A Man and His Mountain: The Everyman Who Created Kendall-Jackson and Became America's Greatest Wine Entrepreneur

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The story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson, who put Chardonnay on America’s tables as he built the Kendall–Jackson wine empire from a few mountainous acres of grapes, and raced the Horse of the Year three years in a row, is a remarkable tale of romance, risk, and reinvention—perhaps the greatest second act in the history of American business.

Jess Stonestreet Jackson was one of a small band of pioneering entrepreneurs who put California’s Wine Country on the map. His life ...

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A Man and his Mountain: The Everyman who Created Kendall-Jackson and Became America's Greatest Wine Entrepreneur

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The story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson, who put Chardonnay on America’s tables as he built the Kendall–Jackson wine empire from a few mountainous acres of grapes, and raced the Horse of the Year three years in a row, is a remarkable tale of romance, risk, and reinvention—perhaps the greatest second act in the history of American business.

Jess Stonestreet Jackson was one of a small band of pioneering entrepreneurs who put California’s Wine Country on the map. His life story is a compelling slice of history, daring, innovation, feuds, intrigue, talent, mystique, and luck. Admirers and detractors alike have called him the Steve Jobs of wine—a brilliant, infuriating, contrarian gambler who seemed to win more than his share by anticipating consumers’ desires with uncanny skill. Time after time his decisions would be ignored and derided, then envied and imitated as competitors struggled to catch up.

He founded Kendall–Jackson with a single, tiny vineyard and a belief that there could be more to California Wine Country than jugs of bottom-shelf screw-top. Today, Kendall–Jackson and its 14,000 acres of coastal and mountain vineyards produce a host of award-winning wines, including the most popular Chardonnay in the world, which was born out of a catastrophe that nearly broke Jackson. The empire Jackson built endures and thrives as a family-run leader of the American wine industry.

Jess Jackson entered the horseracing game just as dramatically. He brought con men to justice, exposed industry-wide corruption in court and Congress, then exacted the best revenge of all: race after race, he defied conventional wisdom with one high-stakes winner after another, capped by the epic season of Rachel Alexandra, the first filly to win the Preakness in nearly a century, cementing Jackson’s reputation as America’s king of wine and horses.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Humes makes his charismatic subject’s every venture vividly and intensely dramatic. This book will attract readers of diverse interests, from the law to wine-making to business to horse-racing." Booklist

“A well-rounded, absorbing narrative of entrepreneurship, wine and the extraordinary man who made it all happen.” Kirkus Review, starred

“Thoroughly engaging… this biography is as well-suited for those interested in people as those interested in wine.” Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A classic American story—a man of the people becomes one of the greatest visionaries and qualitative titans the wine world has ever witnessed. Very highly recommended.” —Robert M. Parker, Jr., The Wine Advocate

“With dexterity and style, Edward Humes captures Jess Jackson, making his larger-than-life personality come alive and his rollercoaster story jump off the pages. A Man and His Mountain shows the inspiration, boundless energy, and tenacity that Jess Jackson embodied, but also the real man who was in ways like the rest of us, fallible and human. I expected a book about a winery, but what I got was an exciting, motiving, and epic journey of a man with laughs, tears, and surprises.” —Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, master of wine, author of The One Minute Wine Master

Kirkus Reviews
How a midrange California chardonnay captured the market and transformed the wine industry. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Humes (Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, 2012, etc.) explains how Jess Stonestreet Jackson (1930–2011) became "one of the four hundred richest men in the world," quoting Jackson's own estimate of his astonishing success as a vintner: "We did in wine what [Starbucks] did in coffee." The author tells the quintessentially American rags-to-riches story of this remarkable man who worked from the age of 9 and put himself through college and law school and was still working 14-hour days when he died at age 81. Humes describes a man who loved taking risks, but his admiration for his subject does not prevent him from presenting a rounded portrait of this quirky, sometimes-ruthless man, a loving but demanding husband and father who arrogated all decisions to himself. Jackson had an enormous capacity for hard work and a brilliant mind capable of absorbing a massive amount of detail without losing the bigger picture. He began a legal career in 1955, working for the California Highway Department to establish a fair market price for condemned properties. From there, he reversed gears, going into private practice as the representative of developers. He became an expert in assessing real estate and accumulated a considerable fortune from his own investments. Twenty-five years later, he bought a small vineyard as a retirement property. After finally achieving a bumper grape crop, a glut in the California grape market threatened to wipe him out. Rather than give up, he opened a winery, mortgaging his assets in order to expand. Jackson positioned Kendall-Jackson to capture the middle market by mass-producing a quality line of blended wines, and he worked further to become expert in viticulture and in marketing. A well-rounded, absorbing narrative of entrepreneurship, wine and the extraordinary man who made it all happen.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480504189
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/28/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Humes
An author and journalist, Edward Humes received the Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting in 1989 for his coverage of the military. Since then, he has written a series of acclaimed and award-winning nonfiction books, including the bestselling Mississippi Mud, No Matter How Loud I Shout, Force of Nature, Garbology and Eco Barons. No Matter How Loud I Shout was named best research nonfiction book in 1996 by Pen Center USA, and Best Book that same year by the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization, while his Mean Justice was named a best book of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times. Humes is distinguished by his unique meld of immersion journalism and narrative storytelling.
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Read an Excerpt

Jess Jackson wriggled into his half-wetsuit, threw on an air tank, regulator, and mask, and plunged into the vineyard’s dark reservoir. The icy water burned his exposed arms and legs. He could see nothing under the surface—dawn was still hours away. He’d have to feel along the slimy bottom of the pond until he found the weeds and algae that had clogged the irrigation pumps, then rip them loose so the reservoir waters could once again flow to the vines.

His big hands reduced to clumsy clubs by the cold, he tried not to panic as he felt around with numbed fingers. He knew time was not on his side. The banks of drippers and sprayers in the fields could protect the grapes from fatal frost. Liquid water soon froze once sprayed on the vines, but that was good: it insulated the fragile fruit, forming a barrier between the grapes and the much colder air temperature that would burn and ruin the crop. But the vital pumps had clogged, the protective waters were not flowing, it was the middle of the night, and there was no one but this middle-aged lawyer and part-time vintner there to do something about the incessant frost alarm. Jackson knew he either could complete this crazy, bone chilling dive and risk possible hypothermia to save his fledgling vineyard, or he could walk away, go sit by the fire, and lose the farm in a matter of hours. As in, literally, lose the farm.

In truth, this wasn’t much of a debate for Jackson. In a crisis he preferred offense to defense, whatever the consequences—punching rather than rolling with the punches. His years working as a policeman, an ambulance driver, a lumberjack, a gambler, and assorted other risky and dicey careers had convinced him of that much—a resumé that, years later, would make him a unique entry on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest men. So he had raced to rummage through the storeroom where he had stashed his diving rig. No one else in the family had been quite sure why he had hauled all this junk up to the farm. Now it seemed there had been a method to the madness, as he told his wide-eyed daughter, “I’m going in.”

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