What It Takes to Become a Wine Industry Titan

I’ve been reading a great book, one I recommend to you highly.  It’s A Man and His Mountain, the story of Jess Jackson, a poor boy who became a billionaire and, in the process, put Chardonnay on America’s tables.

The book opens with a chilling scene, literally:  Jackson straps on scuba gear in the middle of the night to dive into a water tank and unclog a pipe that’s holding back water needed to protect his grapes from freezing.  It goes on to discuss a hardscrabble  childhood — an abusive father, a mother driven to a breakdown, and constant work — followed by a college career similar to childhood:  Jackson joined a fraternity, but was so occupied with work that he was known as the Ghost.

You’ll read about his childhood, his struggle to get his winery opened, and a lot more.  You read how he got his first wine placement in Grand Central Station’s famed Oyster Bar, a New York City landmark, and how he was so desperate to find  a distributor that he challenged the owner of Winebow, then a small New Jersey distributor, to an experiment to sell his wine.

You’ll find how Vintner’s Reserve was a desperate attempt to salvage a failed crop — and how that laid the foundation for his success in the wine business.

Barbara Banke, Jackson’s second wife — his first marriage was a victim of the stress of the first few years as a vintner —  discussed the book and her husband at a booksigning last week.  You can read the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Press-Democrat‘s account here.

And get the book, both for yourself and for friends and clients who are wine enthusiasts.  You’ll be glad you did.

 In the Beginning . . .

Another excellent book we’ve been reading is The Makers of American Wine:  A Record of Two Hundred Years.  Thomas Pinney recounts the story of Jean Jacques Dufour, a Swiss, who didn’t succeed commercially but made it possible for others to do so.

Among those others was Nicholas Longworth, a wealthy man in Cincinnati who produced the first popular American wine (Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill is named for his great-grandson), as well as the Missourian who supplied the rootstock that saved France from phylloxera, the educator who did the research that reestablished California’s wine industry after Prohibition, as well as familiar names like Robert Mondavi and E&J Gallo.

This is a truly excellent survey of this history of American wine.  Like A Man and His Mountain it’s recommended both for those with a professional interest in wine and those who simply want to know more about the products they are drinking.

Both books are also recommended for those thinking about getting into business — any business.

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