Jackson Family Wines buys another Oregon winery

Jackson Family Wines is continuing its push into Oregon, announcing a deal Monday to acquire WillaKenzie Estate, a Willamette Valley producer of single-vineyard pinot noir and pinot gris.

Santa Rosa-based Jackson did not disclose a purchase price on the transaction, which will close Wednesday. It includes the WillaKenzie Estate brand, its gravity-flow winery and tasting room, plus 100 planted acres in the Yamhill-Carlton region and 25 planted pinot noir acres at the Jory Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills.

Jackson has been aggressive in buying property in Oregon so that it can source fruit, especially pinot noir, for its La Crema and Siduri brands. Land prices in the Beaver State are much lower than in the North Coast area, and there are fewer regulations on events and water.

The company also has looked to acquire Oregon boutique producers, such as April’s purchase of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, a highly-regarded pinot noir producer in the Willamette Valley.

The WillaKenzie purchase will help Jackson grow its portfolio of premium pinot noir, as the category has shown no signs of slowing in the aftermath of the 2004 movie “Sideways.” Pinot noir commanded the highest prices, per case, this summer among other top varietals, averaging $115.80, according to market research firm IRI.

“The distinct, vivid wines of WillaKenzie Estate complement our Willamette Valley offerings,” Hugh Reimers, president of Jackson Family Wines, said in a statement.

“Welcoming WillaKenzie to our family not only adds to our luxury pinot noir vineyard holdings and winemaking capabilities, but also introduces highly-regarded pinot gris to our Willamette Valley portfolio.”

Reimers last week told an industry panel that Jackson is looking to do smaller acquisitions between $5 million and $30 million compared to recent blockbuster deals by competitors such as E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands Inc.

“The brands that we try to acquire are really brands that complement our portfolio and elevate our portfolio. We try and move acquisitions upmarket,” he said. Reimers added that Jackson’s average price per case is more than $120.

Bernard and Ronni Lacroute founded WillaKenzie Estate after Bernard’s career in technology and Ronni’s career teaching French. Bernard grew up in Burgandy.

The couple took an old cattle farm and planted the estate vineyards starting in 1992. Three years later, they made wine in their new gravity-flow winery.

The two will not have a role in the winery after the transition to Jackson, a spokeswoman said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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