Jackson Family Wines

Today, Jackson Family wines is a multi-generational, family-owned wine company that has grown into an unrivaled, premium collection of wineries and estate vineyards across California, Oregon, Italy, France, Australia, Chile and South Africa. Founded in 1982 by the late indefatigable genius Jess Jackson, the family is still focused on doing whatever it takes to produce the highest quality possible for its wineries and thousands of acres of some of the greatest coastal mountains, ridges and bench land vineyards in the world.

Even though the phenomenal pur-ring of the engine, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay – entering its 27th year as America’s number 1 selling Chardonnay – is the backbone of the family business, the family also owns and operates the most vast array of fabulous wines imaginable, priced from $17 to over $400 a bottle.

The Kendall-Jackson Winery in Fulton (Sonoma County) is certainly one of the premier destinations in California wine country with over 50 wines, excellent wine and food pairings with a chef and cheese expert and best 3 ½ acre garden tour anywhere, hosted by the former gardener at the iconic French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley. Items fresh from the garden are served daily with the pairings.

In the past, I have written about the amazing Jackson Family wines: Maggy Hawk (Anderson Valley), Hickinbotham (McLaren Vale, South Australia), Tenuta di Arceno (Tuscany), Capensis (the most profound Chardonnay in South Africa), Galerie (Napa Valley), La Jota (Howell Mountain  and Stonestreet (a “must” visit while in Alexander Valley). And, rivaling the greatest Bordeaux varietals of the world, Cardinale ($425), Verité ($450) and Lokoya ($425). In fact, the three wines of Vérité: La Joie, Le Désir and La Muse, and the four mountaintop wines of Lokoya: Diamond Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain, generally average around 98 to 99 points every vintage, ranking them equal in quality with the five famous First Growth Bordeaux.

My trip in mid-February included three Jackson Family wineries I had not visited.  At the first, La Crema, I tasted with the winemaker Craig McAlister. I had wondered why La Crema was so much better than when I tasted it years ago. Now I know why – the Jackson Family owns it. All of the Chardonnays are barrel fermented, undergo malolactic fermentation, are aged in 100% French oak and all highly recommended: 2017 Sonoma Coast $23; 2017 Russian River Valley (35% new oak and more complex) $35; 2017 Saralee’s Vineyard (beautiful balancing acidity) $40; and 2017 9 Barrel Russian River Valley (9 best barrels with gorgeous fruit, complexity, and persistence) $70.

The following La Crema Pinot Noirs are also highly recommended: 2017 Sonoma Coast $25; 2016 Russian River Valley (aged 9 months in 35% new French oak) $40; 2015 Saralee’s Vineyard (lovely earthy, restrained fruit) $55; 2016 Shell Ridge Vineyard (700’ elevation, 20 year-old vines) $60; 9 Barrel (hedonistic—aged 15 months in 50% new French oak) $90; and 2018 40th Anniversary (unique – only 150 cases produced) $100.

The second winery visited was Hartford Family Winery. The mantra there is that every bottle produced must be a great expression of place. Also, balancing acidity for food-friendly wines is paramount. Since I have not kept up with this winery lately, I was greatly surprised by the quality, and all of  the following are highly recommended: 2017 Pinot Noir Seascape Vineyard (peaty, earthy, delicate and powerful at the same time) $70; 2017 Pinot Noir Velvet Sisters (elegant, silky, concentrated) $70; Pinot Noir Land’s Edge (100% French oak aged, unfined and unfiltered) $50; 2017 Pinot Noir Arrendell Vineyard (45 year-old vines, vibrant cherry, bright acidity) $110; 2018 Zinfandel Russian River Valley (red fruits, jammy, good acidity) $40 and 2017 Zinfandel Fannucchi Wood Road Vineyard (over 100 year-old field blend including Petite Sirah) $60.

Winemaker Jeff Stewart.

The following Hartford Court Chardonnays are also highly recommended: 2018 Russian River Valley $30; 2017 Three Jacks Vineyard (gorgeous tropical fruit flavors) $65 and Far Coast Vineyard (delicious with restrained hints of apple/orange.  Pretty finish)  $65. All wines were tasted with winemaker Jeff Stewart.

The third winery visited was Freemark Abbey, which was added to the Jackson Family stable in 2006. Like Hartford Family Winery, I had not generally kept up with this winery, although I have long been a fan of its Bosché Vineyard Cabernet. The following were tasted with Ted Edwards, who recently transitioned to Winemaker Emeritus after 40 years at the helm, and their new winemaker Kristy Melton. All are highly recommended: 2018 Chardonnay Napa Valley (apples, good acidity, well-structured) $40; 2015 Merlot Napa Valley (right bank plums, delicious) $45; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (sourced from all over the valley–blackberries, dark chocolate and sweet tobacco) $60; 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Napa Valley and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Napa Valley from Library Collection (each has aged beautifully) $250 each; 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Napa Valley and 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Napa Valley (each aged in barrel 28 months and further aged in bottle at the winery for up to two years for maturity prior to release.  Each have class and breed along with deep color and depth of chocolate-covered cherries (Bosché) and left bank black currant flavors (Sycamore). And, each are in the very top tier of Napa Cabernets at $150 each.

Having one’s winery purchased by the Jackson Family has proven to be a huge positive, not only for the seller, but also for the winery. To sum up, the gravitas and success in wine production by the Jackson Family is unique and possibly unrivaled in the world!