Oregon ‘on the verge of something exciting’

18th March, 2014 by Gabriel Stone

A recent surge in investment has offered an important boost to Oregon’s international profile, according to one producer who recently returned to the UK market.

Goodrich Road Vineyard, a 69-acre property recently bought by Elk Cove. Photo credit: Russ Widstrand Photographer

Goodrich Road Vineyard, a 69-acre property recently bought by Elk Cove. Photo credit: Russ Widstrand Photographer

Among those taking part in Go West!, a new joint trade tasting initiative for California, Oregon and Washington State wines, was Willamette Valley producer Adelsheim Vineyards, one of Oregon’s pioneer wineries. After a 10-year absence from the UK market, Adelsheim returned at the end of 2013 in partnership with independent merchant The Sampler.

Other Oregon producers present at the tasting who had recently secured UK agents included Colene Clemens, Trisaetum and Elk Cove Vineyards.

Setting this return within the context of a wider overseas push for the producer, Adelsheim export manager Catherine Douglas told the drinks business: “Two and a half years ago we decided to step up our focus on exports. It was only 1% of our business previously but now it’s more like 3-5% and our next goal is to get to 10% by volume in five years.”

While the producer expects some of this growth to come from new target markets such as Denmark, Germany and “some markets in Asia”, Douglas noted the importance of existing markets for Adelsheim, especially Canada. “Right now we’re only in three provinces so I think there’s going to be huge potential there too,” she remarked.

Looking more broadly at the Oregon wine industry, which currently comprises around 545 producers across 25,448 acres, Douglas highlighted a “ton of capital investment in the area” during the last year alone as a sign that “we’re on the verge of something exciting”.

This investment has included the purchase of four estates by Jackson Family Wines and the start of a project by Burgundian producer Louis Jadot. Among those already in the region, Domain Drouhin announced at the beginning of this year that it had doubled its Oregon vineyard holdings. Meanwhile, news came through this week that Elk Cove Vineyards had bought the 69-acre property of Goodrich Road Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton AVA.

With such growing interest from investors both inside and outside the state, Elk Cove’s winemaker Adam Campbell commented: “The chance to procure 21 acres of immaculately farmed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in an area we knew was top notch was too much to pass up.”

As a result of so much new investment focused on the high quality end of production, Douglas pointed not only to the growing pressure on finding the right vineyard sites, but also securing grape contracts. With Adelsheim currently buying in around one third of its grapes, she remarked: “I think grape supply is probably going to be a bit tight. More people are looking for grapes, especially certified sustainable ones.”

Douglas also acknowledged that this boom in external investment, which last week saw Jackson Family Wines unveil the first Oregon wine under its high profile La Crema brand, was “making some people nervous”. However, she insisted, “to see wines with that level of international distribution is great; it can only be a good thing.”

Offering some perspective from the UK market, Ben Slater, wholesale manager and US buyer for The Sampler set this recent addition of Adelsheim as part of a wider drive to increase the merchant’s US wine portfolio.

Having imported nothing directly from the country until two years ago, The Sampler now represents fellow Oregon producer Kings Ridge, as well as Californian wineries from Napa Valley in the form of Lagier Meredith, the Scholium Project and Farella.

“At the moment we’re nearly where we want to be,” said Slater. “We would like to have a few more wholesale appropriate offerings, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are very difficult to find at lower price points.”

Across both Oregon and California, Slater highlighted the challenge not only of finding the right producers, but also persuading them to export their wines. “Nobody really needs to do it,” he remarked. “We’re relying on people who want their brand to be visible in international markets like London or who want to diversify their sales base.” However, he concluded, “The general approach is slightly ambiguous towards exports.”

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