5 Surprising Facts About Jess Jackson

Jess Stonestreet Jackson was the only lumberjack turned cop turned lawyer turned winemaker to work his way onto the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans — with his greatest accomplishments all coming after age 50.

Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Wines and a pioneer in the rise of California wine country, is the subject of my new book, A Man and His Mountain. Here are five surprising facts about Jess Jackson:

1. If not for Jackson, Chardonnay might still be unpopular and called “White Burgundy.” Kendall-Jacksons’s first-ever wine persuaded American consumers — most famously the Reagan White House — to start guzzling Chardonnay.

2. Jess Jackson never intended to get into the wine business. He bought a small mountain retreat and planted grapes as a diversion from a busy law career. He sold the fruit to local winemakers. One year a glut left his harvest unsellable, so he launched his own winery as a last resort. It nearly broke him.

3. Jackson married the woman who set fire to his house on their first date. Barbara Banke's plan to impress Jackson with a home-cooked meal nearly gutted his home, but the relationship ignited anyway.

4. Jackson owned the first filly to win the Preakness in nearly a century. He defied the odds, genetics and the horse-racing establishment with Rachel Alexandra’s last-minute entry in the Preakness Stakes. She won the prestigious second leg of the Triple Crown starting from the 13th post position — from which no horse, male or female, has ever won the race.

5. Jackson inspired multiple Pixar movie scenes and characters. Pixar founder John Lassiter credits his friend Jess’s poetic waxings on the origins of winemaking with inspiring him to include historical backstories in Cars, Up and other films. He also draws on their adventures together, such as Jackson’s spur-of-the-moment helicopter drop-off of Lassiter at Pixar Headquarters, which has no helipad. “Can we land here?” the filmmaker asked, gaping at the parking lot where the chopper alighted. Grinning, Jackson replied, “You can land anywhere. Once.”