A Louisiana girl with California wine

Dawna Jones vintner/winemakerDawna Jones, Ph.D., remembers having an amazing childhood in Opelousas with her parents, Randolph and Priscilla Darjean, and three siblings. But one distinct memory may have unintentionally guided the 43-year-old plant pathologist into the winemaking business.

“My mother dabbled in making various fruit wines when I was very young, but I do not remember assisting in the process aside from picking the fruit, usually pears, from the trees that grew in our backyard. I do distinctly remember the smell of the fermenting fruit. I loved that smell,” she said.

That fermentation science would fascinate Jones who “loves science deeply” and has been interested in agriculture since she was a teenager in public school.

Today, Jones is a first-generation winemaker and owner of Darjean Jones Wines.

As a student, she researched plants and plant diseases at Southern University and A&M College, University of California – Davis, and the US Department of Agriculture. Her dissertation research focused on Pierce’s Disease of grapevine, requiring her to spend countless hours in California vineyards.

“I kind of fell into wine gradually,” she told HelloWoodlands. “I do remember tasting a Merlot grape one day while walking through the research vineyards and thinking that if wine tasted half this good, it must be fantastic.”

Dawna Jones researcher

Dawna Jones studying plant science at the University of California Davis

Following graduate school, she worked as a diagnostic plant bacteriologist for the government while her husband, Chauncey, completed fellowships in anesthesiology. (Dr. Chauncey Jones is also an SU grad who studied animal science.)

While in Maryland, she tested plant material brought into the country, developed testing methods, and investigated outbreaks of plant disease. For seven years, she was a national security analyst. Then, his career required them to settle in Texas. That move nearly 10 years ago was the impetus for her career shift back to grapevines and a new adventure in winemaking. It was then that her husband asked, “What would you do if you could do anything you want?” and she answered, “I’d make wine!”

“Winemaking, for me, seemed a natural progression,” said Jones who is now a mother of two with an international WSET Level 3 Certification for grape growing and winemaking.  Through partnerships with six California vineyards, she has created and produced eight boutique Darjean Jones Wines that are “spirited, adventurous and possess a charisma that will seduce wine lovers of all kinds.”

Darjean Jones wines on Tyler Perry photoSince 2010, her wines have won 34 competition metals and debuted in Tyler Perry’s “Nobody’s Fool.” Darjean Jones Wines are served at top restaurants in Texas, sold at wine cellars in California, and have a national wine club following. The website features wines that are available for direct order and recipes perfect for pairing with her wines. “The love of good food and drink is coded in my DNA,” Jones said.

When asked about the future of agriculture, Jones said, “I would like others to understand the limitless number of careers that fall under agriculture, including economics and technology. I would like more children to consider careers in agriculture. From organic farming to high tech laboratories, there is a place for all of us to assist in feeding our growing world.”

“It is so important for our youth, SU students and alumni to see the homegrown talent and successes of Dawna and Chauncey who share their racial identity and are both graduates of the Southern University College of Agricultural, Family, and Consumer Science,” said Renita Marshall, DVM, associate dean of the College. “Having Dawna as a role model is vital to signaling a sense of belonging for women of color. Her continued pursuit of excellence in ag research and business are definitely not going unnoticed in the African-American community nor the Southern University Ag community. ”

Here’s more Pensiri: A Talk with Dawna Jones, vintner.

Who is Dawna Jones? I am a straightforward individual who appreciates honesty and fairness. I always try to make sound decisions and treat people with kindness and respect. I am without a doubt a creative individual. I love science deeply, but I truly need the creativity and art that is involved in winemaking to round out my life.

You are a vintner and a plant scientist. Do you consider that to be the core of you or your purpose? Yes, I am currently a vintner and a plant pathologist, but I do not consider it to be the core of my purpose. I am only beginning this life. I think that there are many things that I will do and become. My evolution has only just begun. I am not the kind of individual who was meant to do just one thing and that is okay with me. The core of my work is definitely creative, but we will just have to wait and see what the next 40 years reveal.  Wine will, however, be a part of it…(like) wine-centric leisure travel. I want to visit all the major wine regions of the world and enjoy each wine in its place of origin

What are you learning about your strengths and weaknesses? I am learning that even our greatest strengths need nurturing. We get rusty. I have learned that my weaknesses do not always have to be my weaknesses. As long as I am willing to work hard, my weaknesses are just strengths in disguise.

What lessons guide you? My parents always encouraged me to work hard, in fact, work harder. They always wanted their children to achieve more than they did and I feel the same way now that I am a parent. I already see my children leveling up from where I am. My goal is to provide those opportunities for them, so that any barriers are further broken.

What’s the craziest, fearless part of you capable of doing—outside of winemaking? I am without a doubt an adventurous person, so crazy or not, fearless or not, I will spend some time in the next 5-10 years taking a trip around the world. I intend to continue to learn by doing and in order to do that I must truly experience and submerge myself in the world around me.

What sparks your curiosity?  Travel, new wines, great books. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. I find it soothing and I never feel like I am wasting time while I am in the car. I am currently listening to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Darjean Jones Wines

Darjean Jones Wines offers eight boutique wines

What causes you to burst with energy and joy? Two things: 1) The correct blend of a wine….that moment when you know that it is just right and there is nothing else in the world that should be done to improve it. 2) My children’s smiles and joy. There truly is nothing that makes me smile more than to see excitement on those two dimpled faces. They are my joy.

Favorite word? Empathy

Who’s the inspiration in your life? How do you nurture that relationship? My mother is the truest person that I know. She inspires me to genuinely try to live a just and gracious life. Her faith in God is strong and admirable. I will forever strive to be like her in that way.

What’s on your everyday playlist?  Prince and Damien Escobar are always on my music playlists.

What’s a day like in the life of Dawna Jones? Lol, a day in the life of Dawna Jones can be quite mundane with a change of pace every now and again. My children and my husband are the center of my life.

What would you desire others to remember about you? I hope that people remember me as a good friend. I am not looking for a spot in anyone’s history book.

ONLINE:  DarjeanJonesWines.com

By Candace J. Semien
Jozef Syndicate reporter

This feature, ‘Pensiri: A Talk with..,’ is a fascinating spotlight using narrative interviews and quick peeks into the interesting and unique lives of “average” human beings. From their spontaneous adventures, triumphs after tragedies, comical failures, and even the oddities of their personality, everybody has a story and every life has meaning. Enjoy the stories they share with Jozef Syndicate writers. @JozefSyndicate


6 Responses to “A Louisiana girl with California wine”
  1. Thanks so very much for sharing my story. We often get so swamped in the day-to-day that we lose track of the little things and the big ones too! There were many women and men along my path that inspired me and continue to inspire me. Southern University was a second home with a second family. Without Southern, I would not have found the path to UC Davis. I believe in our HBCUs. They nurture and light fires that are eternal. The positive comments do not go unnoticed. I am fueled for another day! Thank you! Dawna Darjean Jones

  2. Nadja says:

    Great to see her continuing her family’s winemaking legacy.

  3. Donna Charles Badon says:

    What an Awesome & Inspiring Story!!! 😃 I grew up in Opelousas and know all about the Wonderful Culture & People who come from that Special Place!!! 🥰 I’m extremely proud whenever I see someone from my hometown excel in such Grand Fashion!!! 🙏🏽 🙌🏽 I’m also a Proud Retiree from Southern University Agricultural Research & Extension Center.❤️

  4. Dr. Tiffany R. Wilkerson-Franklin says:

    Thank you Dawna for your contributions to Science Agriculture! You’re a true example for young people of color! So many of our kids don’t know the real beauty of what Agriculture encompasses! Your deep roots in Louisiana’s culture and your remarkable research can used as a way to break down the fear many of our youth share about STEM! From one SU Alum to another, I salute you my black Sister! #YouRock!

  5. BB says:

    Absolutely amazing and inspirational! Wonderful success story of entrepreneurship from Louisiana. I love the way it was wrote.

  6. semien8gmailcom says:

    WOW… Thank you!

    Allen L .

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