Jean-Charles Boisset is well-known in the wine industry as a risk-taker, successful entrepreneur, and bon vivant whose creative ideas extend beyond winemaking. He was born in Burgundy, France, encircled by fertile land lined with rows of lush grape vines.
His parents, Jean-Claude and Claudine Boisset ventured into winemaking a decade before Jean-Charles Boisset was born.
“I was very fortunate to be raised in Vougeot, the oldest, most historical town in Burgundy. It’s a small village of 186 inhabitants and I was born making wine in the living room with my parents as early as five years old.“
Fast forward to 2023, and the Boisset collection of wines and wineries includes the notable DeLoach Vineyards in Santa Rosa, JCB Tasting Salon in Yountville, Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena, Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and most recently Elizabeth Spencer Winery in Rutherford.
But that’s just the beginning of his success, with a Franco-American collection of wineries on two continents, distributed in more than 80 countries, and a collection of unique, independent wineries and historical estates, Jean-Charles Boisset leads the helm of his family’s empire with panache and grace. We interview Jean-Charles about his fascinating past and exciting future.
Tell us about your latest endeavor.
JCB: We were fortunate to be able to purchase Elizabeth Spencer Winery. Elizabeth Spencer is a gorgeous winery in Rutherford and it’s spectacular. We acquired it a year ago and we recreated all the English gardens. We’ve refashioned the beautiful pavilion in the garden of Elizabeth Spencer, so you can enjoy wine tastings outdoors adorned by beautiful nature and sculptures.
Tell us about Elizabeth Spencer wines.
JCB: My favorite AVA in the area for wines is Rutherford. Why? They’re elegant, very refined, and very distinguished. Elizabeth Spencer creates one of my favorite Cabernet styles.
The wines are feminine, and we have a very eloquent feminine team. Heidi Peterson Barrett, world-renowned winemaker, has joined Elizabeth Spencer as Consulting Winemaker, and she will be working closely with Winemaker Sarah Vandendriessche.
Sarah is our head winemaker, who is fantastic, she’s been at the winery for 15 years. The Elizabeth Spencer team is mainly ladies and paired with the influence of our winemaker Stephanie Putnam at Raymond, we have a stellar line up of women.
What can guests experience at Elizabeth Spencer?
JCB: We have created a culinary museum from longtime food and wine editor Kathleen Thompson Hill called Kitchen Memories Collection. Kathleen is in her late 70s and has written dozens of books. We bought the entirety of her kitchen collection that she has curated for decades.
Her first toaster, first ice cream scoop, first of everything and we displayed them in over 22 different categories at Elizabeth Spencer Winery. We have the Museum of Wine at Buena Vista, we have the Napa Wine History Museum at Oakville Grocery, and now we have this magnificent addition focused on our culinary heritage and kitchen nostalgia.
You also opened The Chateau Buena Vista in downtown Napa?
JCB: Yes, the Chateau is very important in downtown Napa. The vision there is fundamental in terms of bringing a younger crowd. It’s really The Great Gatsby meets the Count of Buena Vista. The design is very special, unique and has a 1920s feel.
I wanted to unite the 1920s with the mid 1850s, when Buena Vista was founded.. I wanted to bring to Napa Valley an enormous amount of style and a phenomenal winery of history, but hip. I want to introduce younger demographics to the world of Napa Valley and the history of Buena Vista. It’s really the extension of the winery.
So, we have an amazing chocolate tasting and we have an incredible caviar tasting as well. We make our own chocolates with a wonderful chocolatier named Robbie Schmidt who makes stunning chocolate at the Calistoga Depot in Calistoga.
The goal is to showcase champagne, caviar, cabernet and chocolate. It’s located in the 1920’s Gordon Building, a historical building in Napa Valley from the turn of the previous century. So again, very historically driven.
What brought you to Napa from France?
JCB: In 1981, when I was almost eleven and my sister was fourteen, we had the opportunity to accompany our parents and grandparents on a journey to California. We found ourselves discovering the spirit of the gold rush state from Monterey to San Francisco and Sonoma.
On the square in Sonoma, we noticed a signpost pointing to a nearby winery, founded in 1857. It was so intriguing that we had to go on an adventure and visit this significant destination, Buena Vista Winery.
I’ll always remember discovering the oldest estate in the California wine world, where the owners allowed us to taste their incredible Chardonnays, and I was transfixed by the elegant and tropical notes of the wines—expressions that we were not familiar with in Burgundy. I recall at that moment I declared to my sister, “Wouldn’t it be fun to make wine in California one day?”
Fast forward thirty years and we are still bringing a bit of a French flair, French allure and style to Napa Valley through the JCB brand, wineries, and lifestyle products. We have the wines, the sparkling, the champagne, the fragrances, the jewelry, so much!
I wanted to create something for Napa, even more sexy, bringing more enjoyment to the experiences than with wine alone I have a great time making phenomenal wines but sharing the lifestyle is what I love.
So, our team creates phenomenal dinners, beautiful parties, great tastings, terrific wine pairings and is really building this incredible lifestyle in Napa Valley. We have 17 locations now and the Ink House, a luxury inn.
My goal is to create these magical experiences that you enjoy with fabulous wine, great food, and vibrational discoveries.
What do you see as your next great frontier?
JCB: Well, we keep building and creating, so one of our next is a very big deal in the town of Calistoga, north of Napa, where we’re revitalizing the historic Calistoga Depot.
It’s the ultimate place where you want to go, enjoy and explore the alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages paired with phenomenal food. It’s a literal beverage village – we make still spirits, beer, wine, water, coffee and tea. We’ll have amazing food with a beautiful pizza oven and great experiences within Napa Valley.
What’s the perfect Wine Country day if you want to experience the JCB Collection?
JCB: A perfect day for me is obviously to start at Buena Vista in Sonoma and dive into the culture of American winemaking, then visit Chateau Buena Vista where we have a caviar and bubble tasting.
Next, Oakville Grocery for lunch. This is the place to be seen in the heart of Napa Valley. You can have a very tasty hamburger, sandwich, a delicious pizza, fried chicken and champagne and really discover over 60 wineries by the glass.
After Oakville Grocery, visit JCB Yountville for a wine tasting experience. Then, late afternoon at Raymond in one of the cabanas and have a bottle of a rich Cabernet.
Then, you finish in Calistoga at our Calistoga Depot Distillery with an immersive experience complete with a variety of cocktails and spirits, walk through time with each sip and enjoy the beauty and historical significance of the reincarnated Calistoga Depot.
After all that, have your driver take you back to The Ink House ending your journey in the speakeasy on the property.
Why is it called The Ink House?
JCB: The Ink House is a spectacular Victorian home in St. Helena that was built in 1885 by Mr. Theron Ink. It was called the Helios ranch when it was a 300-acre ranch.
Today it’s much smaller, but it has one of the most amazing Victorian homes. Elvis Presley stayed there for two months when he shot the movie Wild in the Country in 1960. We have the piano he played in the speakeasy.
You can rent by the room during the week or the whole property. It has four spectacular bedrooms, an incredible outdoor space, the beautiful speakeasy, a stunning kitchen, historical barn, and an observation tower. It’s the highest viewing point from the valley floor.