Blending Art & Science

Augustana alumni are operating a winery in Napa Valley.

The Truchard Vineyard in the Carneros AVA of Napa Valley, Jessup’s main sources for Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Meet the Blues: Dan ‘81 and Becky ‘81 and their kids, Ian ‘10, Julia ‘14, Elliot ‘16 and Mason. Together with their friends, they are vintners of a California winery with South Dakota roots.


Q: What prompted you to pursue winemaking? How did Jessup get started?

Dan: We were introduced to Napa and the world of wine through Becky’s cousin and husband who recently started a winery called Jessup Cellars. Later that same year, Becky and I traveled to Napa. We were exposed to the beauty of the valley and the complexity and variables of wine making. We were hooked. The following year we returned and invited our friends from medical school, Vance and Jana Thompson to join us. From that point we made this an annual event. With every trip the desire to be more involved grew. In July 2005 we became the owners of Jessup Cellars and began the process of taking a start-up operation to a sustainable winery committed to creating wines of the highest quality and creating memorable moments for our customers.

Q: What is it like to start a winery?

Dan:  Being in the wine business is very challenging. It is very competitive with high capital demands. It takes between two and a half to three years from the time you harvest the grapes until you are able to sell your product. We chose to focus on a direct to consumer model for sales. This allowed us to surround our great wine with an experience that has rewarded us with great customer loyalty. It is a slow and laborious process but one that has many rewards and satisfaction.

Q: How has this become a family business?

Dan: From the beginning we have been very “hands on” for the day to day operation as well as strategy. We have been blessed with great staff who are committed to our values. Two of our children and two of our nieces have had the opportunity to work in the business from wine production to sales to marketing and product development.

Ian: Almost all of us have had a chance to be involved in the winery in some way. While at Augie, I took a summer internship at the winery and learned more about the wine business from a production and sales perspective. After graduating, I spent a couple years working on the marketing side of things and helped with the launch of our sister winery, Handwritten.

Q: Who has been involved and in what capacity?

Dan: Becky and I along with our partners oversaw the day to day operation for the first eight years. As the operation grew we hired a CEO/general manager and a full management team.

Julia:  I worked as a harvest intern following graduation from Augustana where I studied biology. This gave me the opportunity to use my biology degree in a very unique and fun way. I loved working in the cellar preparing yeast, tracking the sugar and temperature levels, and monitoring the fermentation process.  Learning how science is used to execute the artistry of wine making was what really amazed me. I have a much deeper appreciation for each wine I taste after having a part in the tremendous amount of care that goes into each bottle.

Q: What are Jessup wines known for?

Dan: Jessup wines are known for the “art of the blend.” At Jessup we make around twenty different wines, some single varietal wines and many that are blends. Handwritten wines focus on AVA (American Viticultural Appalachia) regions of Napa Valley.  Our other winery, Humanitas, focuses on vineyard designated wines.

Q: What’s the most interesting part of the winemaking process?

Dan: There are so many aspects to this business.  I love the surroundings and culture. I am amazed by the variables that go into making great wine – hardcore chemistry to farming to the blend of art and science. And the challenges of business from financing to marketing. At the end of the day to be able to enjoy some of the best wine available.  I love it all.

Ian: One of the most interesting parts of the winemaking process is the farming and the detail that goes into it. It’s well known that the Napa Valley is special for its optimal grape growing conditions, but within this small area there is also a huge variety of soils and microclimates that come into play. These variables in the land and climate along with different growing techniques provide for very distinct characteristics in the fruit. The grapes are where the winemaking process begins, so it’s a very important piece.

Q: What is your ideal food and wine pairing?

Dan:  I appreciate wine most when it is paired with food. Last night’s beef tenderloin with the 2012 Handwritten Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon was perfect!

Becky: My favorite is to cook a roast or grill a burger from beef raised on my brother’s farm and pair it with a bottle of Juel, named for our dad.

Ian: I usually tell people to drink whatever tastes good to them, but right now I’m feeling Zinfandel and a cheeseburger.

Q: What’s been most rewarding throughout the process of starting and running Jessup?

Dan: To have beaten the odds. This was a bigger challenge than we probably appreciated in the beginning. Through a strong commitment to our values and business ideal we have been able to build brands and a business that is respected in the Valley. It is very humbling and exciting. We have been blessed with great partners, a talented and caring staff and others along the way that have helped us on this journey.

Jessup Winery