Jim Bernau

Jim Bernau, the founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore., will be the featured speaker at this year’s SAIF Agri-Business Banquet Jan. 17 at the Salem Convention Center.

Jim Bernau, founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards, has been a part of the Oregon wine industry for most of its meteoric growth. Bernau founded the Salem-based vineyard in 1983, after securing the hillside property that hosts the vineyard two years earlier.

Since then, Oregon’s wine industry, with a farm gate value of $208.7 million, has grown to become the seventh largest agricultural industry in Oregon, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

When counting jobs, wages and revenue tied to wine production and distribution, the overall value of wine-related activity in Oregon comes in at $5.61 billion, according to a report commissioned by the industry.

This from an industry that was essentially non-existent in Oregon until the mid-1960s.

“Our Oregon wine industry is young,” said Bernau, the featured speaker at the SAIF Agri-Business Banquet, Jan. 17 at the Salem Convention Center, “but it has now become one of the greatest agricultural investments to have been made in Oregon.”

At the center of the growth of Oregon’s wine industry is its quality, Bernau said, but changes in public policy also have contributed greatly.

“I think it will be surprising for people at the banquet to learn that the foundation of much of our growth has been changes in public policy,” Bernau said. “And that points a pathway for other agricultural industries. It sheds light on what we can do in other forms of agriculture to improve economic opportunities for all Oregonians.”

When it comes to the quality of wine produced in Oregon, Bernau said one way to illustrate that is to note that Oregon produces only 1% of the wine made in the U.S., but that over 21% of the wines rated 90 points and above in Wine Spectator magazine come from Oregon.

“I think that is a mind-blowing statistic,” Bernau said.

Bernau said he will talk about these and other topics at the banquet. And, he said, “One thing I can tell you is that we are going to have a blast.”

The banquet, a celebration of the agricultural community and its impact on the mid-Willamette Valley, also will feature a short presentation from current Oregon FFA State Secretary Deidre Schreiber, who is from Enterprise. Schreiber will address how FFA members can influence the future of Oregon agriculture.

Lyn Zielinski-Mills, marketing manager at SAIF Corp., noted attire for the event is boots and jeans. The event’s presenting sponsor is KeyBank.

The banquet, put on by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, starts at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at the Salem Convention Center, 200 Commercial St. SE. For more information: https://bit.ly/35u1Xv1

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