Jess Jackson, founder of a California wine empire that produces more than a dozen brands, totaling nearly 3.6 million cases per year, has stepped down as chairman of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Jackson's wife, Barbara Banke, will take over, and Lewis Platt will remain as president and CEO, a position he assumed in January 2000.
Over the last few years, Jackson has decreased his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the business. He said he welcomes the chance to enjoy retirement. "I'm going to become a gentleman farmer, which is what I contemplated two decades ago before starting in the wine business."
Jackson had already worked as a trial lawyer and banker when he started his winemaking career, with the release of 16,000 cases of the 1982 Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay. He initially planned to bottle vineyard-designated wines from sites such as the Ventana vineyard in Monterey and Les Pierres and Durell vineyards in Sonoma County, but he and Ric Forman, his winemaker at the time, decided the blend was superior.
The Vintners Reserve achieved widespread success, and production at Kendall-Jackson Winery alone is now at 3.4 million cases a year. Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates has grown to include Kendall-Jackson Winery in Sonoma County, La Crema in Sonoma's Russian River Valley, Robert Pepi in Napa Valley, Tapiz in Argentina, Calina in Chile and Villa Arceno in Italy.
But Jackson's interest in single-vineyard wines was only deferred, and by 1986, he realized their sites could work as stand-alone projects, he said.
The other arm of his empire, Jackson Family Farms, focuses on small-production, high-end bottlings, often from single vineyards. Jackson Family Farms wineries include Cardinale, Lokoya and Atalon, in Napa Valley; Hartford Court, Matanzas Creek and Stonestreet, in Sonoma County; Cambria, in Santa Barbara County; Edmeades, in Mendocino County; and a new project, VHritH, which will produce two wines from Napa and Sonoma sources.
In October, Jackson transferred his Jackson Family Farms leadership responsibilities to Jean Arnold, who will be CEO. Arnold's previous experience in the California wine industry includes stints at Hanzell Vineyards, Chateau Montelena and Chalk Hill, where she focused on brand development.
Jackson will continue to be available to advise all of his wineries, but doesn't anticipate many ongoing responsibilities. "I'm really fully capable of retiring, because I think we've hit home runs with our people [who we've hired]," he said.
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