Robert Whitley's Creators Syndicate Columns

February 11, 2015

The Jackson Legacy

Creators Syndicate

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 for his beloved K-J lives on.

The Report Card

2014 Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris, California ($15) B

2013 Avant Sauvignon Blanc, California ($13) C+
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, California ($13) A-
2013 Avant Chardonnay, California ($17) B+
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, California ($17) A-
2013 Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Monterey-Santa Barbara ($22) A-
2013 Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco ($35) A+
2013 Jackson Estate Piner Hills Chardonnay, Russian River Valley ($35) A
2013 Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley ($35) A-
2013 Jackson Estate Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley ($22) B+
2013 Stature Chardonnay, Santa Barbara ($100) A+
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Riesling, Monterey ($12) B
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey-Santa Barbara ($18) B+
2013 Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey-Santa Barbara ($26) B+
2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Los Robles, Santa Barbara ($40) A+
2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Seco Highlands, Arroyo Seco ($40) A+
2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($30) A-
2013 Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Outland Ridge, Anderson Valley ($40) A
2013 Avant Red, California ($17) B+
2012 Vintner’s Reserve Summation Red, California ($17) B+
2012 Grand Reserve Meritage, Sonoma County ($30) A
2012 Vintner’s Reserve Syrah, Santa Barbara ($16) A-
2013 Jackson Estate Syrah Los Alisos Hills, Santa Barbara ($37) A
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Zinfandel, Mendocino ($16) A-
2012 Vintner’s Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County ($24) A-
2012 Grand Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County ($28) A-
2012 Jackson Estate Merlot Taylor Peak, Bennett Valley ($40) A
2012 Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County ($35) A
2012 Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($40) A+
2012 Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Hawkeye, Alexander Valley ($55) A+
2012 Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Trace Ridge, Knights Valley ($70) A
2012 Jackson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Mountain, Mt. Veeder ($70) A+
2012 Stature Red Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma County ($125) A+

For the Love of Sancerre

Creators Syndicate

Sometime over the past year I stumbled across a Sancerre that proved addicting, making me fall in love all over again with this beautiful wine from France's Loire Valley.

The producer is Roger Naudet & Fils and the wine is Domaine des Buissonnes. The current vintage I am drinking (I just purchased a new case) is 2013 and it retails for an average price of $23 according to

Like many of you who are enthusiastic consumers of Sauvignon Blanc, my taste runs the gamut. When in Bordeaux I enjoy the richness and warmth and the fresh white peach aroma of top-notch Graves and Pessac-Leognan blanc. At home I savor the freshness and complexity of Sauvignons from Sonoma County, particularly the Russian River Valley. And in general I am a huge fan of the pungent Sauvignons from New Zealand's Marlborough region, especially when feasting on freshly shucked oysters or steamed clams.

Sancerre has seemed to take a back seat in the face of all the worldwide Sauvignon competition in recent years. The reasons are many, but mostly rooted in the fact that Sancerre producers tend to be small operations and even when imported to the U.S. by a major player, America is a huge market and there is only so much Sancerre to go around.

I discovered Domaine des Buissonnes at one of my favorite neighbrhood restaurants, Brooklyn Girl, owned and operated by my friends Michael and Victoria McGeath. Michael is a true wine aficionado. He's been in the restaurant business close to four decades and he makes the wine-buying decisions at Brooklyn Girl, which also has a small wine shop for off-premise sales.

Buissonnes is a beautifully balanced, elegant Sancerre that delivers succulent citrus aromas, with inviting minerality and mouth-watering, juicy acidity. By today's standards the alcohol by volume is low at 12.5 percent, so you can drink more than a glass with lunch and go back to work.

But, more than anything, it reminds me of all that I loved about Sancerre when I discovered it as a young journalist in New York in the early 1970s. I'm still big on other styles of Sauvignon, but I'm finally back to Sancerre and enjoying every last drop of my latest purchase.