The legendary life of Jess Jackson
All of us at St. Francis Winery are saddened by the passing of Jess Jackson. Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbara and the entire Jackson family.
Many thoughts come to mind as to all that Jess Jackson did for all of us in the California wine industry during his time here. Like a lot of lawyers who got their start in the courtroom, I was inspired by his move from law to wine and his amazing success that followed.
Jess Jackson wasn't a showman, he was a businessman. In the early 1980s he was the first to successfully predict that an audience existed for premium California chardonnay. He introduced an audience to the premium and super-premium chardonnay category that benefited countless upscale brands in years that followed.
As a young lawyer in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, I saw senior partners in our firm ordering Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay by name. They were willing to pay a few bucks more because they read and heard that the quality was there. By the late 1980s, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay was on just about every high-end, by-the glass-wine list in the country. Jess created a demand that had not previously existed. All of us who make premium chardonnay still benefit from the demand he created.
Jess Jackson introduced an audience to the premium and super-premium level that no one knew existed. Once they got there, they continued to try other high-end brands. That's how he benefited so many of us in our industry, and for that we will always be grateful. People who taste and learn about good wine tend to keep buying up, not down.
Jess Jackson was a pioneer. Like Robert Mondavi before him, he created an audience and a category in premium California wine.
Jess would always look you in the eye and was never big on small talk. He was here to build a brand, and in doing so he helped build our industry.
Jess' lawsuit in the mid-1990s against E. & J. Gallo, for allegedly copying his Vintner's Reserve leaf design on its Gallo Turning Leaf label, is legendary. With his old pal Fred Furth as his lawyer, he turned the entire lawsuit into a national argument about Kendall-Jackson's quality, and it almost didn't matter that the jury ruled in Gallo's favor.
What mattered was that in covering the story, the Wall Street Journal and virtually every newspaper in the country carried a front page picture of Kendall-Jackson's Vintner's Reserve label, as well as quotes from Jess Jackson about his superior wine quality. You couldn't buy that kind of publicity.
Regardless of his motivation, the lawsuit and how it was played out it in the media was the single most brilliant act of wine marketing in the past 30 years. Legendary.
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Christopher Silva is President and & CEO of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards.