Just as families tend to do, the Kendall-Jackson collection of wines has expanded over the last 35 years. First came the birth of the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay in 1982. Four years later came the expansion of the Vintner’s Reserve collection along with the introduction of several, top-tier Grand Reserve wines (explore the differences between Vintner’s Reserve and Grand Reserve). Twenty-nine years after the first vintage of the Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, the Jackson Estate wines – as the French would say - “saw the light of day.”
One can only guess what founder Jess Jackson might think of the Jackson Estate wines today, as this collection was created three years after Jess passed on. It’s true that Jess was never easy to please, as perfection – and even the idea of fine-tuning perfection – was always his pursuit. Still, for those who knew him well, it is easy to believe that Jess would be in love with the assembly of the Jackson Estate wines today.
That is because each Jackson Estate wine is crafted to showcase the ultimate expression of a single grape variety (with the occasional salt-and-pepper touch of other grapes) as represented through either a single, carefully chosen vineyard parcel or a multi-vineyard bottling hailing from one appellation. Exploring within this range allows the sipper to hone in on the terroir within the Jackson Estate range. For example, you can sip a Jackson Estate, appellation-based Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a single site-sourced, Alexander Valley Hawkeye Mountain Cab. (Nota bene: the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has dashes of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to display the ultimate dynamics of the appellation in light of the Jackson Estate vineyards.)
Just as the collection’s name says, all of the wines exclusively come from grapes grown on family-owned vineyards. In the same vein, all the Grand Reserve wines come from family-owned sources, too.
Between the two collections, there are key two differences to note. The first difference is that while you will surely find the Grand Reserve wines in your favorite wine store, you’ll probably only find the Jackson Estate wines in your favorite restaurant, at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens or online. Secondly, the Jackson Estate wines cost the same or a marginal bit more than the Grand Reserve wines. When they cost a wee bit more, that lightly higher price reflects the work behind the grape growing that goes into wines made from carefully tended vines located in premier, high quality – and therefore limited – sources.
Whether you choose a Jackson Estate or a Grand Reserve label, all of the bottlings of these two collections come from rare parcels. Only 15 percent of California's vineyards sit on the Pacific Coast, and only five percent of those coastal vineyards are found on mountains, ridges, benchlands and hillsides – the super premium sites. So, whether you sip a glass of Grand Reserve or Jackson Estate wine, you are tasting some of California’s most elite terroir.
Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media, TimAtkin.com, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.