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Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

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Everybody familiar with the chest-level shelf of the supermarket wine section knows K-J. Heck, anyone who’s ever been out of doors on a summer day has seen a bottle of K-J’s ubiquitous Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. So why stop in? Two words: “Mouth amuser.”

Join the court of K-J
Jackson Family Wines purchased the former Chateau de Baun in 1996. Surrounded by vineyards, but convenient to the 101 freeway, it’s a perfect “gateway to the Wine Country” setup. The exterior is styled to meet the standards of Marie Antoinette, while modern highlights inside include a “vertigo cam” video that swoops and plunges across high-altitude vineyards.

But it’s food that really stars here. Featuring produce from extensive culinary gardens on-site, K-J holds an annual heirloom tomato festival.The gourmet food and wine pairing program has been put on hold, for good reason: A new, improved culinary wing is under construction, scheduled to open in April, 2013. The expanded menu of executive chef Justin Wangler’s artfully prepared “amuse bouche” style temptations will be made in a big, open kitchen.

Let them sip Chardonnay
Until then, cheese and grapeseed flour crackers are offered in the main hall. Thoughtfully chosen cheese, I’m told.

The 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay ($22) is a step up from the familiar Vintner’s, having soft caramel and crisp lemon flavors in lesser amounts and higher quality.

A bone to those who’ll have nothing to do with the buttery, oaky style that made K-J a household name, the 2011 Avant Chardonnay ($15) is aged in equal parts stainless steel and “neutral” barrels that do not impart a woody essence, but round out the crisp edges of its fresh pear flavor.

Nerd out
Ampelography is the practice of identifying grapevines, traditionally by the shape of their leaves — when it’s close to harvest, grape clusters provide a few hints, too. Wander through the demonstration vineyard, planted by the viticulture department at Santa Rosa Junior College, to study up on the difference between Pinot Meunier and Merlot. Just in case there’s a test.

Hit the road
Like contrasts? The opposite of a multinational (although K-J is family-owned) megawinery is just due south on Fulton Road, and left at the light. Old World Winery practices winemaking with minimal technology and interventions.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Rd., Fulton. Daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $10-$20. 707-576-3810.

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