by Fred McMillin
for June 23, 1998

Gangway for This Chardonnay


In 1982 Jess Jackson's Kendall-Jackson winery burst onto the scene with its Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, opulent, juicy and a little sweet. Employing grapes from a number of California regions, the blend soared to 400,000 cases a year. It was one of the great marketing success stories of the 1980's.

...James Laube, California's Great Chardonnays


1974—Jess converts his family's Clear Lake property from orchards to a vineyard.

1978—The vines were bearing but he couldn't sell the grapes, so he turned to winemaking, with the help of top winemakers like Chuck Ortman (Meridian).

1980—Jess's first Chardonnay is produced under the name Chateau du Lac.

a)The name is changed to Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.
b)Future star winemaker Jed Steele joins the firm.
c)During the fall fermentation, it suddenly stops before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. Unable to re-start it, the slightly sweet wine is sold (with that bit of sugar), and creates a sensation. It sells out in six months.

1991—Kendall Jackson is now using its ultra- premium grapes to produce a Grand Reserve Chardonnay. top of the line...priced above $20. My tasters just tried the 1996 Grand Reserve and found it dazzling.

The Wine

1996 Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Grape sources—Roughly, 2/3 Santa Maria Valley (tropical fruit flavors) and 1/3 Sonoma (apple and pear).
Oak—100% French, 50% new
Malolactic fermentation—100%
Barrel fermented—100%
Alcohol—A substantial 13.7%
Tasting notes—Nicely-balanced fruit and oak powerhouse.
Recent changes—Complexity has been increased by using native yeast in some of the batches, and stirring the flavor-giving sediment (lees) more frequently.
Contact—(707) 544-4000
Price—$26 range


That $26 is a fair piece of change, but look at the costs behind those Sonoma and Santa Maria grapes. The press reported that one of Jess's Sonoma purchases ran eight mill, while the 1,200 acres in the Santa Maria Valley cost a cool $12 million!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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