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Kendall Jackson: Why Their "Sweet" Chardonnay Was The Best

Part of a Chardonnay blog series

What's Their Story:

Jess Jackson, a San Francisco native, and his then-wife founded Kendall-Jackson Winery in 1982. Using land that he and his family owned in Lakeport (Clear Lake region in Northern California), the existing pear and walnut orchards were removed and replanted with grapevines. He originally sold the grapes to other wineries but found in 1981 that the market had shifted. Since he couldn't sell the grapes for enough money to recoup costs, he made wine (too many lemons, make lemonade theory). He also had a slightly different approach than other wineries, which he honed over the next decade. While other wineries capitalized on grapes from a particular vineyard, Mr. Jackson concentrated on creating blends from grapes from various vineyards; this led to the creation of the winery when the Jacksons discovered a niche for reasonably priced Chardonnay wine.

Like in so many cases, failures often lead to unbelievable success. In 1983, due to a processing problem, Kendall-Jackson's Chardonnay became "stuck"; the fermented wine had too much sugar. Despite many mitigation efforts, the wine failed to achieve the level of desired dryness. It did, however, please consumers. The Chardonnay would become one of California's most popular wines; sixty percent of American consumers would choose sweet and fruity Chardonnays as their wine of choice.

Today, although Mr. Jackson passed away in 2011, Kendall-Jackson remains a family-owned enterprise. Kendall-Jackson and sister wineries are the 13th largest wine operation in the United States. The company produces approximately 1.7 million cases of wine annually from over 10,000 acres of vineyards and exports to at least forty countries worldwide.

Why The Winery Made The Grade: Chardonnay

When visiting wineries and writing about them, I must tow a fairly narrow line. I want to pay attention to the wine, but I have to give more weight to the actual winery experience, and several factors contribute to that….the wine, the ambiance, and the staff. There are three reasons why this winery made the grade:

1. Sixty percent of Americans thought their wine was the bees' knees at one point. I know I know…a hundred percent of people used candles 200 years ago. It's still worth investigating.

2. Their garden, all four acres of it, is one of the best in either Sonoma or Napa. Plan to spend additional time just strolling through and enjoying.

3. The tastings are either conducted in their palatial tasting room or outside on their spacious, lushly landscaped patio.


Their indoor tasting salon is elegant, but their patio is the bomb. One of the best in Sonoma and beautifully appointed, you will want to spend the whole afternoon.

Which Winery Visitor Type Would Love It :

Casual Wine Drinkers and Luxury Seekers would particularly enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and appreciate the design touches.


Address: 5007 Fulton Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Phone: (800) 769-3649


Appointments Are Required.

Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM Daily

Tours/Tastings Offered: Kendall-Jackson offers extensive tasting opportunities.

If you can swing it, I highly recommend one of their food and wine pairings. Their "Seasonal Wine Flights and Bites" at $75.00 per person and "Wine and Food Experience" at $100.00 per person feature produce from their gardens and are a bargain these days. Wine tastings (without food) vary from $35.00 to $125.00 per person.

Read the next blog in the Chardonnay series: Kistler Vineyards or read all of the Chardonnay blogs in our new guide, Chardonnay Wineries of Sonoma and Napa.

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