By editorial board • 

Industry moves drawing more attention to fine Oregon wines

When American wine drinkers think of Oregon wines, they think of quality. The move into this area by the nation’s 10th largest wine producer, Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa, Calif., won’t change that perception. But over time, large-scale producers could draw more national attention to Oregon wines.

The California company is in the process of buying more than 800 acres of vineyard land in the Eola-Amity Hills area. Jackson Family’s move north to Oregon apparently will support its 900,000-case La Crema label, with an Oregon yield producing approximately 100,000 cases a year.

This week, a survey released by Linfield professor Sharon Wagner states that across the country, Oregon wines are expected to be of higher quality and have a heftier price tag than other wines.

“Findings showed that U.S. consumers view Oregon wines as having a handcrafted appeal, and even envision small family farms,” Wagner said in a press release.

Compared to California wines, wine drinkers and industry decision-makers believe Oregon wines offer better value for the price, as California wines are characterized as being mass-produced. That perception of quality makes local land, and name, an appealing draw for companies like Jackson Family.

This isn’t meant to exaggerate the incoming presence of Jackson Family’s production operation, or to suggest risk that the character of Yamhill Valley and Willamette Valley wines will become viewed as less handcrafted, more mass-produced. The foundation of small, unique Oregon wineries with their well-earned reputation is too strong.

It didn’t happen when Robert Drouhin invested in Oregon wine. It didn’t happen when Chateau Ste. Michelle bought local pioneering label Erath. And we predict it won’t happen when La Crema touts “Oregon” on its label, or with other similar moves into Oregon by larger wine producers.

Wagner’s study also found that consumers are more likely to see California wines on store shelves. “That means marketers for the state’s $2.7 billion industry have their work cut out for them,” she wrote. “The brand promise showcases the uniqueness of Oregon wines, but the product is not always easy to locate.”

Large producers will attract more attention to the region, and some may even join the controversy surrounding prospective developments of rural, winery-based, full-service restaurant and banquet facilities. But hundreds of smaller vineyards and wineries will benefit as they continue to craft the smaller-scale, high-quality character synonymous with Oregon wine.

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