A grand estate, surrounded by lush, green vineyards, provides a home to one of Sonoma County’s most well-known wineries, Kendall-Jackson. Perky black-eyed Susans blossom in large mounds around the spacious entry, their bright yellow petals provide a cheery splash of color to the scene. A water fountain bubbling in the center of the patio offers a sense of coolness on a warm Autumn day. We’re here to partake in a wine and food pairing experience. As we walk towards the winery’s grand entrance, an extraordinary afternoon begins to unfold.
Kendall-Jackson: The History
In 1982, Jess Jackson was an attorney in San Francisco and a grape grower with 200 acres of chardonnay grapes that he couldn’t sell because chenin blanc was “in” and chardonnay was “out.” That’s when he decided to make his own wine. By 1983, his wines won the first-ever Platinum Award for an American Chardonnay at the American Wine Competition. That same year, his Reserve Chardonnay caught the attention of Nancy Reagan, First Lady at the time. His wines were served at the White House, and suddenly Kendall-Jackson was on the map. Today, the Jackson Family makes 2.5 million cases of reserve wines that are sold in 72 countries.
But don’t let the success of Kendall-Jackson wines or the size of the company fool you. From the buzz in the tasting room, the friendliness of the staff, the care that goes into food preparation, and the estate’s well-tended four-acre garden that provides fresh produce for the restaurant, there’s something special going on here at this winery on Fulton Road. Greeted by our host and tour guide, Terry, we’re invited to tour the garden.
A wander through the Kendall-Jackson Estates garden in Sonoma County is more than just a visual experience, it’s a sensory experience. Designed by the well-known organic farmer Tucker Taylor to provide fruit, vegetables and herbs for the estate’s food and wine pairings, this expertly planned garden also features flowers planted solely for beauty, a demonstration beehive, bird boxes, a bat box and a chicken coop. The biodynamic farming in this garden is impressive. But it’s the white wine and red wine sensory gardens that really pique our curiosity.
Each sensory garden is filled with herbs, fruits and plants to help you detect the flavors and aromas in the wines you’re about to taste. Terry graciously carries an old-fashioned steel “milk bottle” carrier filled with wine for us to sample as we explore the gardens.
In the white sensory garden, each corner represents a white wine varietal with plantings for viognier, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc. Like an expert sommelier, you’ll soon begin to detect the flavors and nuances in the wine. Move on to the red sensory garden and pluck, sip and repeat. Aromas of blueberry, strawberry and tomato and violets emerge within your glass of pinot noir. We sniff aromas of rosemary and chocolate mint by vigorously rubbing the plant leaves between our fingers while we sample rose, chardonnay, pinot noir and then Syrah.
With our palates prepped, Terry walks us through the rest of the garden. Here at the height of its growing season, the garden is filled with rows and rows of ice lettuce, melons, summer squash, zucchini, yellow crook neck squash, corn, strawberries, kale, and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in shades of red, orange, and yellow. So abundant is the garden, what doesn’t get used in the estate’s restaurant is sold to Michelin star restaurants in Healdsburg and San Francisco.
Hungry, we move to the shaded patio to start our four-course food and wine pairing. It’s a comfortable setting, dining under the shade of large umbrellas. A cool breeze blows across the courtyard. It’s here that the heirloom tomatoes, “mouse melons” and bachelor buttons we saw in the garden appear on our plates, all harvested that morning. The relaxed pace of this winetasting experience allows time to engage our senses and to connect with food and wine crafted, prepared and paired in gourmet combinations that are truly exceptional. Wine and food affect the taste of one another. The virtue of pairings shows how food can complement wine and vice-versa.
The first course pairs an estate heirloom tomato salad, basil salt, ice lettuce, cucumber, and bush basil with a 2018 Jackson Estate Panorama Vineyard Rose of Pinot Noir. All the wines served during our pairing are only sold here at the winery.
The second course features a 2017 Jackson Estate Fulton Ranch Chardonnay, Russian River Valley with wild San Francisco Bay salmon, horseradish, little farm potato salad, summer squash, and trout caviar. When our knowledgeable host MacKenzie learns that Pam is a big fan of chardonnay, she also serves us a tasting of the Kendall Jackson Camelot and their premium chardonnay, a 2017 Stature from Santa Barbara County.
A Snake River Farms coulotte steak on carrot-pumpkin puree, with Tokyo turnip and tatsoi, paired with a 2015 Jackson Estate Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Knight’s Valley, is our third course.
The final course is a dessert of peaches and cream buttermilk panna cotta, peach jam, and almond-oatmeal crumble accompanied by canelés de Bordeaux. A sweet 2018 Vintner’s Reserve Riesling pairs perfectly with this scrumptious dessert.
As we savor our dishes, Paul Schroeder, one of the estate’s outstanding kitchen chefs, pops by with an unexpected and delightful surprise tableside visit, then invites us to tour the kitchen after lunch. The kitchen is a masterpiece and work of art in action. The size and design for optimum functionality are impressive, but it’s the teamwork of multiple chefs working together to prepare their dishes for grateful guests that captures our attention.
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After our kitchen tour we head to the tasting room where Terry offers us two additional wines that are not on the luncheon menu – a 2017 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, and the 2017 Syrah, Santa Barbara County. Rich flavors of wild strawberries, black cherries and plums come from the Pinot Noir. Jammy blackberry, plum and just the right amount of spice can be found in the Santa Barbara Syrah. These exceptional wines cap off an exceptional afternoon.
When you visit Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, you step into a place that opens up with possibilities. This is a place to immerse yourself, engage your senses, and connect with others and nature. In a lunch experience that provides a relaxed and genuine vibe, we discovered food and wine crafted and paired together in several gourmet combinations.
Impressed with the Kendall-Jackson experience, we drive away with fond memories of a most exquisite afternoon.