Jess Stonestreet Jackson – 1930-2011

I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet Jess Jackson. I have worked for one of his companies for only a short time, but I felt like I knew him because I have many associates who interacted with him for many years, and they fondly told countless stories about Jess. He was always referred to as Jess, not Mr. Jackson, not the owner, or the boss. He and his family owned and operated the business and, even though it is a big enterprise with many hundreds of employees, it still maintains a family feel and is immune to the complexities of large, public, wine corporations.

I do not need to chronicle Jess’s career, as it has been expertly done by every major news organization since his death on April 21. I want to simply add a few thoughts that were not necessarily widely covered or emphasized, and things in particular that impressed me about this great man. (I also chose to include a photo from the early days (in the 70s) that has not been widely used.)

First and foremost I want to thank Jess Jackson for my job. All of the tributes and obituaries around the country obviously implied as much, but it must be specifically stressed that throughout his long career, Jess Jackson employed many thousands of people, not just in this country, but around the world. Thousands more are employed by the companies that distribute and re-sell his wines, and the suppliers that sell bottles, corks, packaging, etc. Workers and suppliers in France, Italy, Chile, and Australia have benefited from Jess’s overseas operations. Today, over 1,000 people are employed by Jackson Family Wines and the companies it operates. Jess Jackson provided substantial careers, livelihoods, and retirements for many, many people. I am fortunate to be one of them.

Jess’s love for horses, and his efforts to reform horse racing, have also been well documented, but I particularly appreciate one aspect of his passion that was not emphasized enough. He was a huge advocate of breeding more strength into horses’ bloodlines to ultimately reduce and prevent breakdowns during racing. He believed that owners should resist the motivation to retire horses at early ages, in their quest to realize lucrative breeding fees. He thought that horses should race longer, become stronger and pass that strength onto future generations. Subsequent offspring would eventually help reduce the tragic breakdowns that unfortunately happen in horse racing. Jess became such a strong advocate of this philosophy, that he was asked to testify about the subject in front of Congress. He challenged breeders and owners to breed horses for racing, not selling, “…we need stamina and durability as well as speed. Too many breeders end up producing heavily conformed upper-body-muscled horses with relatively fragile legs.” He was as passionate about horse racing as he was about wine, and the sport has evolved and improved because of his love and compassion for thoroughbreds.

Jess also had a passion for American culture and wine’s place in our lifestyles. “Wine is a part of our cultural heritage,” he said. “It has always been the traditional partner with food. Wine celebrates friends, family, and love – all of the best things in life.” Wine was obviously more than a business to Jess Jackson.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that Jess was obviously an extremely quotable figure; but amazingly, one of the most profound things he ever said didn’t involve wine or horses, but farming. He proclaimed that farming “restores your moral center and your soul to the relative insignificance of life in the universe.” It was a humble, yet wise, statement from a man who had a huge impact on life in this country and around the world. Rest in peace, Jess Jackson. http://www.kj.com/

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~ by Thomas on April 24, 2011.

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