Family is defined not by bloodline or genes, but of unconditional love and respect. Mark Blanchard and his brother, James, call their winery Blanchard Family Wines for just that reason. It isn’t a winery confined of two brothers, but of a colloquial family made up of the close friendships the Blanchard brothers have created with the community. Jene, especially, Mark says, is a huge part of the Blanchard Family. He dove right in to help steer the Blanchard brothers in the right direction when they were a little lost starting their first winery.
Meeting with Mark first, I could hear the admiration he has for Jene in his voice. Everything but a physical description, Mark portrayed his beloved friend Jene. “Every part of the winery was touched by Jene,” Mark explains, “the wine shelf, the display table, the ‘jungle gym,’ and the wine.”
The “jungle gym” is a structure Jene was gifted from a winery (which he replicated twice for other wineries) for crush – a little scary looking at first but genius nonetheless. This structure is Jene’s first prototype, the first of three used by other local wineries. When it was replaced by the Jene replicate, Mark was obliged to have inherited it.
“Jene is handy like that. He’s part winemaker, part architect, part handyman, part florist, part financer – basically everything,” broods Mark.
Mark confesses that Jene is the best part about the winery. Everything is up and running and the winery flourishing because of him. And everyone knows him. He is a name among the wine industry. Winemakers and winery owners know him because of his handy skills and his knowledge to stay under budget whilst exceeding your expectations. Mark explains that he holds a winemaker dinner every year back in his hometown of Illinois for wine club members and knowing Jene becomes a sort of bragging right.
Mark tries his best imitation of Jene’s admirers:
“Oh, you don’t know Jene? Well, I know Jene. It’s kind of a big deal.”
Meeting with Jene finally proved all the hype justified. A humble and rugged craftsman who sat with poise as he shyly gave a glimpse of his life, Jene sat on his porch that overlooked the vineyards he is now managing. Jene, a master budgeter, is always on the hunt for a deal. That’s how he started to manage the vineyards on Limerick Lane. He cut a deal with the owner to trade his services for managing the vineyard. Inexpensive yet impressive – Mark opened the first vintage of this delicious old vine Zinfandel so we could taste the fruit of Jene’s nutriment.
Jene found his passion for wine when he was building a house on a 2-acre vineyard of Syrah. Jene was given the grapes from the property owner and it started a love affair, especially with Syrah, which is Jene’s favorite wine to make. With Jene’s best college buddy, Karl, they opened a garage with full equipment to continue their winemaking passion.
Even to this day, though, Jene shares his admiration with the beauty and delicacy of flowers. Jene was a florist as a kid and remembers selling 2-cent fancies. When Jene started his own label J.Cole, dedicated after his mother Joanne Cole, he still coveted his love in floral. Plush with wine, Jene would trade his bottles for fresh cut flowers to decorate his home or winery events.
A man of many talents and involved in many trades sat across from me without much to say about himself, but as the stories came pouring out he showed his playful character. An occasional prankster and ruffian, Jene recalled old friends and the time he beat up on Charlie Palmer (playfully, of course).
Jene’s passion for wine is apparent, but his dedication to the Blanchard Family label is more than just passion, it is friendship and family. As the label suggests, it is all about the family and Jene is indeed at the heart of it. The Blanchard brothers had a batch of wine, made by Jene, secretly stored and bottled without Jene’s knowledge for the sake of honoring his dedication. The wine is dedicated to his retired label J.Cole with a touching discourse of Jene’s importance to the brothers, and a mouthwatering product at that.
The unity of Mark and Jene proves to be a special bond of camaraderie. The two of them embody the essence of family, which is obvious in their presence and shines through in their winemaking. A trip to their tasting room while in Healdsburg is a must. Only then can the special personalities of this duo be experienced. Come for the company and stay for a tour of the chalkboard barrel cellar and crushing facility with the “jungle gym.” Of course, wine will be mandatory when becoming part of the Blanchard Family – so enjoy that too.