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Telling Jess Jackson's story

  • Barbara Banke speaks about her late husband Jess Jackson during a reading of his biography ÒA Man and His MountainÓ at Kendall Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in Santa Rosa on Monday, November 25, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Barbara Banke had been waiting for three days outside an executive's office at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa.

A critical deal hung in the balance. It was the late 1980s, and Banke, who was working for Kendall-Jackson Winery at the time and married to its founder Jess Jackson, was plotting with him to buy the better half of the Tepusquet vineyard near Santa Barbara.

But they didn't have the cash, so Jackson secured an option to buy the vineyard should anyone else make an offer. When Beringer Wines did just that, Jackson still couldn't afford the vineyard.

So he and Banke convinced Mondavi Winery to go in on the deal and buy the less appealing part of the vineyard — the part with the cabernet grapes that Jackson and Banke thought tasted like "rancid bell peppers."

When the Mondavi team stopped returning Banke's phone calls, jeopardizing the transaction, Banke showed up — and waited and waited while the executive who had promised to sign the deal dodged her.

Finally, he emerged from his office and she shamed him into signing the contracts.

The tale is part of "A Man and His Mountain: The Everyman Who Created Kendall-Jackson and Became America's Greatest Wine Entrepreneur," an authorized biography of Jess Jackson written by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes.

The 336-page book hit the market six weeks ago, and both Humes and Banke attended a book signing last week at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate north of Santa Rosa, an event co-sponsored by Copperfield's Books.

The anecdote showed the critical role Banke, 60, played in developing Jackson Family Wines into an industry powerhouse. Originally a lawyer, she has been chairman of the company since her husband's death in 2011.

"I thought it was fun," Banke said, recalling the standoff with the Mondavi executive. "I figured that they had to sign the paper because the executive had no excuse ... and it would have been a mess."

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