Sat 18 Sep 2010
One tries to cultivate a thick-skin in the business of journalism, especially in the segment devoted to reviewing and criticizing. Believe me, in several decades of reviewing books, wine, art, restaurants, classical CDs, movies and other cultural forms, I’ve had the equivalent of a box-load of dead cats flung at my head, including — regarding a negative restaurant review — a death threat that the newspaper I formerly worked for took seriously enough to provide me with security. (Those were the days!) Still, it rankled my pointy little head to receive the following comment in response to a post on this blog, on May 19, about Kendall-Jackson’s proliferating range of brands and labels:
“I know it’s just a small factual detail (never let the facts interrupt a good story) but Kendall-Jackson is not a company. It doesn’t own anything. Kendall-Jackson is a brand with its own winemakers, etc. just like the other wineries you mentioned. A minor point to you, no doubt, but when assuming the role of informing the public, it is sometimes reassuring to know that the writer has a basic knowledge of the subject.”
This comment came from Hugh Green and it was posted on Sept. 15; I stumbled on it a few days ago.
Apparently, this sentence from that post contained the offending word:
“Though at 5.5 million cases a year in 2009 (according to San Francisco Business Times), K-J doesn’t compete with Diageo, Gallo, The Wine Group or Constellation, the company makes and sells a hell of a lot of wine.”
All right, let’s start at the most basic level. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition (2005) offers its first definition of “company” as “a commercial business.” Kendall-Jackson — or any other winery or producer, large or small — is certainly that. However they might market the image of wine country, the wine life, elegance, sophistication, connection with nature, hands-on craftsmanship, wineries are in the business of selling wine; if they don’t perform that function, they don’t survive.
On the issue of Kendall-Jackson not owning anything, the point on which Green thinks I have erred so drastically that I have betrayed the trust of my readers, he’s wrong. Soon after the winery produced its first vintage in 1982, owner Jess Jackson started acquiring properties. In 1988, for example, he bought Edmeades Vineyards in Mendocino. In 1994, he purchased Robert Pepi, the winery and vineyards. (Pepi cannot use his name on labels now and makes cabernets under his Eponymous label.) The year 2006 saw Jackson in high acquisition mode; within two months that summer, he took in Robert Pecota and Murphy-Goode and then for $97 million purchased Legacy Estates, which owned Freemark Abbey, Arrowood and Byron, a purchase that included winery facilities, brands, inventory and vineyards, all of these brought under the Kendall-Jackson umbrella. Altogether, Kendall-Jackson owns about 14,000 aces in California. This list is just a selection of Kendall-Jackson’s acquisitions over 25 years and does not include properties in Italy, Chile and Argentina.
A company, however, doesn’t have to “own” anything. Many companies provide services. In fact, these days, a company can consist of nothing more than a person in a room with a computer. Even I could be a company except for the fact that this “commercial business” doesn’t make any, you know, money.