By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Jackson Family linked to major vineyard deal

The California-based company markets wine through a network of 35 brands, most prominently Kendall-Jackson. It includes Arrowood and Cambria in California and Yangarra in Australia.

The move north to Oregon apparently comes in support of its La Crema label, which specializes in pinot noir and chardonnay.

Quoting a report from Wine Spectator, a source close to the negotiations said two of the three properties involved 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, which straddle Polk and Yamhill counties.

In April 2008, the California Public Employee Retirement System, known as CalPERS, sold the Zena Crown parcels to Connecticut-based institutional investment firm Commonfund for $8.75 million.

Surrounded by the estates of Bethel Heights, Cristom and St. Innocent, Zena Crown supplies fruit to numerous wineries, including Penner-Ash. It is considered a highly promising site for pinot noir.

According to this source, the third property is a 655-acre site southwest of Monmouth, a former Christmas tree farm.

Some 50 acres have been trellised to support the Maple Grove Vineyard, but not yet planted with vines. Another 300 acres is considered suitable for planting.

CalPERS sold it to Commonfund in April 2008 as well. The tract brought $4.6 million in its raw state.

In combination, the three properties should be capable of supporting more than 500 acres of vines.

The land is located in an area west and southwest of Salem that may be poised to gain prominence. A group of 12 wineries is currently preparing to propose a new sub-appellation for it, under the tentative title Perrydale Hills.

Richard Wollack, managing trustee for Premier Pacific Vineyards, told the News-Register his firm has been overseeing the vineyard development undertaken so far.

The Oregonian ran a story quoting Aimee Sands, communications manager of Jackson Family Wines, as declining to either confirm or deny the deal. She told the paper, “We do not discuss rumors or speculation, nor do we share deals around grape purchases or vines prior to release.”

However, she went on to tell the Oregonian, “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.”

Lending credence to The Oregonian and Wine Spectator reports was a confirmation from Joe Dobbes, founder and winemaker at Wine by Joe in Dundee, that his company had secured a contract to produce Oregon pinot noir from the 2012 vintage for Jackson’s La Crema label.

Dobbes’ winery produced 112,000 cases in 2012, a combination of in-house and custom crush. It has an annual capacity of more than 140,000 cases, giving it the ability to accommodate a significant new client.

Industry insiders think the move by the big California producer into the Willamette Valley will further enhance attention and demand, because it is one of the nation’s largest players.

Anticipating just such a development, Dundee’s NW Wine Co. purchased 180 acres of vineyard land in the Maple Grove area last month. Managing partner Laurent Montalieu was quoted as saying, “I felt the writing was on the wall.”

The arrival of the California giant in Oregon would considerably alter the local picture.

La Crema, second only to Kendall-Jackson in the Jackson Family Wines stable, produces 900,000 cases a year, more than Oregon’s six largest producers combined.

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