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Even in death, Jackson keeps eye on his wines

April 24, 2012

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
The Wine Guys

High atop Bear Point in Sonoma County’s Alexander Mountain sits a single grave stone in sight of a small vineyard.

It is a vineyard with one of the most breathtaking views in California, surely the reason the legendary Jess Stonestreet Jackson chose it as his final resting place.

Jackson, the name behind Kendall-Jackson and so much more, died about a year ago. Although he was the name behind so many wines, it is the one bearing his middle name that had particular appeal.

No wonder. Founded in 1989, the fruit for the estate wines is sourced from 900 acres of vineyards planted on four ridges that range in elevation from 400 to 2,400 feet.

As you can imagine, growing grapes on such a difficult terrain isn’t easy — or cheap — because everything has to be done without the help of machinery. But it’s the difficulty in this volcanic soil that gives the vines the opportunity to produce very uniquely flavored and concentrated wines.

We had the opportunity to taste the current vintages during a visit with Graham Weerts, Stonestreet’s winemaker.

Weerts learned his trade in his South Africa homeland and left in 2004 to work for Jackson. He became intrigued by mountain-grown grapes while working for Verite Winery in 1999.

Cabernet sauvignon is king, accounting for about half of the grapes grown here. There are smaller amounts of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec.

However, in 2008, Weerts intentionally reduced the volume of wine he was making and eliminated merlot. Not surprisingly, the wines became more concentrated — the 2007 reds we tasted were massive.

Although Napa Valley gets the attention for mountain-grown wines, the 2006 Stonestreet Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) can compete with the best of them. Named after Jackson’s only son, the vineyard, planted in 1991, is at the highest elevation on the estate, some 2,400 feet up. The wine is an iron fist in a velvet glove: graceful yet powerful. It had concentrated plum and boysenberry flavors with a good dose of spice and a hint of dark chocolate. Only 275 cases were made.

More reasonably priced, the 2007 Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) uses grapes from special blocks ranging in elevation from 800 to 2,400 feet. Dark in color, it has huge black cherry and plum flavors with a touch of dried herbs and mineral.

Stonestreet also makes two wildly different but equally enjoyable chardonnays. The 2009 Broken Road Chardonnay is made from grapes grown 1,800 feet up the mountain in gravel soils that give the wine a mineral character. It is intensely fragrant and has good acidity.

The 2009 Bear Point Chardonnay has more texture with soft peach and apricot flavors and a hint of citrus and vanilla.

Even in death, Jess is still keeping an eye on his wines. He should be proud.

Check out the authors’ blog at wine-guys.com. Some of the wines recommended in our column may have been provided for review by their producers. The authors can be reached at tmarquardt@capitalgazette.com.

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