Wine Country Giant Remembered

To say that Jess Jackson was a larger than life figure is an understatement.

His success spanned two of the most competitive businesses in the world — wine making and horse racing — and his life unfolded as a unique rags to riches story that exemplifies attainment of the American dream at the very highest level.

Jess Jackson

Jackson died at home in Geyserville last week. He was 81; a victim of cancer.

A public celebration of Jackson’s amazing life will be held May 11 at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, not far from the Kendall-Jackson winery, a business he started by making a family investment in a Lake County orchard that was  later converted to vineyards.

The man who would become a billionaire many times over bottled the first vintage of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay in 1982.


Over the next decade, the wine became one of the best-selling chardonnays in the country. It remains a perennial top performer on restaurant lists and wine shops.

Jackson acquired a vast amount of vineyard property and his family-run operations grew more and more successful on the national stage.

In addition to the Kendall-Jackson operations and assorted other California properties like Cardinale, La Jota and Lokoya, the Jackson Family Wines holding company owns wineries in Italy, France, Australia and Chile.

“When my family and I founded Kendall-Jackson in 1982, we simply wanted to create extraordinary wine from California’s best vineyards,” Jackson wrote in his biographical notes.

“We grow grapes on our own 14,000 acres of California coastal vineyards,” he said. “We take the no-compromise, high road approach to quality required to grow our world-class grapes and produce acclaimed award-winning wines.”

Preakness Perfection

On the racecourse, Jackson found success with Curlin — who won back-to-back Horse of the Year awards — and with Rachel Alexandra, winner of the 2009 Preakness Stakes. She was the first filly since 1924 to capture the race known as the second jewel in the Triple Crown that each year starts with the Kentucky Derby and ends with the Belmont Stakes.

Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay: Key to Jackson Legacy

In the wine world, Jackson’s success was built on reasonably priced, easy-drinking chardonnay.

His Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve chardonnay is produced in prodigious quantities with a quality and taste profile that is consistent from vintage-to-vintage. The Vintner’s Reserve designation, by the way, is a self-proclaimed descriptor with no official industry meaning other than marketing.

The consistency comes from a combination of winemaking skill and quality-control over the raw materials. The grapes are from Jackson-owned or controlled vineyards across California that offer myriad flavor profiles, many clonal variations and different regional characteristics.

Avant: Lighter Chardonnay

I’ve enjoyed many bottles of Kendall-Jackson red and white wines over the years, including a bottle of a new chardonnay from K-J called Avant that I tried this week.

I bought a bottle to taste and serve with a dinner of roast chicken, steamed broccoli and wild rice. It was a good match for the chicken and I think it would be really good with lighter fare like grilled shrimp over pasta or a summertime chicken salad.

Avant ($14 suggested retail, but on sale for $11.98 at Lucky’s) is a bit lighter in appearance and flavor than the current release of K-J Vintner’s Reserve, which costs about the same. Avant is made from grapes grown in Monterey, Mendocino and Santa Barbara counties.

There’s definitely less oak on the tongue in this floral-scented, light golden wine. It presents a crisper fruit profile suggesting ripe green apples or maybe Japanese apple pear.

If you have ever tried — and liked — a K-J bottle of wine, it would be a fitting tribute to raise a glass sometime soon to honor one of the industry’s most successful winery owners.


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