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What is West Burgundy Wine Collective?



The announcement the other day that Jackson Family Wines has bought Copain Wines, which comes on the heels of JFW’s acquisition of Oregon’s Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, has brought renewed attention to JFW’s West Burgundy Wine Collective. So I thought I’d try to explain to my readers just what WBWC is and why it exists, because I feel it’s not really understood.

This is the way I see it, anyhow: Jess Jackson started Kendall-Jackson, and it turned out to be a tremendous success: the #1 selling Chardonnay in America for 25 years in a row, etc. etc. Jess was understandably proud of KJ, but he also wanted to show the world he was not merely a one-trick pony. He wanted to compete with wineries at the highest quality levels around the world; hence the purchase of wineries such as Matanzas Creek, or the creation of others like Verité.

The JFW portfolio now contains more than 50 wineries on five continents; most of the wineries are small, although sometimes that fact tends to get lost in the glare of the larger wineries, including KJ and La Crema. Since I’ve been working at JFW (March, 2014), this has been a source of some frustration, as people (consumers and trade alike) often refer to everything as “Kendall-Jackson,” or say that “Kendall-Jackson owns Verité,” etc., which just isn’t true. It is a constant challenge—and opportunity—to remind people that KJ is but one winery in a portfolio—the biggest winery, yes, but just one. I sometimes make the analogy that nobody holds Mouton-Cadet (which is, I believe, one of the biggest selling Bordeaux in the world) against Mouton-Rothschild. But I’ve met sommeliers at top restaurants who won’t list Stonestreet, for example, because “It’s Kendall-Jackson.” It’s enough to make me want to pull out what few hairs I have left in my head!

This recent Pinot Noir quest on the part of Barbara Banke (Jess died back in 2011) is because she is of the view—quite rightly, in my opinion—that Pinot Noir’s opportunities are limitless, in terms of the public’s embrace of it, and that West Coast (California and Oregon) Pinot Noir makes some of the best in the world (also quite rightly IMHO!). The Copain and Penner-Ash acquisitions are part and parcel of that view; so was the purchase of Siduri. These three wineries join others that JFW started itself: Wild Ridge, on the far Sonoma Coast at Annapolis; Champ de Reves, high on a mountain above Boonville, in Anderson Valley; and Gran Moraine, in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Collectively, they live in the West Burgundy Wine Collective portfolio. The thing to realize is that these are truly small, estate-driven Pinot Noir houses. (Some produce other wines, like Chardonnay and Viognier, but Pinot is obviously the focus.) Each of these wineries is inspired by Burgundian notions of terroir; each is presided over by ambitious, smart, passionate winemakers; each is given the resources to do what has to be done to produce world-class Pinot Noir; each is largely left alone by JFW management to do their own thing. This is a continuation of Jess’s (and Barbara’s) desire to succeed at the highest levels of what is possibly the world’s most difficult wine to grow and produce at grand cru levels, Pinot Noir. And each is a wine I’m proud to pour.

  1. Thanks for the background – very helpful. Is Maggy Hawk categorized differently from the wineries mentioned?

  2. All to the good, except why usurp the Burgundy identification? This seems to take us back to all our bad history–e.g. Early Burgundy as a varietal, jug wines labeled as Burgundy, and so on. We can stand on our own. Maybe I should form an East Burgundy collective, buy up land around Winters, which with climate change may have increased cool weather and fog (as the warming ocean leads to more evaporation and more moisture in the air along the coast).

  3. Ethan: yes.

  4. Bill, I hear you. It is what it is. The important thing is the wines.

  5. Need to agree with Mr Dyer. I’m, by no means, a Jackson hater; think they do some great stuff. However, the name implies deference and submission where none is required. They are, in my opinion, deleterious, stances to take. Deliberate or unintended

  6. Steve, thou protests too much and you cannot have it both ways. You’re either a big wine house or you’re not. And KJ is a big wine house whose distribution take full advantage of the volume of wine that they bring to market against other big and small wineries.
    And I agree with one of the other comments, why call it Burgundy when it is clearly not.
    After 4 years of (importing and selling select premium California and Oregon pinot noir wines in my small wine shop in Annecy, France) with face to face wine tastings with the French and other Europeans here, I am convinced that CA and OR pinot noir wines are absolutely as good or better in most cases, than Burgundies, including Romanee Conti.
    And if you truly care for the small guys in the wine biz, then stop promoting and whining on behalf of a big wine house trying to take it all.

  7. Dear jdatlarge, you are incorrect on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin. At any rate, I wish you bonne chance with your wine shop!

  8. We merely lead horses to water (or wine in this case). If a consumer has a personal mission towards supporting a small biz winery that does not fall under a larger ownership/management umbrella then good on them. If the wine shop or Sommelier/Wine Buyer at a restaurant champions small biz wineries then let that be their angle. Size won’t change wine quality for better or for worse but it will appeal to a different corner of consumers in the marketplace. The wine industry should inform and educate but draw the line at literally pouring wine down throats.

  9. Steve–You must have known that a blog entry that is essentially an explanation of what your employer is about would lead to a bit of blowback. Frankly, I am surprised that there was not stronger reaction to this piece given its nature.

    But, that said, I have just tasted my first wines from the Collective (note that I have not used the French reference and agree with Bill Dyer on this point), I can report that the wines do not act like long-production items even though they are made in many more cases than the typical upscale offerings from their respective areas.

    You and I know, and JD also knows in his heart of hearts, that the worth of a wine is not in its case count but in its performance in the glass. Wild Ridge and Champ de Reves do not give any indication on the label that they come from the Jackson Family organization, but when we saw case counts in the thousands, it became clear that one of the bigger producers was behind those labels. You have certainly not claimed otherwise, but you also must have known that the champions of the little guy were going to react.

    That’s life in the fast lane. I get JD’s concern, and yet I have to express great admiration for someone living where he does who is willing to stock, let alone to support, CA and OR wines.

  10. Bob Henry says:

    Here’s a simple name change that might satisfy all “parties”:

    Burgundy Varietals Wine Collective

    No one (seemingly) has an issue describing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot as “red Bordeaux” varieties on their California wine labels.

    And few would think those Meritage™/red blend producers are genuflecting to France.

  11. Bob Henry says:

    Or should it be Burgundy Varieties Wine Collective?

    (I know that pendant Wine Dude is particularly sensitive to the correct usage of “variety” versus “varietal.”)

  12. OK, Bob, you have me wondering about the topic of nomenclature. Here are few (semi and totally facetious entries).

    –Neo-Burgundy Collective
    –Pseudo-Burgundy Collective
    –Wish We Were Burgundy Collective
    –We Don’t Need No Stinking Burgundy Collective
    –South of Dijon Collective

  13. Bob Henry says:

    There could be an official naming contest, just like that for Meritage wines:

    (Aside: I meant to type “pedant” — not pendant. But Wine Dude still “got it” in a private email to me.)

  14. Dear Steve and Charlie O,
    This is the most gentil of blogs that I have read and I seldom contribute and never respond to such a dismissive and weak reply such as Steve’s. Life is too short. But Charlie O’s kind way of putting things and the fact that I am sent a follow-up email when a comment is posted, well, I’m back.
    I take no issue with Steve’s employment with a big wine house and I agree with Charlie O’s comment, wine speaks for itself, no matter the case count. But I find Steve’s history of pinot noir in CA and OR and his seemingly “a corporation is a person” views so “incorrect” and lacking substance, that I have to say that Steve’s blog is like the deaf leading the blind. Or maybe I should just say that I disagree with Steve and not waste my time explaining that I am no whippersnapper in the business of restaurants and wine distribution in CA and OR, and now, especially now, after 4 years of comparing CA and OR pinot noir and Burgundies face to face with the French public in the old world, I can say that I have a much more experience and insight about pinot noir and Burgundies than most of the self-appointed wine critics and bloggers who fill a page with words after reviewing another critics review after they’ve attended a $500 wine tasting.
    I understand that writers write, but there are so many unknowing Americans interested in wine that read the propaganda of wine critics and PR bloggers that I am provoked to say to them to stop reading and just drink the wine, and if one likes it or not, that’s all there is, until one really gets involved and sees for oneself what it’s all about.
    100% Pinot Noir, one clone or more, is where it’s at. I’m not fan of blending pinot noir from different appellations. I prefer to taste whatever the delicate pinot noir fruit has to offer. It can be big and beautiful or pretty and delicate. I can recommend Tondre, a single clone of Pommard IV from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and to join Bob Wait’s, Wait Cellars wine club, for his devoted approach of making Sonoma pinot noir in the vineyard as much as his genius in the winery. And try Fiddlehead 728 pinot noir from the Santa Rita Hills for a real traditional Burgundy experience and Cathy’s other labels, especially her Oregon pinot noir for a yummy knock your socks off pinot noir. Just trying to end on a positive note.

  15. To JD–
    Most people who read your entries here are amazed and overjoyed that there is someone in France who dares to champion the cause of CA and OR Pinots. The list of exceptional, and relatively priceworthy offerings is growing by leaps and bounds on the West Coast.

    I just wish you had not chosen to denigrate “unknowing Americans” and using verbiage like “the blind leading the bling” in the process, and while you can disagree with Steve about his views, they are not the views of some neophyte. They are learned and thoughtful but different from yours, and maybe from mine at some point. Tant pis.

    I am unlikely to venture up to your shop, but I wish I were just so I could walk into a wine merchant in France and see a few wines from home. Even with the Burgundies being at home and the CA and OR wines having to travel, I am guessing that the price advantage enjoyed by quality offerings from this side of the pond still exists.

    Would you care to extend that part of the conversation? If so, please do so here–or, if you prefer, to me personally at my email address:

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