Kendall-Jackson was founded in 1974 when Jess Jackson, a San Francisco attorney, bought an 80-acre orchard in Lake County and replanted it into a vineyard. His first commercial release was the 1982 Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay which was immediately popular and critically acclaimed. Today the estate includes 10,545 acres and it produces numerous collections of wines. Though still known for its Chardonnay, it also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and red and white blends. The long-time wine master at the estate is Randy Ullon. This estate is a major producer and Jackson, who died in 2011, went on to purchase other wineries in the region and around the world. Despite being part of a growing winemaking empire, Robert M. Parker Jr. wrote that the quality of the Kendall-Jackson estate wines is very high: “This is certainly an example of bigger being better.”
Alexander Valley is an American Viticultural Area just north of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. It was granted AVA status in 1984, with amendments made in subsequent years. The Russian River flows through the valley, and the region was named for Cyrus Alexander, a 19th century landowner and grape grower. The AVA includes 15,000 vineyard acres, much of it rich, alluvial soil layered on a bed of gravel, somewhat similar to many vineyards in Bordeaux. Alexander Valley is sheltered from marine weather by the low hills northeast of Healdsburg, though it is often shrouded in the morning fog coming off the Russian River. Some of the earliest commercial winemaking in the area started in the 1880s, when immigrants formed the Italian Swiss Colony cooperative at Asti. The region made jug wines until the 1960s and 1970s, when a new wave of quality-minded producers started estates. Today Alexander Valley is home to some of California’s most admired wineries, including Simi, Stonestreet and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Silver Oak Cellars, though based in Napa Valley, has a second winery in Alexander Valley where it makes Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Many grapes do well in the Alexander Valley, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.
The Merlot grape is such a deep blue that it is named for the blackbird. It’s an early ripening grape and one of the primary varietals used In Bordeaux. Merlot is also grown in the "International style," which is harvested later to bring out more tannins and body.