We toasted some of the larger wine estates on this week’s “Wine and Film, A Perfect Pairing” podcast on reVolver Podcasts, noting the constantly changing landscape for wineries today. Portfolios are expanding as owners look to retirement or simply want to find ways to improve, often afforded by joining a larger group, including some of the most recent acquisitions from Jackson Family Wine Estates and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
A little bit more on both the wine estates, with a few key anecdotes for how they are doing it right, below. A link to the show is here, just click “Episode 31.” And, be sure to subscribe via iTunes, Spotify, IHeartRadio or Google Play Music.
Jackson Family Wine Estates is one of the largest family-owned wine companies in the country and continues to grow with their most recent land and winery acquisitions in Oregon. Started by the late Jess Jackson, and run today by Jackson’s wife, the dynamic Barbara Banke, and their children, the company owns everything from large production Kendall-Jackson and La Crema, to small production, ultra-premium Lokoya, Cardinale, and Sonoma favorite Verite and Italy’s Arcanum with Pierre Seillan. The later of these are a part of the “Spire Collection” of wines, the upper tier of the company’s portfolio, which also includes their first winery purchased in Willamette Valley, Gran Moraine.
We are big fans and friends of Eugenia, a Sonoma native who had been working in Willamette in various capacities for years. She is smart, talented and she knows Willamette, something that was needed for a new company entering a very unique market. Willamette is one of the most welcoming communities in the wine world, but they also celebrate the little guy with a dream and a vision, so a company as large as Jackson Family may have been a little too big for them.
Thankfully, it seems this transition into the market has gone relatively smooth, with the wines of Gran Moraine launching over the past few years, as well as new releases from Zena Crowne, produced by winemaker Shane Moore and consultant Tony Rynders. The wines are stellar, showcasing lively, juicy and fresh Yamhill-Carlton for Gran Moraine, and earthy, dense and structured Eola-Amity Hills for Zena Crowne.
Last year the family also purchased Penner-Ash and WillaKenzie. Though both purchases held their own unique stories, these acquisitions highlight the two different phases of winery sales today. One sold to help them expand. One due to retirement. Penner-Ash wanted to grow, but maintain the story of the winery, with Lynn Penner-Ash staying on as the head, but also having Eugenia as the corporate overseer. And Willakenzie, whose owners just wanted to retire, as their 73-year-old owner Bernard Lacroute was ready to sell and his son didn’t want the biz. The next few years should be interesting and telling for the company as we see what is done with all of their holdings in the state, but it is an exciting time for Oregon Pinot, to say the least.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which includes Washington star Chateau Ste. Michelle, one of the oldest wineries in Washington turning 50 years old this year, owns properties like Northstar, Spring Valley Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Erath and recently acquired Patz & Hall. I
had a chance to have dinner with President & CEO Ted Baseler at Auction Napa Valley a few years ago, learning more about the company and the philosophy behind it.
Each property is it’s own unique pearl and Ste. Michelle is the string. Basically meaning, each winery operates independently, more or less, while things like accounting and marketing and selling are handled by the corporation. Winemakers get to make the best wine they can, without worrying about all of the office work. It makes sense to me. One story about the company I love in particular is about
One story about the company I love in particular is about Spring Valley Vineyards, a Walla Walla winery I have been a fan of for years, still farmed today by the Corkrum, Derby and Elvin families.
Shari Corkrum Derby’s grandfather Uriah Corkrum had been a Walla Walla farmer since the late 1800’s and acquired the land now known as Spring Valley in 1910. For years, and still today, the land was farmed as wheat fields, as is much of Walla Walla with gorgeous rolling hills.
After moving from Minnesota to Washington, Shari and Dean Derby planted the first grapes at Spring Valley in 1993. The first vintage of Estate grown and bottled Spring Valley Vineyard wines were produced with the 1999 vintage. Their son, Devin Corkrum Derby, moves back to the ranch to manage the winery at Spring Valley.
The Derbys’ son Devin Corkrum Derby served as winemaker until his untimely death in a car accident in 2004. Devin’s assistant and friend Serge Laville took over as winemaker. On a chance meeting not long after Devin’s death, Dean met Ted Baseler on a plane and through a chance conversation they struck a deal take on the winery, but keep the family and Serge as the operators of the vineyards and winemaking.
Serge remains today following the same philosophy of “listening to the vineyard” he and the family always have had, to produce the best wine the land gives you with a hands-off approach. All of their wines are 100% estate grown fruit from Spring Valley. Today the farm is run by Kate Derby Elvin, Dean and Sheri’s granddaughter with her husband and two precious sons.
I love these wines, particularly the Katherine Cabernet Franc, made in horror of their family matriarch and Kate’s great-great grandmother, Katherine Corkrum. Their Merlot-based Right Bank style blend, Uriah, is named for the founder of the estate and patriarch. Just introduced Sherilee Petit Verdot is in honor of Kate’s grandma. Traditionally Petit Verdot is very rough and intense, but from their beautiful estate, the wine is subtle, refined, and surprisingly soft, much like its namesake.