John Jordan, CEO of Jordan Vineyard & Winery, was born on May 25th 1972 – the same year his parents bought a parcel of land in Healdsburg, in California’s Alexander Valley. His parents knew nothing about wine (his father was in the oil business) but they’d fallen in love with French wine and hoped to replicate in California some of what made the French wine regions special. Seven years after buying the land, Jordan’s parents moved the family from Colorado and created the Jordan Winery in Sonoma County’s world-class wine region.
As a young boy Jordan loved creating model airplanes, and as a teenager, he wanted to learn to fly. By the time he left boarding school for college, he’d earned several aviation credentials. Graduating from Occidental College, Los Angeles in 1995 with an economics degree, Jordan went on to earn both his law degree from Santa Rosa’s Empire College School of Law and his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of San Francisco in 2002.
After passing the California Bar, Jordan joined a Santa Rosa law firm, and two years later he opened his own private firm focusing on marital law and civil litigation. When he was just 33 years old, Jordan’s father asked him to take over the winery. Jordan, who always knew that wine would be part of his future, moved back to the Sonoma County property and spent the next four years transforming the winery’s facilities, business practices and culture to address the competitive pressures of the wine business in the 21st century.
Committed to preserving the foundation on which his parents had successfully built the brand, Jordan has re-energised and elevated the winery’s relentless commitment to quality in every aspect of the business, from championing new fruit-sourcing and implementing energy-efficient roofs and solar arrays, to recycling water. In 2010, he co-founded a software company, Labrador Omnimedia Inc, which specialises in digital wine list solutions for restaurants.
Jordan is also a philanthropist, and in 2012, he created the John Jordan Foundation to increase educational opportunities for the disadvantaged, combat the negative health effects of poverty, and encourage entrepreneurship through mentoring and microloans. The foundation has aided more than 80 educational and vocational programmes in California and touched hundreds of thousands of children.
He speaks German and Russian, and serves as a professor at the Empire College School of Law.
Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I don’t think I gave it a lot of thought. I was always one of those young people that made the decision to try to rack up as many credentials as I could so I would be in a position to be whatever I wanted.
Q: You were seven when your parents came to Sonoma with no experience in wine. How did they think they were going to succeed in creating a winery?
A: Well, at the time, the wine industry was very young in California and most wines were made in Napa. They thought there would be a market for one emphasising balance in the true Bordeaux tradition and they were proven correct.
Q: When you were only 17, you began earning all your ratings: Private Pilot Certificate, Commercial Pilot Certificate with Instrument and Multi-Engine Ratings, and type ratings in Gulfstream and Citation aircraft. You later earned an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. Is that normal for a 17-year-old kid?
A: You don’t get them all at once – it takes years. I started when I was 17, but by the time I was finished, I was 23 and had finished college.
Q: Did you plan to be a pilot? Or was this you trying to rack up various things?
A: I was trying to rack up various things. I never thought that I was going to be a pilot for a living.
Q: You graduated in 1995 from Occidental College in LA with an Economics degree. Why Economics?
A: It’s a mathematically based discipline and it is a good basis for any number of professional pursuits.
Q: And in 2002, you received both your law degree and an MBA degree at two different universities. When did you have time to breathe?
A: Well, I was working when I was in law school too. I was doing my clerkship, my law internship.
Q: So you next worked for two years at the law firm with whom you had clerked, and two years later, opened your own private law firm in Sonoma?
A: Yes. Also during that time I was commissioned as an Officer in the Naval Reserve where I did some logistics and then, later, intelligence – that was the only place I could go where somebody called me ‘sir’ without adding, “We are going to have to ask you to leave!”
Q: Then, a year later you left your thriving law practice to oversee day-to-day operations for the family winery. How did that happen? Did your father ask you to do it?
A: He asked me to do it and then I acquired the winery in 2006.
Q: What changes did you make when you did come in?
A: We created a number of things. We launched a product quality improvement programme. The brand equity that Jordan had had in the 80s was geared toward the baby boomer generation and they were getting older, so we wanted to replace those customers and make Jordan relevant to a different generation. A big part of that was a heavy emphasis on social media and storytelling. We also revamped and improved our visitor experience.
Q: I understand there is an elegant chateau on the property, offering one of the best tastings in California. Did you change anything about that?
A: We thoroughly overhauled the visitor experience here. The building is still the same. We did some modifications to the site and now we welcome visitors by appointment. We have a variety of experiences: tastings, tour tasting and during the summer or fall, a half-day estate tour and food and wine during evenings throughout the property.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
A: It varies. I write for Fox and as well as other political publications; and I’m a part-time talking head on TV and radio. I also have a software company, and a number of business interests beside the winery, so each day is different. The winery is interesting because there are so many things that go on here in a typical day, everything from chefs to culinary to overnight hospitality with visitors, official media, to production, farming and accounting – there are so many different functions here, so each day is unlike the one that precedes it.
Q: You founded a technology company that specialises in digital wine list solutions for restaurants. Can you talk about the wine list app?
A: It is called TasteVin and it allows restaurant operators who otherwise would have to constantly reprint wine lists and change them to not have to do that. Moreover it allows the sommelier to suggest further wine pairings. It basically allows the sommelier be at every table. The presentation of food and wine is highly customisable by the restaurant operator. It has POS (point of sale integration) and, for example, if you want to change the wine list, the food and beverage manager can change what appears on the wine list on his or her iPhone or iPad without having to reprint a list – and it syncs to all of the iPads in the entire restaurant within five minutes.
Q: So is there an iPad sitting at each table?
A: Yes. It is a replacement for a wine list for use by the guest.
Q: And what is the culture of Jordan Winery?
A: I endeavour to wring the office politics out of everything. So if you see that a decision that I or one of your co-workers have made is wrong and you don’t say anything, you are accountable.
Q: Where do you see Jordan Winery in ten years?
A: Right here in Alexander Valley. It’s not possible for us to make more wine out of the existing facility. So, basically I just see Jordan continuing its ongoing quest to continually improve our core product and continue to ensure our visitor experience is the industry standard.
Q: And do you intend to add more visitor experiences in the future?
A: Maybe. You never know. I mean I am a very creative guy. There is nothing on the drawing boards right now but that can change very rapidly.
Q: You also speak German and Russian. How did you happen to learn Russian?
A: As a child, when I had nannies, and then in college. I have German friends and Russian friends, so every week I use these languages for something.
Q: You are Professor at the Empire College of Law?
A: I teach part time there.
Q: What about some of your other businesses?
A: I am on the board of several other companies. I also write some Op Ed pieces.
Q: What is your management style?
A: Basically I try to get the best out of each person every day. A leader that has to shout, intimidate and bully employees has already failed as a leader. A really good leader is somebody that extracts the very best in creativity and effort in those he works with.
Q: You said, “It’s not enough to do well as a business; you must also do good.” What did you mean by that?
A: It is one thing to be successful and it is another thing for your life to have meaning. It is a privilege to be successful; and it is important to turn the blessings that you have been given into blessings for many.
Q: In 2012 you created the John Jordan Foundation. Can you talk about that?
A: What we try to do is address socio-economic mobility. For example, obviously there are segments of our society that have limited socio-economic possibilities; we run the risk of having an underclass in this country. What we try to do is address that by providing opportunities, for example, everything from enrichment opportunities in lower income schools, pediatric dental care – believe it or not that is a big issue – and of course, bringing technology into classrooms.
Q: You own a G3?
A: A G3 and a TBM 900.
Q: How often do you use the G3 and why?
A: I use the G3 often for longer range trips and also for customers during the summer and fall. I’ll go to different cities and bring an airplane load full of food and beverage managers and other customers back to the winery. I bring them here to immerse them in all things Jordan, and hopefully make a few friends along the way.
Q: When did you buy your G3?
A: In 2006.
Q: If you were due for an upgrade for your existing jet, which OEM and which model would you most likely choose?
A: It would be a G4.
Q: Is this something you are considering?
A: Down the road – you never know. What really holds me back from the G4 is you have to have a type rating for every jet. And school for a G4 takes three weeks; that’s a big hole in my life, schedule-wise.
Q: Have you refurbished your G3 in any way?
A: We did the interior and we had to do the hush kits.
Q: Could you fly the G3 yourself?
A: Yes. I am Pilot in Command qualified.
Q: Do you normally fly it?
A: I never sit in the back. Never. I always fly. I haven’t been a passenger on an airplane in 11 years.
Q: What is the most thrilling thing about being pilot of a jet?
A: My favourite is the quiet and flying over the ocean.
Q: When you are visiting a new destination, do you leave the decision of which FBO you will arrive at to your flight ops team and/or pilot, or do you have your own preferences?
A: That decision is made by our Director of Aviation.
Q: Do you have preferences for onboard catering on longer flights or do you leave that to your team to decide?
A: I leave that for my team to decide as they know my food preferences.
Q: Is an onboard meal just something to get out of the way or do you expect it to be to the highest standard? A gourmet occasion?
A: It depends on who is on board and what I am doing. Most of the time I eat in the cockpit. So as long as I can eat, I am happy. I am very particular about what is served to customers or guests, however.
Q: How much of a concierge service do you expect from your flight department as far as hotel accommodation, transport and other logistic issues go?
A: They help with ground transportation but most of the time my assistant organises non-aviation logistics.
Q: Where do you keep your plane? Do you have a facility onsite?
A: Yes. We are in Santa Rosa. I share a hangar and that is also where I keep my TBM 900.
Q: And is the aircraft managed by you or a third party?
A: By us, internally.
Q: Do you put your aircraft out to charter?
Q: Tell me about the TBM900.
A: It’s the hottest little thing in the private airplane market right now. It’s just an extraordinary product. I have had only issue with it: one of the drink holders came loose. And that is remarkable.
Q: Where do you take it?
A: I fly by myself. My mom lives in Santa Barbara so I use it to get my mom or if I am just going someplace by myself, to do a radio or television appearance or something else in California. I just take the TBM [on these trips] because going from Northern California to Southern California, there’s almost no time advantage going in the Gulfstream.
Q: When did you get it?
A: I got it in December of 2014 so there is no reason to change anything but I am, however, thinking of painting it as a pterodactyl.
Q: Why a pterodactyl?
A: Because it would be awesome.
Q: What is the biggest business mistake you ever made?
A: I live in fear that one day I will have a story like that.
Q: What is the smartest thing you’ve ever done in business?
A: Emphasised people and culture first at work. If you can get personnel right, you don’t have to be really good at too much else. Personnel has always been a strong point for me.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
A: Just because you are the boss doesn’t make you always right – you have to hire good people and listen to them.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be?
A: That I was successful and made a big difference for other people and for my foundation.