Workers at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars clean picking totes at the Newberg winery, which is now part of Jackson Family Wines. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

California Steamin’

Oregon’s southern neighbor continues rollin’ north

By Mark Stock

Anyone who’s worked in the Willamette Valley wine scene almost certainly tires of the following phrase: “This place is amazing, reminds me of Napa 30 or 40 years ago.”

More than 50 years and multi-generations strong in a substantial commercial industry, Willamette Valley wine shows some indication of that type of arc. Are we destined to be like Napa is now, three or four decades from today? Probably not. But the region has certainly grown exponentially in terms of production, tourist traffic and regard.

The local wine scene may not consolidate and dial up turnout quite to the extent of California’s most famous valley but that won’t stop the Golden State from coming to us. In the last decade alone, a host of wineries, vineyards and feral land have been acquired by brands from our neighbors to the south. Here are some recent transactions of note:

The Jackson Effect

No California name has left quite the Willamette Valley footprint as Jackson Family Wines. The company began its buying spree in 2013, buying up the somewhat massive 250-acre Zena Crown Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. They now own a handful of recognizable labels, including Penner-Ash, WillaKenzie and Gran Moraine. They also own brands like Siduri that are based in California but depend on a good deal of Willamette Valley fruit. This list will almost certainly grow during the growing seasons ahead, especially in light of relatively less available California land and a warming climate.

Foley Arrives

Foley Family Wines took over Four Graces in 2014. The sale also included close to 100 acres of planted vineyard, located in both the Dundee Hills and Yamhill-Carlton AVAs. Four Graces launched in 2003 and was a popular stop for Pinot Noir fans, the tasting room located just off Highway 99W in Dundee. The Foley Family portfolio continues to swell and now includes brands that source fruit from all around Oregon, including the greater Willamette Valley. In 2018, they bought the Acrobat brand from King Estate in Eugene.

Princely Purchase

In 2017, the Duncan family, known best as the owners of California label Silver Oak, bought Prince Hill Vineyard. The Dundee Hills site was planted in 1983 by Dick Erath to a variety of Pinot Noir clones and very well regarded. The fruit will now funnel into the new owner’s Twomey brand, which produces about 20,000 cases per year. Silver Oak is about five times as large.

Down South

California-based company Huneeus Vintners entered into a partnership with Southern Willamette Valley producer Benton-Lane in early 2018. The partnership kept the winery team in tact, including the involvement of founders Steve and Carol Girard. Benton-Lane celebrated its first vintage in 1991 and quickly became well-known for both its wines and its iconic postage stamp-inspired labels.

Directorial Debut

In the fall of 2018, Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills was bought by famed director Francis Ford Coppola and his burgeoning eponymous wine brand. The sale included the Treehouse Tasting Room, a bar and events space set in a canopy of fir and oak overlooking the town of Lafayette and the Coast Range beyond. It also included the estate and its 42 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. It’s now known as Domaine de Broglie, named after the famous French physicist of the 20th century. The sale saw the McClintock family walk away from wine after about two decades in the business.

Icon Acquired

Last autumn, Owen Roe sold to California-based Vintage Wine Estates. While the label was based in Washington over the last several years ago, Owen Roe started in the Willamette Valley in 1999. Founder David O’Reilly quickly became known for great Pinot Noir as well as bigger reds from fruit grown elsewhere in Oregon and Washington. The labels alone were a recognizable draw at most area bottle shops, often adorned with sepia-toned and black-and-white imagery. 


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