Kendall-Jackson is one of the biggest names in California wine, and Sonoma County wine country is K-J’s home turf. And there’s much more to visiting Kendall-Jackson Winery than wine tasting: it’s an educational and culinary experience.
The Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens is located just north of Santa Rosa, at the gateway to northern Sonoma County wine country. Although it’s convenient to the 101 freeway and there is ample parking available, the visitor center has a peaceful, park-like setting. It invites strolling through the rose gardens and the vines, provides the shade of a gazebo amid the trees, and the offers learning opportunities in the culinary and red and white wine “sensory gardens.” Both self-guided tours and guided tours with wine tasting ($25) are available.
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, the building is styled like a French chateau, surrounded by lush gardens and vineyards.
Modern highlights inside include a vertigo-inducing video loop display that swoops and plunges across Kendall-Jackson’s many mountain vineyards.
The Range of Kendall-Jackson Wines
Everybody familiar with the supermarket wine section knows K-J’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay.
But for those who’ll have nothing to do with the buttery, oaky style that made K-J a household name, the Avant Chardonnay 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.
The Grand Reserve Chardonnay is a step up from the familiar Vintner’s, having soft caramel and crisp lemon flavors in lesser amounts and higher quality.
Jackson Estate and Stature Cabernet Sauvignon round out the selection of K-J’s top wines with more limited availability. Both reserve tastings ($10) and estate tastings ($20) are available without appointment.
Food Pairings and Tips for Visitors
It’s food that really stars here. Featuring produce from extensive culinary gardens on-site, K-J holds an annual heirloom tomato festival, and seasonal Farm-to-Table dinner series. And a new, improved culinary wing was opened in 2013 to house the gourmet food and wine pairing program.
The expanded menu of executive chef Justin Wangler’s artfully prepared “amuse bouche” temptations and other dishes are made in a big, open kitchen for reserve wine and food pairings. Wine and cheese and wine and chocolate pairings also are available.
Wander through the Kendall-Jackson demonstration vineyard, originally planted by viticulture students at Santa Rosa Junior College, to study up on the difference between Pinot Meunier and Merlot.
Just in case there’s a test! Ampelography is the practice of identifying grapevines, beginning with the shape of the leaves. When it’s close to harvest, grape clusters provide you with a few hints, too.
Meet the Winemaker
Kendall-Jackson actually has many winemakers but only one wine master. Since 1997, Randy Ullom has coordinated winemaking operations for this large, but family-owned company. You can find an in-depth interview with Kendall-Jackson winemaster Randy Ullom here.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, 5007 Fulton Rd., Fulton, 707-576-3810. Open daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting and tour fees vary from $10-$35.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight