Jess Jackson first fell in love with the mountains above Alexander Valley in the 1960s, when he missed a chance to buy the J Bar B Ranch, a 6,000-acre spread of horse and cattle pasturelands that included 2,800-foot-tall Black Mountain.
Not yet the wine mogul he would become, Jackson lost the estate to Edward Gauer, a Bay Area men’s clothing store owner who had recently sold his share for many pretty pennies and wanted to retire to the mountains. The cost in 1968? $1,829,500.
Gauer Ranch grew prunes and ran sheep and cattle but was a hidden goldmine for wine grapes, which were soon planted. By the mid-1970s they were going into quality bottles by Chateau St. Jean and others. In 1982 Gauer planted Chardonnay on a high-elevation ridge near the top he called Upper Barn. Those grapes found their way to winemaker Helen Turley at Peter Michael Winery and a reputation for fine grapegrowing was born.
Gauer bought Vinwood Winery in Geyserville in 1987 and went about making his own wine under the name Gauer Estate but the concept never really took and two years later he sold the whole kit and kaboodle to Chevron Corporation for $35 million, acknowledging the mountain estate as one of the most valuable pieces of land in Sonoma County at the time.
Chevron spoke of building a golf course and many homes on the site, while conservation easements were discussed as a way to counter subdivision. And then Jess Jackson came back around, buying Vinwood in 1993 with an option to buy the ranch should Chevron opt to sell.
In 1995 it did, and for $19 million Jackson would own what he came to call Alexander Mountain Estates, including 417 acres of vineyards with another 1,000 or so deemed suitable.
All of this is detailed in “A Man and His Mountain,” the story of how Jackson created Kendall-Jackson and other Jackson Family Wines’ brands, including Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, where most of the grapes from Alexander Mountain go.
But Alexander Mountain wasn’t just the key to so much of Jackson’s success, it was also home.
Today his son Christopher is among those trying to designate it as its own American Viticultural Area (AVA) called Pocket Peak.
Part of the Mayacamas Mountain range, Pocket Peak itself is 2,256-feet high. Set amidst the foothills of Pocket Peak, Geyser Peak and Black Mountain, the proposed AVA is above the Alexander Valley and east of Cloverdale, Asti and Geyserville and would run south from Big Sulphur Creek, share the eastern boundaries of the Alexander Valley and Northern Sonoma AVAs and run adjacent to Knights Valley.
In total it includes 30,987 acres of land with 2,915 acres currently planted.
Among the vineyards within this area, in addition to Alexander Mountain Estate, are Skipstone Vineyard, Reynoso Family Vineyards, Ellis Alden Vineyard, Rock Rise Vineyard and Farrow Ranch, which was bought by winemaker Jesse Katz of Aperture and Devil Proof Cellars in 2021. Rodney Strong also maintains estate vineyards here.
If approved, Pocket Peak would become Sonoma County’s 20th AVA, following on the heels of the West Sonoma Coast, which became official earlier this year.
But while the West Sonoma Coast was focused primarily on climate, Pocket Peak is about delineating between grapes grown at elevation versus those grown on the valley floor. Slopes exceed 10 percent grade within Pocket Peak and are commonly above 20 percent, according to the petition.
Smaller berries, deeper concentration and considerable structure are among the hallmarks of these mountain grapes, the majority of which are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.
The Alexander Valley as a whole has earned worldwide recognition for the quality of its wine grapes and wines since it was named an AVA in 1984. Should Pocket Peak become reality, it could mean higher recognition and respect for this subsection of the larger Alexander Valley, too.
To follow the progress and learn more visit https://www.pocketpeakava.com/