by Fred McMillin
for January 27, 1998

The Card That Starred


"Cardinale is quite simply the best wine we make."

...Jess Jackson

"Jess Jackson owns the fastest growing and arguably the most successful wine-making business in California in 20 years."

...New York Times

The Rest of the Story: OK. How did this new titan of the vineyards go about creating a great wine? First, one must pull together some loose change ... in this case, $18 million. How about a winery with some choice vines? After nearly a century in America, the Italian Robert Pepi family was ready to sell their Oakville, Napa Valley property. Consequently, in 1994 Jess acquired the winery and its choice 70-acre vineyard. But where to find a classic winemaker? Actually, he wasn't far away ... just across the highway, where he had made Robert Mondavi wines for 19 years. His name is Charles Thomas, and he loves his work.

With a broad smile, he said his Cardinale "was showing greater depth and intensity with each new vintage. We are simply getting better and better grapes from both Napa and Sonoma." As would be expected, he's right. My panel gave very high marks in the past to the '91 and '92. But now, they went bonkers over the newest, the 1993. Clearly, Charles is having a great time with his new, $18,000,000 toy.

The Wine:
1993 Cardinale, Heritage Red Table Wine
The Three Grapes—56% Cabernet Sauvignon from three Napa vineyards, 31% Merlot from three Sonoma vineyards and 13% Cabernet Franc from Sonoma (Knights Valley)
Aging—20 months in French oak
Bottled—December 1995
Tasting Notes—Can realign the planets
Phone—(707) 544-4000

Postscript: We've talked considerably with Jess Jackson but can't improve on the N.Y. Times' description: "Tall and rangy, with a shock of silver-white hair tumbling into his eyes, Jess Jackson bears a resemblance to Charlton Heston." and he smiles readily, as would I if my wine business turned profits guestimated in the $50 million dollar range. That will provide some funds for Charles Thomas to keep on fine-tuning Cardinale.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the WineDay Annex

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