The wine-grape factory that is the Eola Hills is buzzing with word that a major California wine producer is buying vineyards in the area with an eye toward significant future investments.
If it’s true, the infusion of cash and acclaim could represent the biggest bump for Oregon’s $2.7 billion commercial wine industry since Robert Drouhin startled the wine world a quarter century ago by being the first French investor in the state’s viticultural future.
Wine writers for the past two weeks have been chasing information that Jackson Family Wines, the Napa-based owner of Kendall Jackson, LaCrema and other prominent brands, has bought, or is in the process of buying, two large vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills area of Polk County.
The two parcels, totaling 460 acres, were developed by Premier Pacific Vineyards in the mid-2000s, before the Napa-based company sold its Oregon holdings.
Richard Wollack, Premier Pacific’s managing trustee, said this week the stories are true.
“It appears that Kendall Jackson bought two of the properties that we developed,” he said. “And they are really good properties. They were developed with the state of the art.”
Wollack said Oregon’s ability to produce pinot noir grapes — a preferred varietal of Jackson Family Wines’ LaCrema label — explains the growing interest in doing business here.
“We believe that Oregon is America’s Burgundy,” he said. “Probably the best indication of that is that you can’t go to a decent restaurant anywhere in the country that doesn’t have an Oregon pinot noir on the wine list. Ten years ago, that would have been unheard of.”
Aimee Sands, Jackson Family Wines’ senior communications manager, declined Friday to address specifics, saying, “We do not discuss rumors or speculation nor do we share details around grape purchases or wines prior to release.”
She added, “However, as specialists in cool-climate varietals we’ve always focused on exploring the finest growing regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the Willamette Valley has an excellent reputation.”
Dundee winemaker Joe Dobbes, reached Thursday at a trade event in Chicago, said he has signed a contract with LaCrema calling for him to make a “significant” amount of pinot noir for that label from grapes harvested in Oregon last fall.
Dobbes said he could not comment, though, on whether the company has bought vineyards in the state.
“But if they decide to make a permanent play in Oregon, I think that’s a good thing to have a major serious producer with large distribution working here,” said Dobbes, whose company, Wine By Joe, has received two significant infusions of cash in the past year from Bacchus Capital Management, a San Francisco- and New York-based investment firm. “We’re still a young and fledgling industry, but clearly, the snowball is rolling downhill and it’s getting bigger.”
Ted Casteel, a partner in Bethel Heights Vineyard northwest of Salem, said one of the two targeted properties, a vineyard named Zena East, is part of a “necklace” of vineyards ringing the Eola Hills.
Casteel added that a close friend, whom he declined to identify, has been approached by Kendall Jackson executives.
“Several of them came up on private jets for a day and stated their intention of investing in Oregon,” Casteel said. “It looks to me as if it’s only a matter of time.”
Kevin Chambers, past president of the Oregon Wine Board and chief executive of Oregon Vineyard Services, has heard the stories, too. He is convinced something official is bound to break soon.
“It’s really the talk of the town,” he said. “There’s too much smoke for there not to be fire pretty close by.”
Source: The Oregonian