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Our family has been actively involved in California wine making for nearly three decades – and we are still completely fascinated with all that it entails. Watching the grapes mature in the vineyard, experiencing the nonstop activity at harvest time, the rich, earthy smell of the barrel room. And, of course, enjoying the fruits of our labor with family and friends after the final blend is layered together for bottling.
Jess Stonestreet Jackson, visionary winemaker noted for popularizing Chardonnay with his Kendall-Jackson Winery and one of the most successful independent winery owners in the world.
Known for his fearless, iconoclastic approach to business, Jackson became one of the world’s most successful self-made men by taking chances in businesses that were anything but a sure thing; first by selecting grapes from the best vineyards in California and turning them into a small bottling of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve that soon became the most popular Chardonnay in America, and later when he purchased two racehorses that are among the most lauded thoroughbreds in decades.
A one-time longshoreman and police officer who put himself through University of California Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, Jackson became one of the best-known figures in American viticulture, as Kendall-Jackson became the best-selling Chardonnay in America for over two decades. He went on to found Jackson Family Wines, a winery holding company that, in addition to Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, owns and operates more than 35 individual wineries located around the world.
Raised in San Francisco during the Great Depression, Jackson worked as a farmer, policeman, and later as a land-use attorney. The law firm he founded went on to argue several cases before the Supreme Court. He started the Kendall-Jackson wine business with the family’s 1974 purchase of an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in Lakeport, California that he converted to a vineyard. In 1982, he produced his first bottle of wine under the Kendall-Jackson label. This decidedly unique Chardonnay was an instant hit with consumers. In 1983 the wine won the first double Platinum Award ever presented by the American Wine Competition.
Jackson’s vision and outspoken manner often ran counter to conventional industry practices. When he realized that the quality of the French oak barrels used to age his wine was inconsistent, he invested in his own mill in France to provide barrel staves, and became a partner in a cooperage located in Missouri. He created his own California distribution company to remain free of industry consolidation there. He was a leader in the sustainable farming movement within the wine industry, implementing dozens of environmentally-friendly farming innovations throughout the vineyards of Jackson Family Wines. As a philanthropist, he and his wife Barbara Banke quietly donated millions of dollars in support of local and national charitable organizations. Jackson was a founding member of Family Winemakers of California.