Only in the darkness can you see the stars
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Eliana, a Roman/Greek word interpreted as “the Lord has responded” is the perfect name for a small three acre vineyard clinging to a hill east of Ashland, OR.
Brian Jordaan, who leases these acres, has a story that is tragic and inspirational. A native of Zimbabwe, Jordaan and his brother were prosperous landowners and farmers owning 3000 acres. On that land, they grew tobacco, corn, peanuts, roses and peas for export and cattle.
In 1987, Robert Mugabe became President of Zimbabwe. The “willing buyer, willing seller” plan was not kind to landowners. The plan legally allowed squatters to take over plots of desirable land. In 2000, one hundred forty “settlers” squatted on and claimed 1000 of the brothers best acres. The Jordaans were left with the roses and marshy, wet lands.
Then, the ethnic cleansing began. With majority Shonas against the minority Ndebeles, fierce fighting left an estimated 20,000 Ndebele dead.
In 2003, Jordaan was arrested while sitting at a local feed store, observing the activities of an on-going election. Voting booths were out in the open in the countryside; the vice squad arrived, beating and arresting “outsiders”. Scores were arrested for no apparent reason.
“It was very scary”, Brian said. He was released later that same day, due to lack of evidence of wrong-doing.
Once, hoarders came thinking the Jordaans were hiding food that could be shared. During that incident, there was much destruction to the farm, including ruining greenhouses used for the roses.
In 2003, decisions were made for the Jordaan families. One afternoon, about 3:00 pm, they received a call to be off the land permanently by 6:00 am. Almost immediately, that order was revised to a 6:00 pm deadline. The families had three hours to leave their land and life.
Deciding to put up a fight, Brian and brother lined up their rifles against the wall, intending to defend their home. However, hoards broke through fences, stormed up the driveway and surrounded the house. (I had a brief vision of John Wayne and Ward Bond holding off Apaches, but knew this was real and more serious).
“Do you want to leave in peace?” they demanded.
Then they must leave right away, or the wives and daughters (Brian has one son and three daughters, aged — at that time – 7, 6, and 2 years) would be raped.
Although they managed to get an escort off the farm, the car trunks were searched for any valuables.
Because of a contact Brian’s wife had in the Rogue Valley, the Jordaans came to southern Oregon. They learned their bank accounts had been confiscated by the government, so the family literally arrived here with nothing. After a wait of three years to obtain legal work permits, Jordaan found work in a vineyard and now leases and manages his own.
(Brian’s brother and family – also four children – immigrated to Zambia, where he now manages a tobacco farm. Not easy for them, either; that family lived two years in tents, before finding a brick home to move into).
Eliana grapes were planted in 1997, in what Brian calls “the most beautiful office in the world”. Jordaan took control of the vineyard in 2008, producing his first award winning blend.
The sloping, sunny vineyards are red varietals only; 50% in Merlot, 30% in Cabernet Franc and 20% in Cabernet Sauvignon. These acres product only 400 cases per year and is always made into a Bordeaux style blend.
The 2008 blend is 56% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. It has a soft luscious nose, very floral with black currents, roses and a barely there hint of spice. The mouth is silky smooth, with black jammy fruits. The finish is long and balanced. This wine, so smooth and polished would pair with many things, including salmon, lasagna or lamb chops.
This wine won – in the Bordeaux Blend Reserve category — a Silver Medal both at the February, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the 2010 World of Wine.
The 2009 blend is 60% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Cabernet Franc. It has a very different nose and mouth. This wine is bigger and very spicy, with huge blackberry and black cherry overtones. Jordaan recommended serving this with a roast lamb. Pair it with a grilled steak, too.
This blend won Silver Medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A lot of credit is given by Jordaan to Steve Anderson of Eola Hills, his winemaker.
Jordaan’s growing style is to hard prune; trimming off the weaker buds allows the stronger ones to produce more and better fruit. The vineyard has great sun exposure, which improves the fruit, as well.
Eliana has no tasting room. The wines are found in many Southern Oregon wine shops and featured in a host of better restaurants. Jordaan does give private vineyard tours by appointment only.
Brian reports his children are “doing well and love living in the USA”. His family intends to vacation in Zimbabwe next year.
It is impossible not to be inspired by Brian and his story. Upbeat, polite and dedicated to family and craft, Brian is someone we all need to raise a glass to. I am proud to call him a friend.
For more information visit www.elianawines.com.