As chairman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, Barbara Banke leads one of the largest U.S. wine companies, known for iconic brands such as Kendall-Jackson, Lokoya and Cardinale.
Started in 1982 by her late husband, Jess Jackson, the company now produces upward of 6 million cases’ worth for 50 brands from vineyards and wineries in California, Oregon, France’s Bordeaux region, Italy’s Tuscany, Australia, Chile and South Africa. But Banke has been leveraging her legal acumen behind the scenes of the family business for two decades before stepping up after Jackson’s death in 2011.
North Bay Business Journal will be recognizing Banke in the Winery Owner category of the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards at an event Nov. 28.
“One thing that we pride ourselves on is we do not micromanage our winemakers or vineyard people,” Banke said. “We try to encourage artistry, so when we buy something or start it. … We’re trying to create a company that enhances these small jewels and gives them tools to succeed, and I think that is going to carry us further.”
One of those tools is great grapes, and despite the October wildfires in the North Coast, the 2017 vintage from the region is headed toward being a great one, Banke said.
Among Banke’s proudest moments have been recent expansions of the family. Katie Jackson has a 2-year-old and twins, and Christopher Jackson has a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old.
“I went from zero to five grandkids in a very short period,” said Banke, 64.
Her children also had come in quick succession — Katie in 1986, Julia in 1988 and Christopher in 1989. Family newcomers and needs of the expanding wine business prompted her to close her law practice in 1990.
Born to an aerospace engineer father and homemaker mother in a Los Angeles suburb, Banke came to her law career early in life, even though she didn’t have any attorneys in the family.
“I love to argue,” she said.
She came to land-use law as a specialty her first year at Hastings Law School, after taking a course on real estate from professor Stephan Rosenfield, who Jess Jackson studied under two decades earlier.
Banke went on to a real estate and land-use law firm, and she later started her own practice in 1983. That’s when she met another sharp attorney, Jess Jackson. They became practice partners and married a year later.
Kendall-Jackson started to acquire vineyards in earnest in 1986, expanding to Sonoma and Mendocino counties in 1989. Then came a big push in 1991, particularly on the central and southern California coast. This geographic diversification worked well not only for the variety of flavors from varieties grown in different regions but also in evening out challenging seasons.
“1989 was a very bad year in the North Coast because it rained, but in Santa Barbara and Monterey it was good, so we could maintain consistency,” Banke said.
Outside the wine business, Banke helped Jackson become an East Coast equestrian entrepreneur, getting Stonestreet Stables out of the gate to produce champion racehorces in 2003. The venture since has produced a string of winners, including 2-year-old colt Good Magic, which recently became a candidate for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Closer to home, Banke helped start two Santa Rosa-area private schools: Sonoma Country Day School, for elementary and middle grades, and Sonoma Academy, a college preparatory high school.
“We must have been crazy, because it was much more work than we were expecting,” Banke said.
Jackson and Banke also chipped in $3 million toward the construction of a testing ground for the latest in environmentally friendly technologies at the University of California, Davis. The Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building opened in 2013.
The company also uses its own facilities and vineyards as testing grounds for technologies that dramatically save resources such as water and energy. Katie Jackson has been helping to direct that effort.
Jeff Quackenbush (email@example.com, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and real estate.