Kendall-Jackson may be most often associated with the winery’s flagship Vintner’s Reserve line, starring its best-selling Chardonnay, but there is much more to this Sonoma County wine producer. The brand was founded in 1982 by Jess Jackson, who replaced pear and walnut trees with Chardonnay grapevines on an 80-acre orchard he purchased north of Napa Valley.
From there, Kendall-Jackson would go on to launch multiple collections, become a leader in sustainability and conservation, and take home many prestigious honors, including the American Wine Competition’s first-ever Platinum Award for an American Chardonnay. Here are 10 more things you should know about Kendall-Jackson.
Kendall-Jackson has been producing America’s best-selling Chardonnay since 1992.
Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay is made with 100 percent Chardonnay from various California coastal growing regions: Monterey, Santa Barbara, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties. The wine is aged for seven months in French and American oak barrels, is aged “sur lie” (kept in contact with spent yeast), and stirred once per month. The end result has been the No. 1 selling Chardonnay in the U.S. for 31 years. The first case of this beloved Chardonnay was sold in 1983 to the Oyster Bar at New York City’s Grand Central Station shortly after the winery’s launch. That same year, it was the first winner of the Platinum Award at The American Wine Competition for an American Chardonnay.
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It recently hopped on the better-for-you trend.
In 2021, Kendall-Jackson released a low-calorie version of its successful Chardonnay. K-J Low Calorie contains only 85 calories per 5-ounce glass (compared to the original’s 124 calories) with 3 grams of carbs and no added sugar. The wine, which is aged in small oak barrels, comes in at only 9 percent ABV (the original Vintner’s Reserve is 13.5 percent ABV). What sets this wine apart is that the grapes it’s made from are picked at an early and flavorful moment to capture a lower Brix level (the percentage of sugar by weight in liquid).
Kendall-Jackson has more to offer than Vintner’s Reserve.
Vintner’s Reserve is K-J’s flagship series consisting of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Red Wine Blend, Zinfandel, and Riesling, ranging from $17–$32 per bottle. But there are more collections on offer. Avant is the winery’s unoaked Chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel tanks. Stature is its higher-end line of limited-production, estate-sourced wines, including a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, that retail for about $100 per bottle. Jackson Estate is a tribute to the family’s estate vineyard, offering all the same styles as Vintner’s Reserve — plus Viognier, Syrah, and a Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre blend (ranging from $35–$80 per bottle). The Grand Reserve line is sourced from just one or two appellations and also includes a dessert wine.
First Lady Nancy Reagan loved Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay.
In the early 1980s when former President Ronald Reagan was in office, California wines were frequently served at the White House. First Lady Nancy Reagan was a known fan of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, and. Herb Caen — a former San Francisco Chronicle columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner — wrote a column dubbing it “Nancy’s wine.” In fact, Kendall-Jackson saw sales rise after the public became aware of just how much the First Lady liked it.
Randy Ullom has been the head winemaker since 1997.
For 26 years, the entire Kendall-Jackson portfolio has been overseen by Randy Ullom, who has been with the winery since 1993. Ullom was selected as a Sonoma County Icon by the Sonoma County Barrel Auction (SoCoBA) in 2022 and recognized as an American Wine Legend by the 23rd Annual Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards. It was a cross-country adventure exploring Chile’s wine country in college that ignited his pursuit of a career in wine. This led to his earning an associate’s degree in viticulture and enology in 1975, managing vineyards and making wine in New York and Ohio, and eventually moving to California, where he was the winemaker at DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County before moving on to Kendall-Jackson.
The estate boasts wine-inspired gardens.
The Kendall-Jackson Estate Gardens span four acres and have seven unique spaces, including specialty produce, perennial plants to benefit bees and birds, and red and white wine sensory gardens. These sensory gardens are designed to help visitors develop a vocabulary for smelling and tasting wine. The white wine garden includes melons, peaches, lemons, pears, and gardenia planted for Chardonnay, and orange, grapefruit, jasmine, mint, lime, and lilac planted for Gewürztraminer. In the red wine garden are plantings for Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Zinfandel; for Sangiovese, olives, red plums, roses, raspberries, and cherries. Throughout the garden, you’ll also find nesting boxes for owls, hawks, bats, and raptors. Guests can book a tour of the garden followed by a tasting on the patio ($55). If the weather is nice, visitors can book a pop-up picnic ($40 per picnic table) or reserve the garden-site bocce ball court ($40 per bocce court).
Food is an integral part of Kendall-Jackson winery visits.
Within the multi-acre, onsite garden are sections dedicated to specialty produce, which is used daily by the winery’s culinary team. Tucker Taylor, an expert in certified organic farming and sustainability, currently manages the Kendall-Jackson gardens. He works with the culinary team to search for new and interesting fruits and vegetables to grow from around the world. A range of crops are grown here, including oyster leaves from Scotland, ice lettuce from coastal Africa, and Kinome from Japan. Also grown are petite carrots, radishes, turnips, arugula, bok choy, French green beans, summer squash mix, snow peas, herbs, microgreens, edible flowers, and currant tomatoes. The international garden highlights produce inspired by various cuisines: French (chives, lavender, thyme, and tarragon); Italian (basil, fennel, oregano, and rosemary); Latin (sage, cilantro, papalo, and epizot); and Asian (lemongrass, Thai basil, Chinese parsley, chiles, and mint). In addition to produce utilized from the garden, the team uses eggs from the onsite chicken coops and honey from beehives. This farm-to-table approach earned the winery a Slow Food Snail of Approval in 2021. When it comes to trying it for yourself, you can reserve a multi-course wine and food pairing or enjoy a local cheese and charcuterie board.
Kendall-Jackson is part of a big family.
The Kendall-Jackson brand is part of Jackson Family Wines, which has a portfolio of 39 wine brands and counting, which in total produce more than 6.1 million cases of wine per year. Wineries span California’s prominent wine counties — Sonoma, Napa, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Mendocino — as well as parts of Oregon, South Africa, Chile, Australia, France, and Italy. In 2022, the company purchased 61 acres of vineyard land in Walla Walla Valley in Washington, where a new wine brand will be developed.
It helped launch the world’s first self-sustaining wine education facility.
The Jackson family pledged $3 million to help fund an 8,500-square-foot winery building for the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis in 2013. The goal of this LEED Platinum Certified facility is to help grow sustainable winemaking practices.
Jackson Family Wines is setting a new standard for sustainability.
Climate and sustainability initiatives are priorities at Kendall-Jackson and Jackson Family Wines. 23,000 solar panels power 30 percent of the winemaking at Jackson Family wineries across California and Oregon. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 17.8 percent since 2016, with a goal to cut these in half by 2030 and be climate-positive by 2050. 98 percent of waste from Jackson Family wineries is diverted from landfills, including 13,000 tons of organics and 1,350 tons of recyclables. All estate vineyards were Certified Sustainable in 2010 by Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW). Just a handful of honors include being named the 2020 Green Company of the Year by The Drinks Business as well as earning Environmental Leader Top Project of the Year Awards in 2015 and 2016, the 2016 California Green Medal Leader Award, and a 2020 Climate Leadership Award in Organizational Leadership — a first for a wine company.