The Grapevine – Comfort Food that Brings People Together

Earth, Vines, and Vision.

Paying tribute to someone or something great requires looking back to the beginning of the journey and then looking to the present in order to see what it has become.  Sandwiched in between these bookmarks is the body of knowledge and accomplishments that make this tribute worth being paid.

A few weeks ago, as I was watching television, an advertisement for a show that airs on CBS Sunday evenings captured my attention.  The reality series “Undercover Boss” was featuring the Kendall-Jackson winery on the show.  As a Wine Consumer Advocate my job entails studying wine from an agricultural, viticulture, winemaking and retail perspective.  I was excited to see an iconic brand that has helped shape the American wine Industry being featured on national television.

My curiosity was sparked in part due to my background knowledge of Kendall-Jackson and its Founder, Jess Jackson, who passed away in April of 2011 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.  Jess was a tenacious man of integrity with a hardworking ethos and was dedicated to family, his work family, and his community.  His determination to deliver quality wines to the consumer at fair prices was a key to the companies’ success.

Jess Jackson was one of a small group of modern day contemporaries in Sonoma and Napa that shaped the American wine industry in more ways than one.  Kendall-Jackson winery is only one of the wineries owned and operated by Jackson Family Wines.  Today Jess’ widow, Barbara Banke, who serves as Chairman and Proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, runs the company.

Among the wines made in the Jackson Family collection are Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Cambria, Stonestreet, Edmeades, La Crema, Cardinale, Lokoya, Hartford Family Winery, Vérité, Carmel Road, Murphy-Goode, La Jota, Freemark Abbey, Byron Estates, Arrowood in the United States; Chateau Lassegue in France; Tenuta di Arceno in Italy; Yangarra in Australia; and Calina in Chile.  Jackson Family Wines is one of California’s few remaining family-owned winery groups, with family members working full-time in a variety of positions.

Jess grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Great Depression and worked as a policeman, farmer, and even became an attorney whose focus was on land-use.  In 1974 he purchased an 80-acre pear and walnut farm, and so began the Kendall-Jackson Winery.  It was Jess’ desire to get back to the land and farming so that he could move away from practicing law.  He also knew that agriculture was a better way of life for his family.  By the early 1980’s the orchard had been converted into a winery and the vineyard was producing grapes that were being sold to supply other wineries.  In 1980 there was a bumper crop that resulted in a large order for grapes that was cancelled, which became the first vintage of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve.  Every entrepreneur experiences a defining moment and for the winery this was that moment, as the 1982 vintage of Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay became America’s favorite Chardonnay.  The 1983 vintage was recognized by winning the first Double Platinum Award ever presented by the American Wine Competition, and has received yearly accolades ever since.

Jess’ love of farming began for him on his Grandfathers ranch in Colorado where he realized that a handful of dirt had a deep meaning for him.  This was especially true in Sonoma County, Jess’ favorite place in the world.  His intimate relationship with the land that he loved and grew grapes provided him a sixth sense for the terroir, or sense of place of this area.  As a grape farmer Jess was one of the first to recognize and understand that vines are like mountain goats, in that they thrive on mountain tops, ridges, hillsides and benchlands.  This farming method is difficult but Jess knew growing grapes this way would produce the richest fruit exhibiting intense character and flavor.

Jess Jackson was a leader and a visionary in the California wine industry.  His family-owned and family-run business has always been dedicated to three things: respect for the land, their wines and the best interests of the consumer.  The Jackson family culture is built on those principles and on the ethos of hard work, integrity, and an uncompromising desire for quality.  This is the Jackson families’ formula for success.

The Kendall-Jackson winery utilizes boutique winemaking methods throughout harvest, press and fermentation to craft their wines by hand.  Each vineyard lot is kept separate, so they can capture the essence of each vineyard site.  Jess understood the importance and influence that oak barrels play in the final outcome of the wine you and I pour from the bottle to our glass.  In order to strategically maintain consistency and quality Jess invested in the family’s own stave mill in France, ensuring access to the highest quality French oak barrels for aging.  Jess also partnered with one of the top cooperage companies to readily supply the very best barrels to age the Jackson Family Wines.

As a leader in the wine industry one thing that was significantly important to Jess was sustainable farming practices.  His vision was one of a generational approach to farming and the environment.  The Jackson family’s commitment and goal is to ensure that all land they farm remains healthy for the future generations to come.  Jackson Family Wines have implemented state-of-art sustainable practices and use of water, energy, and environmentally safe agents for cleaning and sterilization purposes.

Winemaster Randy Ullom has been with Kendall-Jackson since 1992 as a winemaker.  In 1997 he was made head WineMaster by Jess Jackson.  Randy’s love of wine began when he was on sabbatical in Chile in the 70’s.  Randy over see’s the entire Kendall-Jackson portfolio and has two astounding winemakers working with him.  Mark Theis is responsible for the Burgundian wine program, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as any Syrah releases, while Winemaker Matt Smith is responsible for the Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and the Meritage or red blends.

Randy will be joining me on the WineGuyMike radio show on Sunday, March 11th at 10:00 AM to share his insight on winemaking and all that goes on behind the scenes at Jackson Family Wines and Kendall-Jackson.  Randy and I will be tasting a flight of incredible wines, and comparing notes that we will be sharing with you.  You can listen to the show live on the Trail 103.3FM or U 104.5FM.  These shows are podcast for your convenience and available on my blog at;

Liquid Planet is located in the heart of Downtown Missoula and will be featuring a selection of these outstanding wines.  WineGuyMike will hand select some of these special Jackson Family Wines to share with you.  Be sure to stop in to Liquid Planet and check out the featured wines or the other great selection that they offer.  I’ll see you on the radio.

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One Response to The Grapevine – Comfort Food that Brings People Together

  1. Sian says:

    Great article. Don’t forget Matanzas Creek Winery as part of the Jackson Family Wines properties.

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