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Hampton Lumber has diversified into the wine industry with investments in vineyards and a winemakers’ studio.

The potential for wildfires and stricter regulations has convinced an Oregon timber company to dip its toe into the wine industry.

Hampton Lumber of Portland has bought the Carlton Winemakers Studio from its founders for an undisclosed sum, building on earlier vineyard investments in Polk and Yamhill counties.

The studio operates as an incubator for independent winemakers who use the facility’s equipment and sell products through its tasting room.

It was founded in 2002 by Eric Hamacher and Luisa Ponzi, who hailed from the wine industry, with the help of builders Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin.

The investment made more sense for Hampton than buying or developing a winery, which would entail specialized marketing expertise and holding several years worth of inventory, said Steve Zika, the company’s CEO.

“This is a nice logical step where we could tip-toe into the next step,” Zika said. “It’s a really interesting way to get further into the industry.”

The opportunity for growth in Oregon’s forest products industry is limited due to wildfire danger and likely regulatory changes on private lands, he said.

Timber companies are negotiating with environmental groups and Gov. Kate Brown’s office on a potential “habitat conservation plan” for federally protected species on private lands, he said.

Vineyards and wine-making offer an opportunity to diversify for Hampton Lumber, though the timber industry will remain its main focus, Zika said. The company owns 280,000 acres of forestland in Oregon and Washington and operates 10 mills along the West Coast.

Earlier this year, Hampton roughly doubled its timberland holdings with the purchase of 145,000 acres in northwest Washington from the Weyerhaeuser Co. for about $265 million.

Hampton entered the wine industry in 2016, when it planted a property near Monmouth with grapevines in anticipation of a land sale that ultimately fell through.

The company held on to the vineyard and bought another one near Carlton two years later. Grapes from the two properties, which total about 130 acres, are sold to eight wineries in the area.

The wine industry may present opportunities for members of the Hampton family who want to pursue career paths outside the timber industry, Zika said. The family’s involvement in timber stretches 80 years and four generations.

Since it’s not a publicly held firm with a narrow focus, Hampton is flexible to make unique investments, he said. “We can do things like that in terms of fun as a private company.”

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I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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