A Conversation with Julia Jackson of Jackson Family Wines

Feb. 3, 2016

We met Julia Jackson on a chilly afternoon at Parker’s Restaurant in Downers Grove, Illinois following a lunch with a room of wine enthusiasts and local business partners. The setting was a far cry from Cambria Estate Winery’s coastal terrain along the Santa Maria Valley bench, but Jackson’s spirit brought a California glow to the room.

The youngest daughter of wine industry archetype Jess Jackson, founder of the preeminent Jackson Family Wines, Julia fondly remembers picking and sorting grapes at a young age. To say that she grew up in the industry is a bit on an understatement, Jackson’s family has been in the wine business since before she was born and her mother, Barbara Banke, worked alongside her father throughout his wine-making career. Jackson’s current position as a spokesperson for Cambria Estates represents an important divergence from what the industry presently defines as the “next generation” of the wine industry. Millennials are often described as disloyal to particular wines and distracted by trendy labels.

When asked about the wine industry’s ongoing obsession with her generation’s wine-purchasing behaviors, Jackson said Cambria and Jackson Family Wines are sticking to what made her father a success.

“We’re not trying to chase short term trends or appeal to a specific audience,” said Jackson. “It’s really about the hard work that goes into our family business and we’re in it for the long haul.”

Cambria Estate Winery was established in 1987 by Jackson’s mother who was drawn to the Santa Maria Bench’s wine-making potential. This intuitive understanding of the land is what sets Jackson Family Wines’ heritage apart from the rest.

“My mom is a role model for me because she runs the company and is such a brainiac,” said Jackson. “Moreover, she is authentically herself.”

With this inspiration in mind, in 2014, Jackson founded Cambria Seeds of Empowerment—a program that celebrates “Warrior Women” who have overcome life’s hardships and are inspiring others in their communities to do the same. Cambria Seeds of Empowerment awards $100,000 annually in cash grants to nonprofit organizations that embody the program’s pillars of equality, community, and spirit.

“I feel like there aren’t enough role models for little girls and young women to look up to in the media,” said Jackson. “Seeds of Empowerment acknowledges those who have overcome adversity but also celebrates the strength of women as leaders.”

Cambria Winery epitomizes Seeds of Empowerment’s mission. Jackson and her sister, Katherine are active vintners, her mother oversees operations as the owner, and winemaker Denise Shurtleff has been with Cambria since 1999.

“The wine business is very male dominated, even in California,” said Jackson. “To fit into the corporate world as a woman, you’re often told to act other than yourself. We want to celebrate those who exemplify great success but are also authentic.”

Jackson cites her father’s emotional intelligence as one of the things that made him successful.

“Even though my father was born during the Great Depression, he believed in women in business and my mother was his partner throughout their union,” said Jackson. “He was more of the visionary, the dreamer and she was very much the practical attorney so they made a great dream team. A lot of his ideas often came from my mother—he was brilliant but my mother is a genius.”

Cambria Winery’s small-lot practices allow for a focus on individual vineyard parcels, clones, and soil types resulting in a production of wines acclaimed by experts. Two of the wineries vineyards are named for Barbara’s daughters. In 2010, Cambria Estate Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir was named a Wine of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.

Jackson Family Wines’ longstanding history of sustainable farming is the guiding light to the family’s future stake in the industry.

“In terms of honoring my father’s legacy, it’s all about keeping it within the family,” said Jackson. “So long as the planet is healthy, my family wants to stay in the wine business and keep making quality products.” 

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