Jess Jackson

Lovers of sweet Chardonnay and fast horses lost a champion with the death of Jess Stonestreet Jackson in late April.

Jackson was a successful San Francisco lawyer looking for diversion when he and first wife, Jane Kendall, planted grape vines in 1974.

In the early 1980s Fetzer Vineyards canceled an order and left Jackson with a bumper crop of grapes. Ever resourceful, he took up winemaking under the name Kendall-Jackson.

Initial success was accidental. A fermentation flub left residual sugar in K-J Chardonnay, giving it a plush sweetness not sought in classic bottlings. Jackson, however, recognized a perfect flavor profile for wine newbies [cq].

Critics clucked condemnations while Kendall-Jackson Reserve Chardonnay became one of the best-selling wines in America.

“I’m making wine for the consumer, not the wine writers,” Jackson laughed on his way to the bank.

K-J’s genius went beyond nudging sweetness levels. Jackson priced his wine a dollar higher than comparable competitors, giving wine neophytes a sense of purchasing prestige and making K-J a high-margin money machine. Forbes Magazine ranked Jackson among the world’s wealthiest people.

Jackson moved operations to Sonoma County in mid-1980s; many credit him with putting that area on the wine map. K-J now owns more than 35 wineries worldwide and sells more than five million cases a year.

In 2003, Jackson turned to thoroughbred racing and achieved sweet success there, too. He co-owned Curlin, Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008, and Rachel Alexandra, Horse of the Year in 2009.

Even if Chard is not your thing, toast a life lived full tonight.


• Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. Tropical fruits; vanilla and honey nose; top-selling Chardonnay in U.S. for 20 straight years; Robert Parker 89 points. $13

• Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay. Creamy, lush, cinnamon hint; Robert Parker 91 points. $14

• Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Black fruits, mocha and nutmeg. Robert Parker 90-93 points. $24