It's no secret that Kendall-Jackson sells tons (literally) of its Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. For the 2004 vintage, production totaled about 2 million cases, which accounted for more than half of K-J's entire output. What's new with the 2004 Chardonnay is the source of the grapes: They are 100 percent estate-grown.
That's a big change for the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. During the wine boom of the late 1990s, K-J bought significant amounts of juice and grapes on the bulk market to keep up with demand. The company has made a gradual shift to estate-grown, a designation that means the winery either owns a vineyard or manages it under a long-term contract. For comparison, K-J bought grapes or juice for 30 percent of its 2003 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay.
Currently, other Vintner's Reserve wines, such as the 2003 Merlot and 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, are about 40 percent estate-grown. But company owner Jess Jackson is intent on moving the entire brand to estate-grown grapes, said spokesman George Rose. K-J owns about 12,000 acres in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Barbara and Monterey counties and controls many thousands of acres through contracts.
"For those who know anything about farming," Jackson said in a statement, "controlling one's own vineyards means that you control grape quality."
The change in grape sources, which increases the 2004 Chardonnay's suggested retail price from $10 to $12, is viewed as a strategic move by many industry analysts. The $10-and-under price point is a cutthroat market, with fierce competition from Australian and South American wines.
Some of the juice that formerly went into the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay is finding its way into K-J's value brands, such as Dog House and Camelot, which have suggested retail prices of $9 and $8, respectively.
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