Nearly two decades after first contemplating retirement from the law to a life as a gentleman farmer, Kendall-Jackson Winery Founder and Chairman Jess S. Jackson has finally gotten his wish and retired as Chairman of the Board of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.

Barbara R. Banke, Jackson's wife and co-founder of the winery, has been appointed Chair for what is now known as Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, encompassing not only Kendall-Jackson, but several other prominent California wineries, including La Crema, Pepi and Edmeades. Jackson, 70, said he intends to fully retire from service as a board director by year's end, closing the door on a second career that changed the face of the American wine industry.

Banke will also continue as President of Cambria Winery. No other changes are expected in the board.

"I'm confident in the people I have in place," Jackson remarked, continuing, "confident not only of their leadership, but that our investments in coastal vineyards, wineries and supporting facilities will allow us to continue producing wines that America has come to recognize for their consistent quality, flavorful style and true value."

"It's time for me to spend more time with my family, ride my horses, play a little golf and concentrate on life as a rancher and farmer."

Former Hewlett-Packard head Lew Platt came aboard last January as Chief Executive Officer for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, cementing the transition from strictly family leadership to the next generation of leaders, as Jackson calls it. Jackson's retirement also reaches beyond Kendall-Jackson to include his service to Jackson Family Farms, a resource group now headed by Chief Executive Officer Jean Arnold. Jackson Family Farms provides a variety of management services to artisan wineries owned by members of the Jackson Family. "I'll be available to provide advice," he says, "but they'll have to find me.

"We've hit home runs with our selection of top people and I trust them completely to carry on our ideals," he added. "Our success over the past 18 vintages speaks to the hard work of many, many people and is a compliment to the organization, not just me."

Banke, like Jackson, was a successful lawyer before creating Kendall-Jackson. In more than a dozen years practicing law, she specialized in land use and constitutional law, arguing a number of landmark cases before several Courts of Appeal and before the United States Supreme Court. She has been an active member of the Kendall-Jackson board and, in addition to managing the family's Cambria Winery, has been a valuable partner in helping to focus the winery's energy on producing top quality premium wines.

"I'm pleased to continue our family's commitment to excellence in this seamless transition to the future," she said.

Kendall-Jackson has been a success from the beginning, and with estimated growth this year of 17 percent in revenue, Jackson said the future remains bright. Sales have moved from 2,000 cases in the first vintage in 1982 to an expected 3.65 million cases in 2000.

This "remarkable journey" as Jackson often calls it began in the mid 1970's when Jackson considered retirement for the first time from his successful San Francisco Bay Area law practice. He purchased a small ranch in Lake County, just north of Napa County, and, with his mother, father and children began to harvest walnuts and pears from the well-established orchards on the property.

Always interested in farming, Jackson noticed how grape growing had a tradition of family involvement he found very appealing. Soon, he planted grapes to be sold to industry pioneers such as Barney Fetzer, Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi. When bountiful harvests reduced the need for his grapes, he made wine to sell on the bulk market, creating some bottlings to be used in fund raising programs for his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley and for the California Historical Society and Stanford University.

While still a lawyer, he developed a tradition on Friday afternoons of inviting people into the office to blind taste a series of wines, including some he produced. When his wines consistently ranked among the favorites, he was encouraged to produce a modest 2,000 cases of Chardonnay from the 1980 vintage. The 1982 vintage of Chardonnay, Kendall-Jackson's first release, was awarded the first platinum medal from the American Wine Competition and a gold medal from the Los Angeles County Fair wine competition. That was enough encouragement for Jackson to try selling the wine himself, walking the streets of New York and hand selling his wine to Manhattan restaurants.

Success was swift and sure. The winery's revenues and cases sold have increased each year, with one exception, and steady, planned growth has returned again, Jackson observed.

Over the past two decades Kendall-Jackson has become America's most honored winery, consistently winning medals in competitions worldwide and ranking high in consumer surveys and editorial reviews of premium wines. Beyond the original Chardonnay Kendall-Jackson now produces a wide variety of wines in several tiers, including three newly introduced product lines called Collage®, Great Estates and Stature(TM). Adding to the California wineries that make up Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates are international operations, including the Calina Winery in Chile, Tapiz in Argentina, and Villa Arceno in Italy.

Jackson's plans to farm in his retirement are more than just a gleam in the winemaker's eye. On the family's coastal California ranches premium chardonnay and cabernet grapes share space with cattle, horses, walnut and olive groves and organic row crops. More than half the family's lands are left in natural open space, and are home to countless deer, coyotes, cougars, fox, hawks and other wildlife.

"I'll now have the time to enjoy and explore," says Jackson. A gentleman farmer to be sure, but with dirt under his nails.