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Jackson Family Wines Deal in Oregon Is Imminent

Wine giant founded by Jess Jackson is purchasing three vineyards, expanding La Crema, say sources close to deal

Katherine Cole
Posted: March 13, 2013

Jackson Family Wines, the holding company behind 35 different brands, including Kendall-Jackson, Arrowood and Cambria in California and Yangarra in Australia, is purchasing three vineyard properties in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, sources close to the deal told Wine Spectator.

The acquisition appears to be part of a strategy to diversify the company’s popular lineup of California Pinot Noirs, ranging in price from $23 to $90, under Jackson Family’s La Crema label. Willamette Valley winemaker Joe Dobbes confirmed that he had been contracted to produce Oregon Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage for La Crema, but declined to provide details. Dobbes produces approximately 112,000 cases of wine annually for his own brands, Dobbes Family Estate, Wine by Joe, and Jovino, as well as for custom-crush clients; his winery has the capacity to produce more than 140,000 cases annually.

“Jackson Family Wines does not discuss rumors or speculation,” Aimee Sands, senior communications manager for Jackson Family Wines, told Wine Spectator. “However, as specialists in cool-climate varietals, we’re always focused on exploring the finest growing regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and the Willamette Valley has an excellent reputation.”

According to a source close to the negotiations, two of the properties in the deal are Zena Middle and Zena East, which together account for 164 acres of the Zena Crown vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. Surrounded by the estates of Bethel Heights Vineyard, Cristom and St. Innocent Winery, Zena Crown supplies fruit to wineries such as Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and is considered a highly promising site for Pinot Noir. In April 2008, the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) sold the parcels to Connecticut-based institutional investment firm Commonfund for $8.75 million.

The third property, according to this source, is Maple Grove Vineyard, a 655-acre former Christmas-tree farm southwest of Monmouth, Ore., also acquired by Commonfund from CalPERS in April 2008, for a price of $4.6 million. Sources say that 50 acres of the property have been trellised but not planted with vines, with an additional 300 acres suitable for planting.

The area west and southwest of Salem, Ore., where Maple Grove Vineyard sits, may be an under-the-radar region poised to gain prominence. A group of 12 wineries is currently preparing to propose a new sub-appellation, tentatively titled Perrydale Hills, in the area.

Another holding company, Dundee, Ore.-based NW Wine Co., a custom-crush winery that produces Hyland Estates, ArborBrook Vineyards and other brands, acquired two vineyards near the Maple Grove site, totaling 380 acres, in February. NW Wine managing partner and winemaker Laurent Montalieu confirmed that his own purchase was in part fueled by rumors of the impending Jackson Family Wines deal. “I have been told that I was the largest single purchaser of fruit [from the original CalPERS vineyards],” Montalieu told Wine Spectator. “Obviously, with the sale of Zena, I felt that the writing was on the wall.”

Locals have been cautiously optimistic about the rumored arrival of Jackson Family Wines in the Willamette Valley, with growers hoping for an uptick in demand for grapes and winemakers tentatively welcoming the increased spotlight. As Wine Spectator reported last fall, Jackson Family Wines reports annual revenues of $500 million. La Crema is the company’s second highest-grossing business, producing nearly 900,000 cases annually—that’s more wine than Oregon’s top six producers combined.

Some industry-watchers are wondering whether Jackson Family Wines will buy up the remaining CalPERS Oregon properties, which include more than 460 acres of producing vineyards and substantial additional acreage of undeveloped land. “It would be a big validation for Oregon Pinot Noir,” said Charles Humble, director of communications for the Oregon Wine Board.

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