Precept Wine of Seattle, Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa and the NW Wine Co. of Dundee have all made significant investments in both existing vineyards and sites yet to be developed and planted.
In mid-May, Precept purchased the 374-acre Yamhela Vineyard, adjacent to the famed Shea Vineyards. Though only 30 acres are currently in grapes, the plan is to expand it to 120 acres.
Two separate deals in early 2013 brought 392 prime Eola Hills acres into the Jackson Family fold, 42 of which comprise the much-heralded Zenas Crown vineyard group.
Meanwhile, to acquired additional vineyard property for its growing operations, NW Wine Co. bought two prime vineyard properties totaling 385 acres near Monmouth. They are already planted to pinot noir and pinot gris.
NW Wine already owns 185 acres of vineyard just outside McMinnville. With the purchase, the company became Oregon’s second largest vineyard owner, behind only Duck Pond.
In all, 1,150 acres changed hands in these deals.
Precept, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has come on strong in the past few years. It currently stands 21st among U.S. wine companies.
All in all, Precept now owns something north of 4,000 vineyard acres in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, nipping at the heels of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, whose holdings top 4,600 acres.
Ste. Michelle, based in Woodinville, Wash., owns 23 wineries in Washington and California. It is the big dog in Washington, production-wise.
Washington’s wine industry set a new record in 2012, harvesting 190,000 tons. That tonnage will ultimately yield some 12 million cases, and Ste. Michelle’s holdings will account for more than half.
Bigness surrounds the Ste. Michelle operation. As the country’s 9th largest wine company, it sold 7.3 million cases in 2011. And its parent company, Altria Group, boasts annual revenues in excess of $24 billion.
How such outside influences mesh with Oregon’s wine industry, or alter its course and character, remains to be seen. But there can be little doubt things will not remain the same.
One virtually certain plus is greater public awareness of the Pacific Northwest in general and Oregon in particular. But the invasion could also change the way the industry operates in Oregon.
Until now almost all of Oregon winemaking has been in the hands of Oregonians. Despite some differences in style and substance, everybody has been rowing the same boat.
But what will happen as out-of-state companies become increasingly involved, thus wield ever greater influence?
An analogy could be drawn from looking at how the power structure in many larger cities has changed over the years. Portland is a prime example.
Through the 1970s, Portland was headquarters for many major Oregon businesses. U.S. Bank, Hyster, Georgia-Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, Jantzen, White Stag, Pendleton and Fred Meyer were prominent among them.
Gradually, these Oregon companies were bought by or merged into out-of-state outfits. Their corporate headquarters in Portland ended up closed.
Top executives and their wives tend to bestow their financial largesse where they live. If your hometown is Minneapolis, you don’t support Portland’s arts scene or its worthy community causes.
The same applies to the wine industry. If vineyard and winery owners live here, their awareness of and sensitivity toward needs here are acute. If not, they’re a blip on the radar.
Even more crucial to the future of Oregon wine is what will happen to the longstanding tradition of openness, collegiality and mutual support.
As things stand now and have since the first few winemakers came to Oregon, if you need help during harvest, you don’t send a formal request to San Francisco or Seattle.
Someone or several someones you know show up in response to a phone call, text. e-mail or even word of mouth. And you would do the same for them.
If local laws need change or modification, industry members meet, discuss, arrive at a decision together and present their case with conviction and clarity to the proper authority.
How do large corporations react to and cope with problems? Paramount is protecting their own self-interests regardless of the consequences for anyone else.
The large wine companies that now have an interest in Oregon are run by very competent individuals who are admired by their compatriots and lauded by their peers.
But they don’t live or work in the same world as small winegrowers, winemakers and winery owners. In other words, they have different priorities and different views on what is important.
How they will react to a given situation will only be known when that particular situation arises. We can only hope that how they align themselves takes into consideration not just their own good but also the good of the industry.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.