The story of self-made billionaire Jess Jackson, who put Chardonnay on America's tables as he built the KendallJackson 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 reinventionperhaps 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 winea 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 KendallJackson 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, KendallJackson 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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About the Author
Edward Humes is a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and author of twelve other nonfiction books, including No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court, a PEN Award recipient; Mississippi Mud; Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution; Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash; and School of Dreams, named by the Washington Post as a best book of the year. His writings have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and Sierra.
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 surfacedawn 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 consequencespunching 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 mucha 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.”
Table of Contents
Prologue: Catch Me If You Can 1
1 Diving In 7
2 First Pour: Glut and Stuck 13
3 The Street-Smart Farm Boy 35
4 The Oyster Bar and Nancy's Wine 51
5 Joe Goodguy of the Berkeley PD 65
6 Bending and Blending 87
7 The New King of Wine Country Meets His Match 117
8 Birth of a Terminal 137
9 VRU and the Hard "C" 161
10 Callo, Gall, Greens, and Growth: Jess Jackson at War 187
11 Family Man, Part II-and the Retirement That Didn't Stick 223
12 Bluegrass Hurricane: Mr. Jackson's Wild Ride 257
13 The Vineyard by the Owl House 289
Epilogue: In Vino Veritas 305
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