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Straight Talk With Wine Spectator: Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines

September 3, 2021

Wine Spectator senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec recently spoke with Barbara Banke, chairwoman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, as part of the magazine’s Instagram Live interview series Straight Talk with Wine Spectator. Banke, whose husband and business partner Jess Jackson passed away in 2011, oversees a portfolio that spans Chile, France, Italy, and other countries, in addition to numerous domestic brands including Kendall-Jackson, Cambria, La Crema, and Murphy-Goode, among many others. Prior to her wine career, Banke practiced constitutional law with an emphasis in land-use cases. In their conversation, Banke and Worobiec discussed industry representation, portfolio expansion strategy, and sustainability initiatives.

Worobiec noted that Jackson Family is a standout company when it comes to employing women as winemakers, citing statistics that women make up 10-15% of winemakers across California but 61% of Jackson Family’s. Banke cited other female trailblazers in the industry like Signe Zoller, Zelma Long, and Eugenia Keegan, who were active as far back as the 80’s. “As we went forward, we seemed to have more and more female winemakers that came to the forefront,” Banke said. “And women have great palates—men do too, but there’s a lot of really highly skilled women in the business, especially in production. There are a lot more opportunities now than there ever were, and it’s something that we’re proud of.”

Turning to acquisition strategy, Banke went in-depth on the company’s winery choices in Oregon and Australia. The Oregon portfolio now includes Gran Moraine, Zena Crown, WillaKenzie, and Penner-Ash. Banke had always felt dubiously about Oregon vineyards because of excessive rain in the region, she said, but these estates were too appealing to pass up when the opportunity arose. Fortunately for her, due to shifting weather in the American West, the company has not had a bad harvest in Oregon since entering the state. “I love going to Oregon and the wines are just going to grow in importance throughout the country as we go forward,” she said.

In Australia, Banke continued, Jackson Family has a 20-year history thanks to its Yangarra Estate Vineyard. After finding success with its Grenache plantings that come from old antique bushvines, Banke tasked Yangarra winemaker Peter Fraser with finding additional opportunities, which ultimately led them to buy Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard in the McLaren Vale. “We’re not really going to expand it in volume, but we’re probably going to be breaking ground, assuming COVID cooperates, on a new winery there on the Sexton Vineyard in the next year or so,” she said.

Turning to sustainability, Jackson Family’s Rooted for Good initiative will see the company implement a ten-year sustainability plan that includes cutting its carbon footprint in half by 2030, among other social responsibility goals. The company’s multi-faceted approach also entails a years-long partnership with UC Davis studying sustainable practices as well as co-founding the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with the Torres family in Spain to drive collective action in the industry. “It’s a long-term strategy because we’re a long-term company and we’re a family company. It’s very important to my kids and grandkids that we continue on this path.”

New episodes of Straight Talk air Wednesdays at 3pm on Wine Spectator’s Instagram channel.—Danny Sullivan

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