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.”
Howell Mountain AVA in Northeastern Napa Valley was the first of Napa Valley’s sub-appellations, earning its own designation in 1984, just a year after Napa Valley became an appellation. As the name suggests, the AVA is in one of the highest elevations in the area. Every vineyard in the appellation is at least 1,400 feet above sea level. Some vineyards are as high as 2,200 feet and because of their altitude most of the AVA’s vineyards receive more sun than vineyards at lower elevations, which are affected by fog from the Pacific Ocean and the San Pablo Bay. Howell Mountain was home to vineyards in the late 19th century, but winemaker Randy Dunn is considered the area’s most influential modern pioneer. Dunn moved to Howell Mountain in 1979, acquired property and began making exceptionally rich Cabernet Sauvignon. The AVA also grows Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There are 600 vineyard acres within Howell Mountain AVA.
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.