region to learn as much as he could about this diverse enological destination. When his career took him to New York, he unearthed yet another layer in his love of wine: pairing wines with fresh, impeccably prepared cuisine.
During this time, Jeff also frequented the wine regions of France. His scientific roots, his desire to untangle the process of making wine and his ongoing drive to understand every facet of winegrowing ran wild. He traveled the Burgundy and Bordeaux countryside in order to understand how place and climate can create subtle variations in the flavor and complexity of a bottle of wine. Officially in the throes of a fervent passion for all things wine, Jeff was inspired to transform his hobby into his career.
After obtaining his Master of Science in Enology, Jeff delved into his first harvest at Artesa Vineyards. Soon after, he was appointed Assistant Winemaker at Dutton-Goldfield and he found himself entrenched in the seductive world of cool climate Pinot Noir. From there, he assumed the role of Winemaker at Hartford Family Winery, specializing in Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations.
As Winemaker at Williams Selyem, Jeff is still asking “why,” and he’s coupled this intriguing question with another: “How do we coax the ultimate expression out of each vintage?” He pored over Burt Williams’s winemaking notes in order to ensure that he maintained Williams’s emphasis on textural elements while maintaining over 100 separate lots and crafting more than 33 wines per vintage. His style is middle ground: the acids are never too low, the fruit is never too ripe. He looks for a polished tannic profile, supple mouthfeel and longevity that’s very true to place. In addition, he’s very hands on with growers, frequently visiting the vineyards and working with growers on irrigation, as well as emphasizing the importance of cluster count, vine rows, spacing, how many pounds per plant and picking times.
Precision is key to his process, and it’s a mindset that not only comes naturally to Jeff, but one that he has continually perfected through persistent study, meticulous attention to detail and enthusiastic pursuit of excellence. On his days off, you’ll find Jeff in his garden, gathering fresh ingredients for a family meal paired with Williams Selyem wines. If you’re ever lucky enough to be invited, Jeff will be delighted to explain why Williams Selyem wines continue to earn their place in the hearts of wine lovers around the world. If anyone knows, he does.
Jeff is a panelist for the Blurring Boundaries: Burgundy and the New World seminar on Saturday, March 4, from 9:30 am - 11:30 am.