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At Disney, Michael Jordan steps off the floor

September 21, 2009 |  5:44 pm


Michael Jordan, master sommelier, longtime general manager of Disney’s Napa Rose restaurant and the architect of its award-winning wine program, is leaving the restaurant business. After 35 years in the industry as a chef, sommelier, restaurateur, manager and wine educator, after having held every appreciable position that a restaurant has to offer, including dishwasher, Jordan is stepping off the floor to start a wine company, called Word.

Jordan will be leaving one of the most comprehensive wine programs in California. Not only did he create its enviable wine list, he also developed a culture of wine at the Napa Rose and at Disney that flourished under his direction: In the nine years he was there, more than 400 staff members attended wine education classes and went on to take exams from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

After years of tasting wine, serving wine, teaching wine, buying and selling wine, it seems inevitable that a sommelier will start to entertain the prospect of actually making wine. “It’s the dream of every chef to own his own restaurant, and I’ve done that,” says Jordan, who with his wife, Teresa, opened Bella Teresa in Corona del Mar in 1994. “I think it’s every sommelier’s dream to make their own wine.”

A few years ago, Jordan purchased the trademark for Word Vineyards, knowing that the day would come when he’d want to start his own virtual winery. And in the last year, finished wine was offered to him that was simply too good to refuse. “The timing of this thing is a little weird,” says Jordan, acknowledging the economic climate and the moribund state of the wine industry, “but this fruit was so elegant, so well-balanced – I had to pull the trigger.”

Jordan will become a negociant, a time-honored profession that is common in Bordeaux, where finished wines are purchased during their aging period, brought through their last paces before being blended, bottled and then sold. A negociant, then, is only as good as his relationships with winemakers and growers, and Jordan, with his many years as a sommelier, has a lot of relationships. He plans to release a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir by the end of the year; a Napa Valley Cabernet will debut in 2010. The following year, those wines may be joined by a Super Tuscan. Jordan is also likely to continue playing a role in the education program at Disney that he founded.

-- Patrick Comiskey

Photo credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times