While wines from Jack London Vineyard mirror the rugged vitality of the writer himself, his namesake vineyard had a history in vines well before London’s arrival in the Sonoma Valley. In 1860, at the urging of Agoston Haraszthy – the founder of California’s first winery – fellow Hungarian, Louis Csomortanyi planted 40 acres of vineyard on what became Jack London’s Beauty Ranch. Csomortanyi also built a small cottage and stone winey which London used as his home during his time on the Ranch. In 1873 the property was purchased by Charles Kohler and John Frohling, vintners and wine merchants who were pioneers in advocating the quality of California wines. They expanded the vineyards to over 200 acres and built a large winery capable of producing over 60,000 cases per year. While the winery’s production had been in decline, ultimately the 1906 earthquake damaged it beyond practical repair.
Jack London discovered the charms of the Sonoma Valley in 1903, the same year Call of the Wild, the book that established his reputation, was published. He first came to the Valley to court Charmian Kittredge. When he and Charmian married in 1905, he purchased the beautiful Hill Ranch where his dream home the Wolf House was built. “There are 130 acres in the place, and they are 130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California,” London wrote in a letter to a friend. Over the next eight years, London purchased six adjacent properties to create his 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch. Carefully terraced under London’s supervision, the Ranch produced grapes and hay and provided an inspiring view from his writing den in the cottage that became the couple’s home in 1911. Several of the author’s later books were written at Beauty Ranch, including Burning Daylight and The Valley of the Moon.
During London’s frequent travels, London’s stepsister, Eliza Shepard, managed Beauty Ranch. Upon his untimely death in 1916 at age 40, she took over management full-time. The vineyard and hayfield were left fallow due to World War I and the advent of Prohibition, but Shepard and her descendants kept Beauty Ranch largely intact until 1959, four years after Charmian London’s death, when the family donated land for establishment of Jack London State Park.
In 1972, Eliza Shepard’s son Irving, who had taken over responsibility for the ranch upon her death, and his son, Milo, planted Jack London Vineyard, which remains under family ownership. A substantial percentage of the vineyard was established on the old terraces London built. The superb quality of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vintage motivated neighboring Kenwood Vineyards to enter an exclusive agreement to purchase the grapes from Jack London Vineyard.
Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon, with a label featuring London’s “Wolf” bookplate logo, debuted with the 1976 vintage. As new grape plantings reached maturity, Kenwood Vineyards produced additional Jack London Vineyard bottlings: Jack London Zinfandel was introduced with the 1987 vintage, Jack London Merlot with the 1990 vintage and Jack London Syrah with the 2002 vintage.
Today, Kenwood Vineyards continues the ongoing relationship with the Jack London Vineyard continually evolving farming and harvesting practices to achieve optimal grape quality in the wines that bear its name. Now fully planted, the vineyard encompasses 72 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 32 acres of Zinfandel, 15 acres of Merlot and 5 acres of Syrah. The superb quality of Jack London Vineyard wines has made them both consistent medal winners at wine competitions and among the most successful single-vineyard series in California wine history.