From the ground up: Barbara Banke

The chair and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines on how passion and hard work are the keys to success

People 31 Jul 2019

Barbara Banke

Barbara Banke

After completing my law degree at Hastings College of Law in 1978, I practiced real estate law arguing land use and eminent domain cases at a time when the California courts were increasingly hostile to developers. I’ve argued land use cases before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court, and this background provided me with a good mental framework for assessing risks and solving problems – qualities that have served me well over the years.

I continued my law practice while also working with my husband, Jess Jackson, to grow our family company, Jackson Family Wines. He planted our first vines in 1974 and started Jackson Family Wines as a grape grower before launching the first winery in the early 1980s. He was having such a great time making wines that I retired from my law practice in 1990 to join him full time.

As chair and proprietor of the company, I oversee the strategic decisions that strengthen our position for the long term, ensuring we have a thriving and sustainable business for the next generation to lead. We’ve always been interested in various grape-growing regions, which have led us to create estate wineries focused on the distinct flavors you find within different wine areas. In the past five years, we’ve expanded into Oregon and South Africa, acquired smaller wineries such as Brewer-Clifton and Siduri and invested in vineyards that will continue to elevate our portfolio.

We now own thousands of acres across significant wine regions in California, Oregon, Italy, France, Chile, Australia and South Africa, and my family and I feel a deep responsibility to giving back to the communities where we live and do business. Each year, we support more than 200 community-based nonprofits, including local food banks, children and education causes, shelters and environmental organisations. We’re also long-time supporters of regional wine auctions across the US that help local nonprofit organisations.

Jackson Family Wines' Vérité was recently named “official red wine” at Guards Polo Club
Jackson Family Wines’ Vérité was recently named “official red wine” at Guards Polo Club

We donated $4 million dollars to establish the Jess S Jackson Sustainable Winery Building at UC Davis, which will become the world’s first net zero winemaking facility and educate the next generation of winemakers with advances in sustainable winemaking. I’m also proud of the significant achievements we’ve made to lower our environmental impacts. Today, Jackson Family Wines is the leading solar generator in the US wine industry and we’re 50% more water efficient than the US industry average. Recently, we co-founded the International Wineries for Climate Action with the Torres family in Spain to reduce our carbon emissions 80% by 2045.

I love real estate and finding vineyards, and my experience as a land use attorney helped shape my passion and expertise for buying and developing land. I enjoy recognising the potential of a parcel of land and going through the process of planting the grapes that will eventually produce a stellar bottle of wine.

Our highest-awarded wine, Vérité, offers a unique Bordelais sensibility, comprising three Bordeaux blends sourced from our top vineyards across four appellations in Sonoma County, California. These wines have received 19 outstanding 100 point-scores since we released the first 1998 vintage. Vérité was recently named “official red wine” at Guards Polo Club – a natural fit considering my longstanding passion for wine and horses.

I would always advise people to follow your passion and do what you love. Work hard towards your goals and don’t let negative opinions keep you from pursing what you want to do. It’s also important to hire the right people and give them the space and freedom to make good decisions for the business and provide the management opportunities to bring out the best in your team.

Early in my law career, I worked as an attorney for a San Francisco law firm and I was working extremely hard, with a goal of becoming a partner. I worked the day shift, the night shift, the weekend shift and never took personal time or vacations. At the time, there weren’t any women partners at the firm, and I decided it was time to move on. After leaving the firm, they had to replace my role with three other people. This taught me that it’s important to know your value and to take risks that provide growth opportunities.

From my law practice to leading a family wine business, hard work has been the key to my success.