Sonoma County's richest man may not be able to move mountains, but he may be able to rename one.
Jess Jackson, through his company Jackson Family Enterprises, has asked to rename one of Alexander Valley's more prominent peaks in an effort to better market his wines.
Jackson's company has petitioned to change the name of 3,128-foot Black Mountain to Alexander Mountain, a move that would bolster the vintner's attempt to create a special grape-growing designation of the same name on his property.
"That's why we're doing it, because of the recognition for wines produced within this delimited area," said Pete Downs, a vice president for Jackson Family Wines.
Jackson, 79, an attorney and self-made billionaire, lives on 5,400 acres east of Geyserville that he has named Alexander Mountain Estate.
In an attempt to get a special designation that recognizes the uniqueness of the grapes grown on his property, his company in May asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change the mountain's name.
While it's been known as Black Mountain for generations, so far there have been no known objections.
"I'm not aware of any controversy," said Jane Messenger, a cartographer and geographic names researcher for the federal agency.
But she did not know the name change was being proposed for a commercial purpose.
"Will it make a difference? I don't know," she said. "I can't tell you how the board would feel. But the board needs to be informed of this."
Some old-timers were amused at the notion of changing a name that probably has been around for well over a century.
"They ought to just call it Mount K-J and get it over with," said Harry Bosworth, referring to Jackson's flagship Kendall-Jackson wine label.
Bosworth, 70, a lifelong Geyserville resident, owns 350 acres on a ridge behind Black Mountain.
"If my father were alive, he would have told them they're all nuts because Alexander Valley used to be all the way down the other end of the valley," Bosworth said. "We used to call it Russian River Valley. Now they've stretched Alexander Valley all the way to the hills that separate us from Hopland."
Black Mountain does not belong to Jackson, but its peak looms over his property. The mountain encompasses a number of individually owned parcels.
In an effort to gather as much input as possible for the proposed name change, staff members for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names said they are running it by several city councils in northern Sonoma County and a number of Indian tribes with ties to the area.
The county Board of Supervisors five years ago passed a resolution praising the locale for its grape-growing qualities and deserving of a special designation, but was silent on the issue of changing the name of Black Mountain.
The recent information submitted to the various agencies doesn't mention the tie-in to the application for a special viticultural area called Alexander Mountain that would lend cachet to Jackson's wines.
"Geographic Names doesn't really care about all that extraneous stuff," said Downs, Jackson's vice president, referring to the company's goal of creating a new winegrape appellation.
Cloverdale Mayor Joe Palla said the City Council briefly discussed the name change request last month and agreed Alexander Mountain was more fitting than Black Mountain because it reflects the proximity to Alexander Valley.
Press Democrat Poll
What type of warning did you receive about last October’s fires? (Multiple responses allowed)
Official alert on my landline: 5 percent
Official alert on my cellphone: 17 percent
Neighbor warned me: 14 percent
Family member or friend warned me: 28 percent
Police or fire came to my home to warn me: 5 percent
None: 43 percent
Don’t know: 1 percent
In the future, how would you like to be notified about a fire or other impending disaster?
Phone call: 31 percent
Text message: 30 percent
Email: 1 percent
Air raid siren: 28 percent
Other (specify): 7 percent
Don’t know: 3 percent
Do you think Sonoma County is more prepared today to warn you about fires or disasters than it was last year?
Yes: 54 percent
No: 31 percent
Don’t know: 15 percent
SOURCE: The Press Democrat Poll/David Binder Research
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here