© Ponzi Vineyards
| The Oregon winery has already been making sparkling wine, but mostly it’s all about still Pinot and Chardonnay.
Will the Champagne giant’s takeover of Ponzi mean a boost for sparkling wine production in Oregon?
By W. Blake Gray | Posted Friday, 09-Apr-2021
Is Oregon the next frontier for top-quality sparkling wine? You have to wonder after seeing Champagne’s Bollinger buy Ponzi Vineyards this week.
It was the first full winery purchase outside of France for the Bollinger family, who make Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite sparkling wine (it’s also one of James Bond’s favorites). Bollinger’s group chairman told Wine Spectator: “The main reason [we] selected a Willamette Valley winery is based on the latitude of this region and its climate similarities to that of Burgundy and Champagne.”
To be clear, Bollinger’s stated intentions are not to make more sparkling wine than Ponzi does already. Ponzi makes 30,000 cases of wine annually and bubblies are a tiny portion of that. In 1999, Bollinger bought a still wine producer in Burgundy, Chanson Père & Fils, and has not turned it into a Crémant house.
That said, Oregon has a small but growing portfolio of quality sparkling wines. Argyle was the first Oregon bubbly producer to be nationally known. Now many well-known Pinot Noir producers are also making bubbly, including Domaine Serene, Elk Cove and Soter.
Moreover, in February Robb Report ran a story about Oregon sparkling wine in which Argyle founder Rollin Soles is quoted as saying: “Christian Bizot, chairman of Bollinger, declared he believed this was the first region to make sparkling wines with the potential to age as well as Champagne.”
Christian Bizot died in 2002; his son Etienne runs the company now. Luisa Ponzi, who will continue to be Ponzi’s director of viticulture and winemaking, told Wine-Searcher she doesn’t expect to increase sparkling wine production.
“The Bollinger family wineries specialize in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sparkling in Champagne and still wines in Burgundy,” Ponzi said. “Bollinger’s main objective for the moment is to focus on the still wines with the Ponzi team, with an aim of gaining more visibility with the Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay in the national market and to continue to develop the retail business. Our existing production of sparkling wine will continue as these wines are quite popular in our tasting room and with our wine club members, but there are no plans as of now to increase volume.”
A sparkling future?
But Ponzi also said Oregon has great potential for sparkling wine.
“We have already shown the terroir is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Ponzi said. “We have produced sparkling wines since 2013 and have been very pleased with the wines and the reception from our customers.”
Ponzi said the first overture from Bollinger came through Vintus, which imports Bollinger wines and sells Ponzi. Vintus arranged for Etienne Bizot to visit Ponzi on vacation several years ago.
“He had a great experience at Ponzi Vineyards and left with a lasting impression,” Ponzi said. “As his family became more interested in a US investment, a conversation began in earnest about 10 months ago.”
Luisa Ponzi and her sister Anna Maria Ponzi, who is director of sales and marketing, took the reins at the winery several years ago from their parents Richard and Nancy Ponzi, who founded the winery in the 1970s. There’s an extremely cute photo on the Ponzi website of young Anna Maria and Luisa driving a tractor when they don’t look anywhere near old enough to reach the floor. Luisa said the sale, for an undisclosed amount, was a family decision.
“The Bollinger family is committed to continuing our legacy and developing it in the national market,” Ponzi said. “All of the Ponzi employees will be retained. The Bollinger team has already reached out to our employees to offer assurance of this and to begin building relationships with our team; we are happy to know they will continue to run this as a family business.”
Along with the brand, the Ponzis are selling their winery building and 35 acres of vineyards, but they’re keeping another 100 acres of vineyards, with a longterm contract to continue selling grapes to Ponzi winery.
“Bollinger’s deal includes purchasing the Avellana Vineyard, surrounding our winery facility, along with two of our family’s oldest vineyards: Abetina and Madrona. The three vineyards total 35 acres, all of which are located in the newly established Laurelwood District American Viticulture Area (AVA),” Ponzi said. “We’ll retain our original estate vineyard and our Aurora, Issimo, and Paloma vineyards. We will continue to sell our grapes to Ponzi Vineyards so there are no plans for a second brand or label at this time. Our priority at Ponzi Vineyards will continue to be focused on producing world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.”