Under its new ownership, Chateau Benoit in the Willamette Valley is aiming to join the ranks of Oregon Pinot Noir producers such as WillaKenzie, Ken Wright and Beaux Frhres. The 20-year-old Chateau Benoit was purchased in November by Columbia Empire Farms Inc., which is expanding its Pacific Northwest lines of farm products.
"We want to change Chateau Benoit from making average wines to being one of the recognized leaders in the field," said Floyd Aylor, president of Columbia Empire, which plans a substantial investment in the winery.
Chateau Benoit, located in Oregon's Yamhill County, currently produces about 20,000 cases annually of Chardonnay, M|ller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from estate-grown and purchased grapes. (Full-access subscribers can see past ratings of the estate's wines.)
Under Columbia Empire's ownership, Chateau Benoit will concentrate on Pinot Noir and will focus on the production of "absolute premium wines," according to winemaker Scott Huffman, who worked for the winery under the previous owners. The first new high-end wines will come from the 2000 vintage; the existing 1998 and 1999 inventory will be released in the meantime.
Columbia Empire plans to expand Benoit's vineyards, which currently encompass 27 acres it owns and contracts for another 42 acres of grapes. However, the winery's annual production should remain constant or even decrease, as yields are reduced in pursuit of higher-quality wines.
Columbia Empire Farms, founded in 1976, owns more than 40,000 acres of berry and hazelnut farms in Oregon. The company produces and markets jam, hazelnut products, honey and smoked salmon at its own retail stores in Oregon as well as in other specialty shops across the United States.
Although the financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, Aylor said that sales of Chateau Benoit wines should eventually represent at least 20 percent of company revenues.
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