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Jackson, Gallo, Silverado drive vineyard expansion

  • Jackson Family Wines & Affiliates vineyards on the ridges above the Alexander Valley. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

The top three owners of vineyard land in Sonoma County — Jackson Family Wines, E&J Gallo and Silverado Premium Properties — largely began their buying sprees in the 1980s, when vineyards cost half the price of what they sell for today.

Their demand for premium grapes would help drive up land prices as they targeted top vineyards and undeveloped land to plant new vines.

Search our interactive map of Sonoma County vineyards here

Sonoma County Vineyards: Who Are The Players?

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Today, the three companies own about 8,800 acres planted to grapes, according to a Press Democrat analysis of county property tax records. The vineyards, buildings and equipment on that land have an assessed value of $436 million, although the actual market value is likely far higher.

Their vision of the future — and their access to capital — drove an expansion that has helped turn Sonoma County into a global brand.

The county's largest vineyard owner, Jackson Family Wines, was a fraction of its current size when founder Jess Jackson set off on a vineyard buying spree in the mid-1980s. At the time, his flagship brand, Kendall-Jackson, was selling about 54,000 cases of wine a year — about 1 percent of what it sells today, said Jon Fredrikson, a longtime wine industry analyst and consultant.

Jackson assembled a team, including Fredrikson, that sent a mass mailing to large vineyard owners in Sonoma County asking whether they'd like to sell their properties.

“At one point — this is crazy — I wrote to every vineyard owner that owned more than 100 acres in Sonoma County, and we had a tremendous number that came back,” Fredrikson recalled.

“We became so active that we were kind of like a captive agent for Jess, just finding properties, and he had a whole organization of people that were constantly reviewing deals and buying, buying, buying. The prices were right, and he was able to get financing, and Kendall-Jackson was growing. And it took a lot of guts to do that, because the '80s were rough times.”

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