Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Wine >
Jan 2, 2009 10:45 AM

Mass Market: Which are legit? Ravenswood, Kendall Jackson, Robert Moddavi, Columbia Crest, etc

Kendall Jackson
Robert Moddavi
Columbia Crest
Little Penguin

Which are "decent" and which are "plonk"?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I can only comment on Kendall Jackson. Their chardonnay is great value for the money. If you are looking for a typical California chardonnay without breaking the bank, Kendall's chardonnay is it. It has a mixture of citrus and tropical fruit with light to medium vanilla and oak flavours. All the flavours are well balanced yet not over -the-top.

    1. Ravenswood, KJ, and Robert Mondavi make everything from plonk to pretty good stuff. None of the big producers make wine that's particularly unique now, they're all aiming for sort of a textbook generic good wine profile, which is partly what caused Robert Mondavi to fall apart, since people were increasingly less willing to buy the high end stuff as it got less and less distinctive.

      13 Replies
      1. re: SteveG


        You make a good point. Too often the bankers take control and decide that it's all about selling volume. To do so best, one should try to ferment/blend for the masses, regardless. It's all about selling more wine. That has ruined a lot of winemakers.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          I would disagree with the your statement about ruined winemakers. There are an awful lot of GREAT winemakers that have come through Robert Mondavi and I would never say that Genevieve Janssens, the current winemaker is ruined.

          Also, I think it is more difficult to put out a million cases of a consistent product year after year, than make a 500 case wine year after year ie Woodbridge, KJ, etc.

          1. re: chickstein

            I agree that Genevieve is a talented winemaker -- but the only reason I feel that way is that I've had her Portfolio wine -- -- I never would have known by drinking a Mondavi.

            1. re: chickstein

              This has proved to be downfall, or nearly so for too many. When some wineries went "public," I thought that it was a neat idea. In retrospect, what do bankers and Wall St. analysts know about wine making?

              I envy, and support, the winemaker who does not have to take directions from his/her banker and follows their dream, even if they never sell a million cases in their lifetimes.

              Once in the grasp of non-winemakers, it's about selling a homogenized product, that will offend the lowest number of possible buyers.

              It happens. Now, as many have said, because a winery does cater to the masses, it does not mean that they cannot also make great wines. I just think that it is more difficult and too much concentration is on the mass-marketed product.

              Now, I am not sure what the details of Ravenswood and Joel Peterson's relationship are. It has been some years, since I talked with him. At that time, he was still at the helm, regardless of the ownership, and expressed a commitment to his style and quality, though he'd just lost some single-vineyard properties. I have been a bit disappointed, but then there are vintages and propertty changes, so maybe what I do not love, might be loved by others.

              Now, I do have to say that some of better wines that I have had the pleasure of tasting have come from some larger wineries. I'd not trade my experiences with Beringer's Howell Mountain Bancroft Ranch Merlots. For domestic Merlots, I'm not sure that I have had better. Same for Robert Mondavi's Cabs, especially his Reserves and some of his single-vineyard offerings, like To Kalon. Do I consume many of these wineries' portfolios? No usually. Are they all good, bad or otherwise? It depends. Still, some of their best have also figured very high on MY "best lists." Gotta' look closely and not be influenced by the name, and what is often the mass-marketed wines.

              Some of the K-J portfolio have proved to be excellent wines - now and back when Jess Jackson was at the helm, though the portfolio changed dramatically with his sale of the name and the winery.

              Afterall, it is about the wine, not the name on the bottle, the price or what the reviewers tout. If you love it, it's excellent. If you hate it, nothing else matters.


              PS Chickstein, I still owe you two. Heading back to Blackberry Farm for our 38th anniversary! Some day, we must find a way to have a glass (or a bottle) together. My wife wants to thank you, as well. OK, enough of the personal and mushy stuff.

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Bill - As a Kendall-Jackson employee, I can assure you that Jess Jackson is still very much at the helm and has never sold the name or the winery.

                1. re: MMathews

                  Thank you. That is very interesting. There had been headlines in several trade publications and also in the Wine Spectator, that he had sold his interests in K-J and had begun concentrating on Stonestreet, plus several of what were wineries from the Artists & Artisans part of the portfolio. Were these just rumors, that never came to pass?

                  It is often difficult to know who owns whom and who is still around. Now, Joel Peterson, Ravenswood, did sell, but remained as winemaker and probably other duties. The same, or very similar, has happened with others, like Dick Arrowood.

                  Thanks for the correction,


                2. re: Bill Hunt

                  *Sometimes* when an artisnal winery is taken over by a large public firm, it is not changed for the worse. 2 examples.

                  1) Etude. (Bought by Beringer-Blass which was bought by Foster's.) John Priest is making excellent wine at Etude right now. Maybe not quite at the pinnicle of Soter's wines. But in the same style and, honestly, he has yet to hae as good a vintage as '94, '95, '97, '99, '01 to work with.

                  2) Hartford Family. (Bought by K-J.) Some of the best Pinots, Chardonnays, and Zinfandels produced in Sonoma. Rivers-Marie or Merry Edwards quality? No. But excellent and their quality did not diminish.

                3. re: chickstein

                  While it may or may not be more technically challenging to produce a million or more cases of wine consistently vintage to vintage, whether or not that is truly "wine-making" is another thing. I'm sure it's difficult to make Budweiser or Miller Lite taste the same day in and day out, since it is by definition, an agricultural product like wine.

                  I'm not sure making a wine taste the same every time, from year to year, is what true wine lovers want out of their winemakers...

              2. re: SteveG

                This has been the case for a lot of wineries. Look at Beringer. They have the same problem.

                1. re: chickstein

                  Doesn't Beringer still make a few single vineyard small production lots that are worth drinking? I've never bothered to search them out, but I think I've heard it isn't all massively blended to the point of having no sense of place.

                  1. re: SteveG

                    They make MORE than just a few . . .

                    a) They used to make Napa Ridge before selling it off to Bronco, and replaced it with their STONE CELLARS line of varietal wines (Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc), bottled with a "California" appellation -- all under $8 WSRP. Read "mass market."

                    b) They make varietal wines under the BERINGER label BUT with a "California" appellation (White Zinfandel, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, etc.) -- again, all under $8 WSRP. Read "mass market."

                    c) They make another line of varietal wines labeled BERINGER FOUNDER'S ESTATE, all with a "California" appellation, all carrying an $11 WSRP. Read "mass market."

                    d) They make yet another line of varietal wines labeled BERINGER THIRD CENTURY, with either a "North Coast" or Central Coast" appellation -- all with a $14 WSRP. Read "mass market."

                    e) They make a number of different varietal wines and blends under the BERIINGER label: under the "Napa Valley or "Knights Valley" appellations, they range in price from $15 to $120 -- some are vineyard-designated, some are not; NONE are "mass market"; and all will stand toe-to-toe with the best Napa Valley offers and show quite well.


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Well stated Zin. Too bad that many do not get past the name alone and group all of the wines into the same category. Gotta' taste the wines!


                    2. re: SteveG

                      One that I love is listed above.


                2. Actually, all are legit, though I have never seen "Little Penguin." That's not a plant in a trick question, is it?

                  Now, if you are asking who makes good wines out of this group, I'd have to say that upper four do. This is not to say that all that each makes is a favorite of mine, but I have had some decent to great wines from those. I have yet to experience a Yellotail, that I could enjoy, but might well have missed the good stuff.

                  I'd probably feel the same, if the only Rober Mondavi that I had ever experienced was some of their lesser offerings. OTOH, I experienced some great Cal-Cabs in a 30 year retrospective tasting hosted by the late Mr. Mondavi. Great wines, great stories, and an experience that I will never forget. Still, this does not mean that I have enjoyed the entire portfolio - I have not.

                  Now, have I missed the gist of the question?


                  1. What do you mean by "legit"? What do you mean by "decent"?
                    Ravenwood, Kendall Jackson (aka "KJ"), Robert Mondavi, and Columbia Crest ALL produce wines from under $X to$XXX -- if you consider CC a part of Chateau Ste. Michelle.

                    I have had some great wines from wines which were labeled and/or owned by Ravenwood, Kendall Jackson (aka "KJ"), Robert Mondavi, and Columbia Crest, and I've had pretty disappointing wines from each of them, too. But that could apply to just about any winery in the US, Australia, Europe, etc.

                    Could you be a bit more specific? What are you looking for?

                    FWIW, I agree with pretty much everything else that's been said so far . . .


                    1. It depends upon the specific bottling in question. But I'm not too much of a fan of any of these wineries.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: whiner

                        Columbia Crest does make good wine for the price point. The Two Vines Series especially Vineyard 10 is amazing for the money. Kendall Jackson Chardonnay again for the money is quality.

                        Not a fan of the Mondavi Private Selection wines as they are not in the class of Columbia Crest.

                        1. re: wineglas

                          Unfortunately, I have not had many of the lines in the Columbia Crest portfolio. From the few, I have not been overly impressed, but then see other of my replies in this thread. There are probably great ones, or at least really good ones, that I have just not had the fortune to taste.