A winemaker to watch, Jaclynn made her dream a reality and launched her own brand in 2013. She’s since been making award-winning, 90+ rated wines from the finest quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit of the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. As a family-focused brand, she appreciates the opportunity to source from family-owned vineyards including Bacigalupi and Robert’s Road. Working with trusted families, seeing and tasting the fruit first hand is where it all starts for Jaclynn.
An opportunity to move back to her home state Texas allowed Jaclynn to make wine for her own label in Sonoma, as well as become a winemaker at Driftwood Estate Winery in Driftwood, TX.
Read the interview below to learn more about Winemaker Jaclynn van Sant-Downes.
Interview by Jeff Cope of Texas Wine Lover
What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Winemaking was actually my first career. I graduated from Texas Tech in 2007 and 3 days after graduating, I moved out to Sonoma County, Ca for my first winery internship and fell in love with it the first week and knew it was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I also was fortunate enough with the support of my family to start my own wine label out in Cali in 2013 called Jaclynn Renee Wines and am still making that out there along with my Winemaker position at Driftwood Estate Winery here in the Tx Hill Country.
What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
The weather! I mean I was born and raised in Houston, Tx and am no stranger to crazy weather, but throw that in with grape growing and winemaking and it has its own set of challenges. I also moved back and started my first TX vintage last year in 2021 right after a really bad freeze, so that has had its challenges with replants and lower grape yields in the vineyard here, but it has been a great learning experience too. We know getting into this business that we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so we just have to adjust as we go and grow and learn from each experience.
Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Definitely both. I use the chemistry and numbers in all of my winemaking decisions, but it comes down to smelling/tasting everything when making those final decisions in the vineyard and also in the winemaking process each step of the way. I am constantly tasting and perfecting as I go and use the numbers as a guide. I loved science and art growing up, so I am lucky I get to use both everyday in winemaking.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I think so far my all-time favorite food and wine pairing is a really good Russian River Pinot Noir (Jaclynn Renee Russian River Pinot Noir from Bacigalupi Vineyards) J or Red Burgundy and Pork belly!! Soooo good. Like a match made in Heaven.
If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Good question… I think I would do something in athletics like be a volleyball coach or personal trainer.
What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
Well, funny story. I have my amazing Aunt Robin to thank for getting me into the industry. When I was at TTU, I like many broke college students drank White Zinfandel out of a box (I cannot believe I am admitting that! LOL). And during my last semester of College my Aunt was opening a wine bar and had me over to her house to taste the most amazing European and California wines and really helped me start to develop my palate. I was in my last week of summer school before graduation and she called me and said, hey I got you an internship at a winery in California and you are going and the rest was history. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to then, but fell in love with it immediately. I have been making wine the last 15 years… 13 vintages in California and this year will be my second vintage in Texas as the winemaker at Driftwood Estate Winery and I am loving it.
What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
I think the most asked question especially as a female wine maker is, are you really the winemaker and are you sure you can drive the forklift?… Um, YES I am, and Heck yes I can!
After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
After those long days I usually like to go home, take an Epsom salt bath and then snuggle with my two little ones and husband and watch a movie in bed.
What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I think one of the greatest parts about being a winemaker is getting to make a product from vine to bottle and be a part of the whole process. We get to work outside with Mother Nature and have our hands in the soil and then be a part of that vines life every step of the way and then make it into a beautiful wine. Also, not every vintage is the same, so we get to use our knowledge and craft to adjust for those not so great years and curveballs along the way and learn from them. It’s pretty incredible and I feel lucky every day to have found something I love and am so passionate about.
What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
My main goal is to make a clean and well balanced wine. If you know me or have tasted any of my wines you will know, but the most common comment I hear is that my wines are very well balanced and have precision. I am a perfectionist in some aspects and I think it definitely carries over in my winemaking style.
Winemaker Jaclynn Renee van Sant-Downes of Jaclynn Renee Wines joins us to talk about the activities ahead of harvest in Sonoma.
Wines we will taste at this event:
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Inspired by her aunt, a wine bar owner in Texas, Jaclynn took only three days after her graduation from Texas Tech, then immediately headed to Sonoma for her first wine internship in 2007. She quickly realized she was quite good at manual labor and figured out the first week that she wanted to do it forever.Read More