Big wine company makes a big move in Oregon

Jackson Family Wines, the California-based company that has purchased four vineyards in Oregon since 2013, is building a 68,000 square-foot wine production facility in McMinnville, in the heart of the state’s Pinot noir region.

The company’s presence in Oregon unsettles a few who wonder about its potential impact on the state’s unusual wine sector. Jackson Family is an international wine company with operations in Chile, France, Italy and Australia in addition to the U.S. In Oregon, the company has bought the Zena Crown, Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash and WillaKenzie vineyards and wineries since 2013.

Gregory Jones, a Southern Oregon University professor who often writes about the wine industry and viticulture climatology, said larger companies entering new territory need to understand a region’s culture.

“One would hope that the new energy drives innovation, bettering the overall health of the industry,” Jones said by email. “Only time will tell.”

Company officials were not immediately available to provide additional details of the construction. Most who are engaged in or follow Oregon’s wine industry don’t appear overly concerned about the company’s arrival.

Jackson Family purchased two buildings that were part of Evergreen International Aviation’s campus and will use them for offices and lab space, according to the McMinnville city planning department. The production facility under construction is adjacent to the other buildings.

The property is across the street from the airplane museum and water park Evergreen formerly operated.

Jackson Family’s presence in Oregon will bring more national and international exposure to the state’s wine industry, said Jody Christensen, executive director of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership. The organization represents chamber of commerce, utility, city government and business interests.

“It’s a significant development for our community,” Christensen said. “This is a company with a great reputation. They’re very engaged in the Oregon sensibility — inclusive and collaborative. I’m very impressed with the way they approach their work.”

David Adelsheim, one of Oregon’s pioneering grape growers and winemakers, said Jackson Family’s investment isn’t likely to change the Willamette Valley’s reputation for producing high-quality, expensive wines, especially Pinot noir. In the stores, bottles of Oregon Pinot commonly carry $40 to $65 price tags.

“I think we should not plan on them changing the landscape,” he said. “They’re building a larger winery, which Oregon desperately needs because we don’t have the capacity, but they’re not going to make a $15 (per bottle) Pinot noir.”

Adelsheim has a unique perspective; in addition to his own experience, his wife, winemaker Eugenia Keegan, was at Gran Moraine and now is Jackson Family’s general manager of operations.

Adelsheim said the valley produces small crops per acre and the resulting grapes are expensive — costing $3,000 a ton and more. Those grapes have to be sold as expensive wine to be profitable. It’s an unusual formula that nonetheless has worked for 50 years, he said.

“We’re one of the few places in the world that can do that, we’re making only wines at the highest price levels,” he said. “The Willamette Valley is the place where all we make is really expensive wine, and we normally sell it, too.”

Adelsheim said the Willamette Valley’s wine industry began as a collaboration of a handful of Pinot noir novices and “came out of leftfield.” It couldn’t have been created by a single person or a single company, he said.

Instead, “A group of people became a bigger group of people, became a bigger group,” he said.

Jackson Family, he said, just bought into that vision.

“There’s no one thing, there’s no one person, there’s no one winery,” Adelsheim said. “But there is one grape. Maybe that’s what you can say.”

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