Companies from around globe invest in Oregon

Soléna EstateAndrea Johnson photo

Jackson Family Wines {California}

Jackson Family Wines, the nation’s 10th largest wine company, made considerable investment in the Willamette Valley this year with the purchase of six vineyard properties, plus a winery.

The first three sites were purchased in mid-March when the holding company, which owns 35 brands — most prominently Kendall-Jackson and La Crema, as well as Arrowood and Cambria in California, and Yangarra in Australia — acquired Zena Middle and Zena East in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area). The two renowned vineyards are surrounded by estates such as Bethel Heights, Cristom and St. Innocent, and have supplied high-quality Pinot Noir to producer Penner-Ash Cellars and others.

In an official statement on March 15, the Sonoma-based company stated: “Since the company was founded in 1982, it has been dedicated to exploring cool-climate growing regions and creating wines that are an honest expression of those unique areas. With a reputation for producing some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay available, Oregon was a natural extension of the company’s focus on coastal viticultural areas.”

In April 2008, the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) sold the Zena parcels to Connecticut-based institutional investment firm Commonfund for $8.75 million.

The third property is Maple Grove Vineyard, a 655-acre former Christmas-tree farm southwest of Monmouth, also acquired by Commonfund from CalPERS in April 2008, for a price of $4.6 million. Sources say 50 acres of the property have been trellised but not planted with vines, with an additional 300 acres suitable for planting.

The initial move substantially strengthens the La Crema brand, which emphasizes Chardonnay and, in particular, Pinot Noir. Joe Dobbes, founder and winemaker of Wine by Joe in Dundee, confirmed that his company has been contracted to produce the Pinot Noir from the 2013 vintage for the brand.

On May 10, Jackson Family Wines announced it had purchased two more sites: Zena West, the remaining parcel of the Zena Crown, which totals 80 planted acres, and Gran Moraine, a hillside vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, totaling 200 acres in vines. Then, three months later, on Aug. 20, Jackson Family Wines made yet another purchase in Yamhill-Carlton with the acquisition of Soléna Estate’s 15,000-case facility and 35 acres of surrounding vineyard from owners Laurent Montalieu and his wife, Danielle Andrus Montalieu.

“In order to fulfill our vision for creating world-class Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, we need a winery capable of producing artisan wines,” said Hugh Reimers, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Jackson Family Wines. “The Soléna winery is beautifully designed for boutique, small-lot winemaking.”

The sale did not include the Soléna brand or the Domaine Danielle Laurent Vineyard; Soléna will move its production to its new Dundee Hills winemaking facility, NW Wine Company.

“We welcome Jackson Family Wines to the neighborhood, and believe they will help us build upon the reputation of the Willamette Valley, and in particular the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, as a luxury producer of exceptional Pinot Noir,” said Laurent Montalieu.

With six Oregon sites and a winery, too, the California giant’s move to the Beaver State will considerably alter the local picture. La Crema, the company’s second largest label behind Kendall-Jackson, produces some 900,000 cases annually. Putting that production in perspective, it is more than Oregon’s top six producers combined.

Precept Wine {Washington}

Underscoring its growth strategy and marking its 10-year anniversary, Precept Wine CEO Andrew Browne announced, on May 14, the company’s purchase of Yamhela Vineyard, located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, just outside the town of Yamhill. Terms of the sale are undisclosed.

“In pursuit of being the vineyard and winery leader over the next decade in the Northwest, we will continue to develop, acquire and grow our business working from a strong foundation of Northwest vineyards and wines with powerful brand names,” Browne said. “We are hunting for world-class sites that support this strategy, and Yamhela is a prime example within our Oregon portfolio.”

Originally conceived by its previous ownership, Pacific Vineyard Partners & Meriwether Farms, as a mixed-use site suited to vineyards, timber and real estate, David J. Minick, Precept Vice President of Vineyards, says the company intends to focus on Yamhela’s premium vineyard potential. Precept will expand the 30 planted acres to a fully realized total of 120 over five years. The property has a total of 374 gross acres; its vineyard was first planted in 2007. Neighboring vineyards are held in the highest esteem by local industry peers.

“Yamhela is perched on one of the finest sites for Pinot Noir in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Its neighbors, including the legendary Shea Vineyard, are among the most sought-after vineyards in Oregon,” said Tim Ramey, principal of Zenith Vineyard in Salem. “Precept Wine’s purchase of Yamhela is not its first venture in Oregon, but this will clearly be a cornerstone of the company’s Oregon strategy.”

By extension of Precept Wine’s ownership through the Baty family and the family’s Winemakers LLC holdings, its existing Oregon interests include 12th & Maple Wine Co. in Dundee and approximately 570 acres across four vineyards, Howell Prairie, Battle Creek, Waldo Hills and Roe, in the Willamette Valley. In Oregon, the Seattle-based company produces Battle Creek, Primarius and Windy Bay brands, all Pinot Noir.

Precept, a top-20 North American wine producer, is the only known wine company to have vineyards and wineries in three Northwest states: Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Bacchus Capital Management {California/New York}

In May 2013, Bacchus Capital Management of San Francisco and New York announced its acquisition of Panther Creek Cellars of McMinnville.

Founded in 2007, Bacchus has steadily built a presence in the wine industry. The company employs a partnership model, using flexible capital. In its equity investments, Bacchus partners with founders and winemakers in making control investments.

The firm’s current portfolio includes seven investments: Panther Creek, Andretti Winery, DeLille Cellars, Madrigal Family Winery, Maritime Wine, Sbragia Family Vineyards, as well as Wine by Joe/Dobbes Family Estate, for which Bacchus helped provide debt financing in 2011, followed by an equity investment in early 2013.

Panther Creek was founded in 1986 by Ken Wright, who sold it to Ron and Linda Kaplan in 1994 and opened Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton. The Kaplans then sold to Liz Chambers — also owner of Silvan Ridge in Eugene — and members of her family.

While Michael Stevenson had been Panther Creek’s winemaker for many years, the new owners have hired Tony Rynders as consulting winemaker and appointed Anthony Van Nice as president. Production of 2013 wines took place at Rynder’s own Tour de Force Winery in Gaston and at NW Wine Company in Dundee.

The former McMinnville building was not part of the sale and will continue to house Stevenson’s boutique label, Stevenson-Barrie, and the former owner’s new brand, Elizabeth Chambers Cellars.

Maison Louis Jadot {Burgundy}

On Aug. 21, it was announced that one of France’s most famous wine brands, Maison Louis Jadot, had purchased the 20-acre Resonance Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA from owners Kevin and Carla Chambers.

Resonance Vineyard, first planted in 1981, has been carefully tended by the Chambers for the past 24 years. Their meticulous attention has made it a showcase estate. The wines from Resonance have already proved their worth under the talented hands of Sineann owner/winemaker Peter Rosback, who said, “Year after year, our best Pinot Noir is from Resonance.”

Pierre-Henry Gaget, directeur général of Maison Louis Jadot, stated, “This is the first time that Jadot will produce wine outside of Burgundy.”

Louis Jadot, which markets its exclusively Burgundian wines worldwide, is only the second French wine firm to invest in Oregon. Maison Joseph Drouhin entered Oregon in 1986 with its Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the Dundee Hills.

Former Louis Jadot winemaker Jacques Lardière will be in charge of all vineyard, winery and cellaring responsibilities, including the 2013 vintage. The facilities at nearby Trisaetum Winery were used for winemaking services during the recent harvest. Pre-picking, Trisaetum owner James Frey said, “It’s very exciting to see Louis Jadot coming to Oregon, and it will be a terrific experience for us to work alongside Jacques Lardière this harvest.”

In addition to Resonance, the Chambers also founded Results Partners, a vineyard management firm, and built Oregon Vineyard Supply into Oregon’s premiere winery and specialty farm equipment dealer.

Kevin and Carla said, “We are honored to pass the baton of stewardship to Maison Louis Jadot. Wines from Resonance Vineyard fruit have been among the most celebrated Oregon Pinot Noir for the past couple decades. We believe the Jadot team will build upon our success.”

In a letter to members of the Yamhill-Carlton Winegrowers Association, Carla explained their plans to move to the Eola-Amity Hills, where they have acquired an 80-acre site for planting winegrapes.

“We are going full circle back to Amity — Kevin’s ancestors traveled on the Oregon Trail to Amity in 1846,” Carla said.  “His mom, his grandma, his great-grandma were all born there.”

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