Jackson Family Wines (JFW) is a family-owned company that crafts award-winning wines of distinct character and quality. With a focus on sustainable viticulture practices, meticulous winemaking, and responsible vineyard and natural resource management, the family’s portfolio comprises more than 30 renowned wineries. In addition to their acclaimed California and Oregon producers, JFW includes fine wines from France, Chile, Italy and Australia.
Jackson Family Wines takes a generational approach to farming the land and maintaining the environment. The goal is to ensure that the land remains healthy and productive for the following generations to farm. Their vineyards and wineries are certified sustainable by the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) association. To achieve this certification, sustainability procedures across all operations must be verified by a third-party auditor against a checklist of 227 best management practices, with a focus on continual process improvement.
Refined Travellers interviewed Katie Jackson, Jackson Family Wines Vice President of Sustainability and External Affairs, to know more about the JFW sustainability strategy and challenges.
What motivated Jackson Family Wines to start a sustainability strategy?
My family has always cared deeply about taking care of the lands that we farm, the resources we use, and the wellbeing of our local communities. A sustainability mindset has been a part of how we have approached farming and winemaking since my father, Jess Jackson, started our business. This focus was rooted in a multigenerational approach to wine growing, which meant making good decisions that would allow our family to make quality wines for hundreds of years to come. Due to this philosophy, there are certain environmental practices that we have pursued from the beginning. However, in 2008 we decided to comprehensively measure and address all our impacts with a formalised sustainability program. To do this, we measured our impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use and energy use, so that we could track our company-wide progress moving forward against these baselines.
We created our first Family Responsibility Report to take this approach even further by applying ambitious five-year sustainability goals. We are proud of the fact that we’ve been able to make great strides in what we’ve done so far, but we recognise that sustainability is a journey. As my generation becomes more involved in our family wine business, we are bringing the same passion that our parents instilled in us to continue to make the best quality wines in the most responsible way possible, and have an even greater positive impact on our environment and communities.
What has been the biggest sustainable challenge so far?
Since we are farmers and most of the grapes we farm are in California, water has always been, and will likely continue to be, our greatest sustainable challenge. We experienced this most recently with the past four years of severe drought, but we know from history that cycles of drought will always be a part of the climate in California.
My family has always understood this, which is why water conservation and management has always been a key priority for us. The most recent drought pushed us to become even more creative and resourceful in terms of water management, both in our vineyards and wineries. Since 2008, for example, we have reduced our overall water usage by 41 per cent. Our next goal is to reduce the amount of water we use to produce our wines by an additional 33 per cent compared to 2015. By doing this, we can demonstrate how to only use 3.6 gallons of water to make a gallon of wine—about half of what a winery currently uses, on average.
Are you finding any challenges related to climate change and global warming?
Being farmers first, we know that the climate is always changing. Over the years we’ve had to adapt to evolving weather patterns, from the recent drought to years with heavier rains. Unpredictable weather patterns have meant evolving how we farm our vineyards, as well as redoubling our efforts to become more efficient in our wineries. We have definitely become better farmers, and winemakers, as a result.
What do you think the advantages of sustainable viticulture are? Does sustainable viticulture make for higher-quality wines?
My family has always been very committed to making the highest-quality wines, and luckily for our consumers and the planet, we have found that there is a very strong connection between sustainable farming and quality! For instance, as I’ve mentioned, our sustainability philosophy when it comes to farming is always to use water in the vineyards as wisely as possible.
One of the wonderful co-benefits of being judicious with our use of water for irrigation is that it also contributes to smaller berry size, which we find leads to greater intensity and complexity of flavour due to the higher skin-to-pulp ratio. Overwatering, on the other hand, tends to dilute the berries and reduce the intensity of the grape’s expression.
Water management is just one example of how sustainable viticulture contributes to better quality farming. All of our sustainable practices are positive contributors to quality because they require us to be extremely mindful about every decision we make in the vineyards. We believe that great wines are made in the vineyard, and this attention to detail is what makes the difference between good and exceptional quality. Sustainability just provides another tool to help us further fine-tune our practices to make better wine, in a more responsible way, year after year.
What are Jackson Family Wine’s winemaking goals in the coming years?
My family’s primary goal will always be to craft the highest-quality wines. As a family company, we’re focused on the quality of the wines we make across our entire portfolio. As lovers of wines the world over, we are also exploring opportunities to make wines in some of the world’s renowned wine regions that we hadn’t invested in previously. For instance, we recently expanded our portfolio with the production of premium wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and a partnership with a winery that produces a high-end chardonnay from South Africa. As we continue to sell more wines internationally, we are also focused on telling the story of my family, and our commitment to quality, to new consumers.
What are some of your favourite sustainable/organic wines?
All of the wines that my family makes are sustainable, which is wonderful because I have so many favourites to choose from! A few great wines I am enjoying this spring are our Kendall-Jackson Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Matanzas Creek Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc, Cambria Barbara’s Pinot Noir, Stonestreet Upper Barn Chardonnay, Hartford Winery Velvet Sisters Pinot Noir, and Yangarra High Sands Grenache. These are all incredibly delicious wines!
What’s happening at K-J
There are lots of events happening all year round at Kendall Jackson, including Farm-to-Table Dinner Series, wine club release parties and a spring wine and gardening symposium. Keep in touch here for up-to-date events, and check out the blog for great articles on wine pairing, celebrations and recipes.
Written By: Refined Travellers Staff