Ever since James Thurston Judd’s great-grandfather planted grapes on his Utah ranch and started quietly making wine for the Mormon Church, farming and wine have been Judd family traditions.
But after leaving Utah more than 50 years ago to pursue business opportunities in a wide range of industries, Judd thought farming was forever behind him. That was until 10 years ago, when faced with retirement and a decision about what to do with the future of his 80-acre apple farm and cattle ranch in San Miguel.
“None of the family wanted to do apples, and they weren’t that crazy about cattle, either,” Judd remembers. “So we said, ‘What are we going to put on here?’ ” His wife, Janis, offered a suggestion: “Why don’t we do grapes? There are grapes all around us now, so that must mean something!”
“So we started back in the grape business,” Judd explained. Judd Family Wines now has over 115 acres of grapes planted on two properties: the original ranch in San Miguel, and a 640-acre ranch in Shandon. Along with his son, James Brian, and winemaker Steve Anglim, Judd is producing close to 15,000 cases of wine under four different labels. And until last year, they were juggling production between five different winery facilities. “It became very difficult, and we said we have to have our own winery,” Judd said.
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Last year, Judd opened his new winery, and just three months ago, his new tasting room. So much for retirement for this 70-year old dynamo.
The Judd tasting room is located on the San Miguel property, at the north end of the Paso Robles appellation, and far from the 46 East stretch of vineyards and tasting rooms. While admitting the location is remote, Judd said they took that into consideration in their planning.
“It is a concern to us, but quite frankly, we’ve done better than our business plan even called for.”
The recent Harvest Weekend in Paso Robles proved that people would find them, with customers swamping them for carnitas and mariachi music. That weekend was also the introduction of the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, a new route that connects seven of the far northside wineries, much as the Paso 46 Wineries connects the wineries on the west side and the Back Road Wineries connects the far east side.
Along with Judd, the Pleasant Valley group includes Cinquain Cellars, Ranchita Canyon Vineyard, Riverstar Vineyards, Silver Horse Winery, Tackitt Family Vineyards, and the yet-to-be-opened Villa San Juliette. The new 12-mile trail is now marked with directional signs for those unfamiliar with the Estrella area.
Most local consumers are unfamiliar with the Judd Family brands. They are not in any local retailers or restaurants. In fact, they have no California distributor at all, and are distributed mostly on the East Coast under four different labels, including James Judd & Son, A Cellar Full of Noise, Vintage Flight and Juliet Fiero, named after his daughter. Yet even with this limited distribution, they oversold their inventory their first four years, and having enough supply for their wine club and the new tasting room is a priority. Yet planting more vines is not a current option for them, Judd explained, due to water constraints and the uncertain economy.
“We’ll watch and see what happens,” he said. “We’re not in any super hurry to go any faster than we are until we’re really sure this is what we want to do.”
Judd, who still maintains a home in the Bay Area, said all of his work on the vineyard and winery is really for his grandchildren. Judd and his son, who also still lives in San Francisco and has a very successful comedy act he performs there and around the world, see the vineyard as a family heirloom. Judd hopes his two teenage granddaughters will one day take it into the future.
Judd Family wines
2850 Ranchita Canyon Road, San Miguel, 467-2891
Owners: James Judd and family
Winemaker: Steve Anglim
Cases produced: 13,000 in 2008
Varietals: Cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, zinfandel, tempranillo, barbera, malbec.
Online: www.juddfamilywines.com and www.pleasantvalleywinetrail.com
Janis Switzer can be reached at 434-5394 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.