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Jess Jackson's legacy
Sonoma County wine icon structured company to ensure growth, descendants' control

  • Jess Jackson looks out over his vast vineyard domain in Sonoma County in 2005. (PD File)

Jess Jackson, who built one of the world's largest wine companies before his death Thursday, dreamed of creating a family-owned business that would not only survive his passing but thrive in the hands of future generations.

He structured his company, Jackson Family Wines, in a complex web of trusts and other legal entities to ensure it would remain under family control, company executives said Friday.

Now, responsibility for guiding the multibillion-dollar business rests with his wife, Barbara Banke, and his son-in-law, Don Hartford.

“Jess's dream was to build a business he could pass on to his children, and them to their grandchildren,” said Hartford, chief executive of the company. “It's now in Barbara's and my hands to continue that dream.”

The Santa Rosa company will not be broken apart and divided among his children, or sold off to pay debts or inheritance taxes, Hartford and company President Rick Tigner said. Instead, Jackson Family Wines is looking for opportunities to expand.

“Jess has put us in a great position for the next decade,” said Tigner, who has been with the company for more than 20 years. “We're in growth mode.”

Before his death at the age of 81, Jackson created a wine company that employs 1,000 people around the globe, including about 450 in Sonoma County, and operates 35 wineries on four continents. It owns 10,000 acres of vineyards across the world, including 3,000 acres in Sonoma County.

In the final decade of his life, he spent more than $200 million building a horse-breeding and racing operation in Kentucky that became one of the envies of the thoroughbred world.

Even as he assembled his empires in the worlds of wine and horses, Jackson was taking steps to seamlessly pass on his holdings to his heirs.

“When I die, there will be nothing in my name,” Jackson said in a 1995 interview with The Press Democrat.

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