Meet Kendall-Jackson Winemaster Randy Ullom

Apr. 18, 2018

Randy Ullom knows success doesn’t happen overnight — it ages like a fine wine.

For the last quarter century, Ullom has served as Winemaster for Kendall-Jackson Winery, a company founded by the Jackson family 35 years ago. Most recently, Wine Enthusiast named Kendall-Jackson as the 2017 American Winery of the Year.

“It’s been a long, long hard mile so to speak because we started out 35 years ago,” Ullom said. “But I think that the success for us is the fact that Jess, the founder, was always tantamount about quality. It’s always taking the high road and not cutting any corners.”

For Ullom and Kendall-Jackson, that quality comes from reaping what they sow. The winery has its own vineyards along the California coast and it shares partnership of a stave mill in France. Ullom said they’ve gotten more refined as the business grew.

From building their winemaking teams to discovering which appellations work best in certain soils, Ullom said they always try to find the “best route to take.”

“It’s just an assemblage of all of this information, making it work,” Ullom said.

That attention to assembly is what has made Kendall-Jackson’s Chardonnay so popular. All the grapes come from the California coast and at least 85% of the grapes in the wine come from Kendall-Jackson’s own vineyards.

Ullom said consistency is key and part of that lies in the team.

“I’ve been there 25 years and a lot of the people that work with me have been there 20 years, so you’ve got that consistency in place,” said Ullom. “So you’ve got the source, you’ve got the people and then of course the barrels. That’s really the secret.”

Ullom took a moment to sit down with us during a recent trip to Chicago to share even more Kendall-Jackson Winery stories, insights into wine’s next big thing and how he got his start.

How do you achieve the balance of excellent quality with a wine that's not going to burden a consumer's wallet? 

Randy Ullom: Well, what we try to do is basically deliver a quality of wine that's worth twice what is actually the price. To do that, we have the vineyards; we own them. We have developed this barrel program, so we help to lower the cost and pass that on to the consumer on our barrel input, and again going back to the land, 'cause they're our vineyards, we're guaranteeing to hold down the cost there.

Tell us about new rosé.

So last year we did maybe 4,000 cases of rosé. This year, we did 45,000-50,000 cases. Rosé is like the hottest thing going these days. And we have a really beautiful rosé. 

It looks good, it smells good, it tastes good, and it's fresh.. The neat thing is that, believe it or not, it's 75% pinot noir, 24% syrah, and 1% grenache for good luck. But it's got this beautiful, bright, sort of salmon-y pink color. So, it's great. It smells like strawberries, raspberries, and guava.

How did you get into wine? 

I’ve always liked wine, more so than beer. After college, I went down to Chile and down there, I didn't realize that it was such a big wine country. In the States, I was in the minority in those years, drinking wine. In Chile, everybody drank wine. I thought, "Oh my god, I've died and gone to heaven." 

I lived in an area for a while in the country where there were vineyards and played around in those, and just got the aura and the vibe. And then after three years I came back to America and said, "You know, I got to figure out how to get paid to do this."

And so, I went to school, and then I was on a mission to study enology, which is wine making; and viticulture, which is the art of grape growing. I got my first job in Ohio for a year. Then five years in upstate New York along Lake Erie. Then I went to California and worked for DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County for 12 and a half years, and the past 25 with the Jackson family.

What does wine mean to you? 

Wine to me is a pleasure. It's something to enjoy, with food, with company, it's really something fun because every wine is different. And it's just a nice experience.

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