Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2018

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2018

Last weekend I read the book A Man and His Mountain, the story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson and his pursuit of his dream to build a brand of premium varietal based wine for the mass market. His accomplishments over the ensuring two and a half decades exceeded all expectations achieving the art of the possible building a multi-billion dollar wine empire. 

Starting with a single 80 acre farm to retire as a gentleman farmer, he became a grape grower after a successful law career. He saw an opportunity to create a new category of wines and graduated to acquiring the properties to source his growing demand for grapes, growing to owning two dozen top tier wineries and brands with thousands of acres of vineyards across the state. 

The brand that he envisioned grew to an iconic empire, Kendall-Jackson and the Chardonnay label created the whole category of varietal based mass market premium wine shipping millions of cases of wine annually.  

The book was so captivating I read it in one sitting plus a short follow up session at breakfast. It chronicled not only the business and the brand, but also the growth and maturation of the wine industry. It also followed his life, from childhood, through school, to his career from part time cop, to successful lawyer, to wine producer to wine industry mogul. It also featured his exploits into and his success in some of his hobby side ventures, that also achieved the highest level of success, and changed other industries. 

Lastly, its a human interest story about a man and his families, his initial nuclear family, it's demise, and his second family through to his death. Notably, the name Kendall-Jackson is the combination of his first wife's family name and married name. Alas, their lack of agreement on the degree of risk in starting a new business, and lack of shared vision and commitment lead to the disintegration of their marriage.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2018

With the book and its vivid history and evolution of this wine as a backdrop, I went out and bought a bottle of this 'premium' mass market varietal based wine - Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Santa Barbara County Chardonnay.

Linda prepared salmon with brown rice pilaf for the occasion.  

Winemaker notes: Lush tropical fruit, lemon, lime and floral notes intertwines with nice minerality from the calciferous soils in the Santa Maria and Los Alamos Valleys. There is a touch of floral notes from the small amounts of Dijon and Rued clones, and a hint of vanilla and spice to round out the rich, long finish.

This is 100% Chardonnay sourced from estate (producer owned) vineyards from Santa Barbara County. The Santa Barbara wine region is renowned as being one of California’s coolest grape growing regions due to its unique east-west running valleys running along the coast. Santa Barbara’s cool, maritime climate results in a long growing season, with extended hang-time on the vines giving the grapes more balanced ripeness and intense flavors.

This was rated 92 points by Antonio Galloni, Vinous, Mar 2020, 91 points by Wine Advocate, 90 points by Jeb Dunnuck, and 88 points by Wine Enthusiast.

I found it acceptable for a $20 bottle, widely available for fifteen dollars, straw colored, sprites of lime citrus with notes of tropical fruit, minerality and hint of vanilla, detracted by a rather unpleasant funky barnyard aroma. I hope this was anomalous to the bottle we obtained.

RM 86 points.  

The following evening, with half the Grand Reserve left, I opened this Cambria Chardonnay half bottle for a mini comparison tasting. If I read it right in the book, this was a coveted vineyard of Jackson, sourcing grapes for his California Chardonnay. Jackson maneuvered a purchase of the property when the owners were seeking to sell, by splitting up the red wine Pinot Noir parcels from the white wine Chardonnay parcels. He was highly leveraged at the time and could not afford the entire property, and was only interested in that portion that grew Chardonnay grapes. The book details the maneuvering and negotiating that eventually lead to Jackson acquiring the Cambria Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. 

I believe the grapes in this wine would be the same grapes sourced for both these labels, the single vineyard designated select, and the blended broader appellation bottling, the Santa Maria Valley being a sub-appellation of Santa Barbara County.

There was a similarity in the profiles of the two wines with similar taste sprites in the citrus notes. Interesting and fun comparing and speculating the common genealogy of the grapes. Are the same source grapes in both bottles?

Cambria Benchbreak Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2014

This Benchbreak Chardonnay was golden butter colored, medium bodied with lively bright fruit flavors of citrus, peach, green apple and hints of sweet pineapple with a layer resembling butterscotch on a fresh, clean finish.

RM 88 points.



The Kendall-Jackon Jess Jackson Story 

In 1974, Jess Jackson purchased an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard up in Lake County, California, just north of Napa Valley, and replanted it with Chardonnay grapevines. In 1982, Jess and his family set out to make a premium, yet affordable, California wine. 

In 1982, he set out for New York City to establish distribution for his new concept wine and unknown brand. He sold his first case of his Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. That same year, that inaugural vintage of Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay won the first-ever Platinum Award for an American Chardonnay at The American Wine Competition. 

Soon thereafter, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy, native Californians, wanted to serve a California wine in the White House. Nancy discovered and fell in love with the taste of Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay and selected Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay as their 'house wine'. San Francisco Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and city icon, Herb Caen, caught wind of the story and wrote a column about the wine referring to the Chardonnay as "Nancy’s wine." The brand was established, demand exploded, and the company grew exponentially. 

By 1991, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay had become the #1 selling Chardonnay in America, and remains so to this day. 

In 2007, Jess Jackson was honored with the Wine Enthusiast Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded each year to the individuals and companies that have made outstanding achievements in the wine and beverage world. Jess Jackson was one of the first and largest winemakers to introduce America to varietal-specific wine, not only increasing the public’s understanding and appreciation of wine, but also making it affordable. 

Jess Jackson passed away in April of 2011.  

In 2013, Wine Enthusiast named Barbara Banke, Jackson's second wife and long-time partner who helped him build the business, and succeeded him as its leader, as its 2013 Wine Person of the Year. The first woman to win the award, Barbara shares it with Jess, the magazine’s inaugural recipient in 2000.

In 2017 Kendall-Jackson was awarded Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.