Meet Katie Jackson: a woman at the helm of sustainability in the North American wine industry
Katie Jackson is a second-generation proprietor working to keep her family-run business at the forefront of quality and stewardship. Today, She serves as senior vice president of Corporate and Social Responsibility for Jackson Family Wines, a position that is equal parts sustainability and advocacy. In 2016, Katie launched the company’s first Family Responsibility Report to highlight its decades-long sustainability journey and to establish 5-year goals outlining its ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility. Under her leadership, Jackson Family Wines has become the largest generator of onsite solar energy in the U.S. wine industry and has reduced the amount of water per bottle of wine produced by 59%. Since stepping into her first winery role in the cellar at Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, Katie has continued to build on her family’s winemaking heritage. Most recently, she led Jackson Family Wines in co-founding the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with Familia Torres of Spain.
My first job ever was… was learning pruning in our vineyards to understand more about farming and the level of skill involved to grow high-quality grapes. I learned from experience that great wines start in the vineyard.
I decided to get involved in the family business because… I had worked harvest in 2007, and I fell in love with the winemaking process, and all of the excitement and hard work that goes into the fermentation process. It felt magical to see the culmination of the work that went into farming the best quality grapes in the vineyard bear fruit, and to understand everything that went into making a beautiful bottle of wine. I didn’t always know that I’d want to work in the family business. Growing up, I loved creative writing and seriously considered teaching English or History as well. I had incredible teachers who were so inspiring to me that I thought it would be amazing to have that kind of impact on others. After my first stints in the family business, I learned how rewarding it can be to make something that people love. I always knew that it would be wonderful to be able to work with my family, and I am so happy I ended up understanding how rewarding the work of our business was as well.
My proudest accomplishment is… my family is very important to me and I’m most proud to be raising kind, curious, happy, and adventurous children.
My boldest move to date was… participating in the co-founding of the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) with the Torres family from Spain. To co-create an organization asking winery members to commit to a reduction in carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and by 80% by 2045, and committing to those actions as a winery, our family is doing something that is both daring and necessary. Daring because changing our carbon footprint as a company is something that will require fundamental change in all aspects of how we run our business, yet necessary because the science is clear that the world will need to step up to figure out how to do this together to avoid the most drastic effects of climate change. I am proud that the members of IWCA are taking a leadership position for our industry, and hopeful that we will be able to find a way for the industry to transform itself and the planet into a more healthy and viable position for future generations.
My best advice to people wanting to implement better sustainability practices is… learn as much as you can about your carbon footprint and the ways that you could change to live more lightly – there may be things you’ve never considered that would be easy changes to make, and that would make a big difference. Living more sustainably also means being more conscientious about your purchasing decisions. Think about the upstream and downstream implications of how what you buy impacts the environment and local communities. Adopt the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle,” with a particular emphasis on the first two. Do your research before making a purchase, and support companies whose mission and vision align with fostering social and environmental sustainability. Engage in constructive dialogue with the companies that don’t and help them understand the importance for the future.
“You are on a journey, which means things will change and there is no such thing as perfect. Know that the journey matters and it’s important to celebrate achievements along the way.”
I would tell my 21-year-old self… you are on a journey, which means things will change and there is no such thing as perfect. Know that the journey matters and it’s important to celebrate achievements along the way. It’s a journey that is worth every step.
My biggest setback was… leaving college at the age of 20 and then making the decision to not return. I needed to know more about myself and where I wanted to end up in life before I continued my education. I made the decision not to return and I wish I could tell my younger self that so much of the college experience is meant to benefit the student, a way to explore, learn new things, and become a more well-rounded and informed person before stepping out into the world. At the time, I was putting so much pressure on my performance in school that I wasn’t able to just relax and learn in a way that would have been much better for my personal education.
I overcame it by…having not completed a degree, I discovered first-hand how that can change how you are perceived and respected within the workplace. I overcame it by proving myself to my coworkers by working hard, continuously learning new things, and dedicating myself to always complete work to a standard of quality that I would be proud of achieving.
The best thing about what I do is… the ability to do what I love. My parents instilled a love for the natural world and desire to protect our natural resources from an early age. Those lessons of caring for the land and giving back to our communities have stayed with me. When we started our formal sustainability program in 2008, I was deeply inspired to work towards minimizing our environmental footprint and promote more social equity programs into our business.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I would… spend that precious time with my three children and husband.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know…that I love to read fiction and poetry.
My favourite wine from our collection is… any bottle of our Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from our wineries in Oregon – Gran Moraine, Willakenzie or Penner-Ash are all spectacular wineries in the Willamette Valley region. Another region that I love is Santa Barbara County – Cambria, Byron, and Brewer-Clifton all make spectacular wines that convey a sense of the unique and beautiful wine region they call home. And I can never pick favourite wines without thinking of Stonestreet Winery, where I first worked harvest and where we make wine from the ranch where I grew up in Alexander Valley – the Chardonnay and Cabernet are all deliciously crafted wines that always bring me home.
I stay inspired by… I’m inspired that we will be able to change the trajectory we’re on with a warming planet. We have an opportunity to create a cleaner, more regenerative and compassionate world, and that inspires my hope for our children and future generations.
The future excites me because… life is fascinating and unpredictable, and you never know where you may end up along the way. I look forward to seeing where my personal trajectory takes me, and to watch my children grow up and see the people they become.