By Alexa Chipman November 25, 2017
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Estate Tasting and dinner.
Kendall-Jackson is a go-to dinner wine that is dropped into grocery bags along with frozen pizza and pudding cups, but its reputation should not end there. Yes, they distribute accessible wine that lines shelves of Walmart, but they also create single vineyard estate options for discerning wine enthusiasts, available at the winery in a dramatic high-ceiling tasting room. The key with Kendall-Jackson is to look for bottles labeled “Jackson Estate” or “Grand Reserve” rather than the mainstream “Vintner’s Reserve”.
What I find compelling is the extensive organic garden on the property, with rare plants like ice lettuce, which has South African origins. It is a crunchy edible succulent, and one reason the vegetables have San Francisco chefs lining up to request produce. Affectionately known as “Farmer T” on Instagram, Tucker Taylor has worked with The French Laundry restaurant, and poetically describes being in the garden as “quieting the noise, taking a bath in nature.”
No matter what your opinion is of the wine, food pairings at Kendall-Jackson are well worth experiencing. From a team of meticulous chefs, choose from a variety of appetizer, cheese, and chocolate flights, or wait until summer for the Farm-to-Table Dinner Series. Sit outside in the garden to bask in warm afternoon light surrounded by rows of fresh produce, views of the demonstration vine gazebo, and sensory plantings by varietal aroma. Menus include highlights such as scrumptious Green Goddess Salad, Tomato & Squash Gratin with Point Reyes White Cheddar, Trout Caviar, Yellowtail Jack with Snap Peas, Ice Lettuce, and Sorrel, and of course Oysters. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, wait until you try the desserts.
I have a sweet tooth, and can honestly say that the desserts at Kendall-Jackson are the best I have ever had; they melt with a perfection of balanced flavors and textures. “Buttercup” Robert Nieto’s pastry masterpieces are awe inspiring, from Steampunk chocolate centerpieces complete with clockwork accents to simple brownie cookie wedges in a tasting room basket for visitors to enjoy during the holidays. He has worked with Pastry Team USA for the World Pastry Cup, which is the baking equivalent of an Olympic team, won multiple awards, and if that isn’t impressive enough, he also trains for Ironman triathlons. Basically, “Buttercup” is a superhero of pastry chefs, and he is right here in Sonoma County.
During the fires, Kendall-Jackson mobilized to prepare food for employees who lost their homes. The tasting room is currently donating part of their bottle sale proceeds to fire victims, and $20 for each wine club signup. I attended the first large dinner gathering after the events of October as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference, and there was a bittersweet sense of purpose in the air. Sonoma County wineries are back and ready for visitors.
With its whimsical holiday decorations and well-stocked gift shop, Kendall-Jackson is an excellent stop on your holiday shopping whirlwind this December, while supporting the county. There is an electric vehicle recharging station available in the guest parking lot.
2015 Jackson Estate Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay
Enter a gazebo draped with honeysuckle and orange blossoms, sipping lime and mango juice in a chilled glass, with a dash of honey mixed in. This is the bottle I walked away with; a beautiful example of Chardonnay.
2015 Jackson Estate Camelot Highlands Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley)
The vibrant dance of tropical flavors is having a tiki party in this wine—kumquat, melon, pineapple and passion fruit with a finish of crunchy buttered toast.
2015 Jackson Estate Piner Hills Chardonnay (Russian River)
Early morning fog blankets an apple orchard with dew drenched, intense flavor. This is a focussed, acidic wine with tart edges.
2015 Jackson Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Harvested in the locally known “Petaluma Gap” between Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay, it is a softly expressive Pinot Noir with crushed rose petal aroma, ripe cherries and holiday touch of cranberry and cinnamon spice. It is a quietly delicious wine that would easily go well with dinner or sipping beside a lighted tree waiting for Santa to arrive.
2015 Jackson Estate Seco Highlands Pinot Noir (Arroyo Seco, Monterey County)
Cut a slice of cherry pie with raspberry garnish that moves into a dry mulch, earthy wine with defined tannic structure.
2013 Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)
Breathe in the scents of grandmother’s kitchen, with baking spices, dark cherries in a bowl ready to be added to her black forest cake, and ambient smoke hanging in the air.
2013 Jackson Estate Napa Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
A classic Napa infusion of currants, blueberries and early harvest blackberries, it is assisted by moist bark with a chewy consistency that pairs well with chocolate.