Jess Jackson

Courtesy of Jackson Family Wines
Jess Jackson

Physically imposing, intelligent and tireless, Jess Stonestreet Jackson was larger than life. He was also a contrarian, often ready for a fight, which made him the perfect person to shake up California wine in the 1980s.

Born in 1930, Jackson grew up poor in San Francisco. He worked as a cop while attending law school, once showing up at a class spattered in someone's blood. After building a successful law practice, he bought a home in California's Lake County in 1974. Perpetually restless, he planted vines, selling the grapes to Fetzer before deciding to make his own wines. When a stuck fermentation led to a Chardonnay with residual sweetness, he turned a mistake into a miracle. He dubbed it Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve, and the 18,000 cases produced in 1982 had jumped to 1 million 10 years later. Jackson never stopped growing, buying land and acquiring wineries both at home and abroad. Upon his death in 2011, his wife, Barbara Banke, and his children inherited one of America's largest wine companies, with more than 35 brands totaling 5 million cases a year.