The Jackson Legacy

It has been nearly four years since Jess Stonestreet Jackson, the visionary vintner, passed away. Jackson was, like Robert Mondavi and Ernest & Julio Gallo before him, a towering figure in the California wine industry.
His namesake winery, Kendall-Jackson, introduced an entire nation to the pleasures of chardonnay, one of the world’s great white wines but barely a blip on the radar of American wine enthusiasts before Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve chardonnay became a household name in the early 1980s.
Later in a career that spanned nearly four decades Jackson embraced mountain vineyards and the idea that he should grow most of the grapes that went into his wines, as opposed to purchasing fruit as he had done in the early years of K-J.
Today K-J owns thousands of acres of vineyards from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, and everywhere in between along the coastal corridor that produces most of California’s finest wines. It wouldn’t have surprised anyone if K-J had slipped a notch or two following the death of Jackson, but his widow, Barbara Banke, has maintained her late husband’s zeal for the K-J brand.
That was evident recently when I say down to taste the entire Kendall-Jackson portfolio — more than 30 wines — with longtime winemaker Randy Ullom, who’s been at the helm of the K-J winemaking team for the past 17 years.
“Barbara just picked up where Jess left off,” said Ullom.
Over the course of a couple of hours I ran the gamut of Kendall-Jackson wines, from its $13 Vintner’s Reserve sauvignon blanc to the $125 Stature red Bordeaux-style blend. Over the years I had done the same tasting with Jess, always impressed at his command of the subject, for Jackson was an attorney by trade and only got into wine later in life.
I can say with utter confidence that, if anything, the Kendall-Jackson wines are better than ever. What’s more, there is value at the entry level Vintner’s Reserve end and extremely high quality in the estate and vineyard-designate tiers, which range in price from $30 to more than $100.
Jess Stonestreet Jackson may be gone, but his vision lives on.
Best Value
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Zocker 2013 Gruner Veltliner, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($20) — I’ve long admired winemaker Christian Roguenant’s work with the Austrian grape gruner veltliner, which is not widely planted in the U.S. despite its growing popularity. The Zocker gruner is planted in cold clay loam soils in the cool Edna Valley, where the nearby Pacific Ocean moderates temperatures even in the middle of summer. The result is a gruner Veltliner with steely minerality and structure, wrapped in luscious stone fruit, lime and melon aromas. It is the top gruner made in America in my humble opinion and this vintage may well be the finest yet. Rating: 95.
Clayhouse 2012 Syrah, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles ($14) — Clayhouse syrah may well be one of the finest $14 bottles of wine on the planet. What’s crazy is they seem to nail it every vintage. The 2012 offers a nose of violets and spice, while on the palate the wine is fresh and nervy, showing an intense note of blueberry. The tannins are supple and smooth, and the palate long and inviting, with tremendous persistence through the finish. Remarkable wine for the price. Rating: 91.
Casillero del Diablo 2013 Reserva ‘Devil’s Collection’ White, Casablanca Valley, Chile ($15) — Casillero del Diablo is Concha y Toro’s entry level brand, yet it is very capable of the occasional home run. The Devil’s Collection white from the cool Casblanca Valley delivers on that promise with a crisp and scintillating blend of mostly sauvignon blanc (85 percent) with chardonnay and a touch of spicy gewurztraminer. Produced in a zesty New Zealand style, this wine offers aromas of gooseberry and fig, with a hint of floral on the nose. Perfect with freshly shucked oysters or steamed clams or mussels. Rating: 88.
Buried Cane 2013 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($14) — This most unusual chardonnay from Buried Cane will find wide appeal within the crowd that believes too many chardonnays are overdone. This somewhat lean expression of chardonnay from Washington’s Columbia Valley sees a little bit of oak but most of the production was fermented in stainless steel tanks. For a bit of roundness a small percentage of semillon was blended in. The result is a crisp chardonnay that exhibits freshness with aromas of baked apple, pear and fig. And the price is right. Rating: 88.
Tasting Notes
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