I am fantasizing about what it would be like to be the owner of a wine estate. In my mind I stroll through cool, underground barrel-aging cellars and then make my way upstairs to a tasting room with a massive antique oak bar above which hangs a reclining nude that was a scandal in the Victorian time when it was painted. I cross through the French doors onto a deck that overlooks an expanse of vineyard where grape-laden vines march in orderly rows following the contours of the hills into the distance. The sun shines. The land lives. The vines breathe. The grape clusters are swollen with the juice destined to be the new vintage.
‘Tis a lovely dream … but for some, upon awakening, the dream can become reality. An old boyhood friend reports to me from his home in Bloomington, Ind., that Oliver Vineyards and Winery, a very successful wine estate just out of Bloomington, has been sold to buyers from New York.
Our friend, Jim Williams, took Christina and I to the Oliver Winery when we visited years ago. It is a beautiful estate. And we also tasted some good wines. Started as a hobby in his basement by Indiana University professor William Oliver back in 1971, it has become one of the largest wineries in the country. The son of the late founder, Bill Oliver, said huge growth during this pandemic year produced 740,000 cases of wine. He said sales in three areas of his local economy boomed during this troubled year: bicycles, lumber and wine.
Here in Oregon, another prestigious vineyard and winery has a new owner. After 51 years since their founding in 1970 as one of the pioneer wineries of Oregon’s modern era, Ponzi Vineyards has been purchased by the Bollinger family, who have been making Champagne for six generations since 1829 in France. This bombshell announcement last month marks the latest invasion of outside investors anxious to acquire prime quality wine production facilities for which Oregon has become known over the last several decades. In 2006, Dick Erath, who planted his vineyard at about the same time as Dick Ponzi, sold his winery and brand to Washington’s huge Chateau Ste. Michelle. The Jackson Family Wines, producers of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, came up from California in 2016 and bought not one, but two of Yamhill County’s best wineries: Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and Willakenzie Estate.
OK, about that dream of mine that I wrote about at the start of this piece; I’ve done a little research. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, decreased restaurant wine sales due to closings and widespread devastating wildfires, vineyard real estate sales remained relatively stable. Prices for the most desirable planted wine grape growing acreage in California — Napa and Sonoma — can reach $400,000 an acre and up. Vineyard land with no planted grape vines in these areas can fetch $200,000 an acre. In Oregon, there are bargains to be had: in a most prestigious area, like the Dundee Hills, an acre of planted vines goes for $100,000; bare vineyard land can be had for $60,000 to $75,000 an acre.
So, let’s pool our resources — nest eggs, social security checks, inheritances from maiden aunts — and write out our shopping list. We may have to start modestly on the great chateau with winery in the cellars below, but a doublewide manufactured unit might work out. Hmm, actually, that has already been done I think. I have been to Myron Redford’s hilltop years ago and looked down on the town that gave its name to his winery. Amity Vineyards’ winery and chateau consisted of an old red barn that looked like two manufactured homes up on that hilltop. Redford planted his Amity Vineyard in 1971, went on to make stunning organically grown wines with no added sulfites. He, like Erath and Ponzi, is a legitimate Oregon wine pioneer. Amity Vineyard was bought by Oregon’s Union Wine Company in 2014.
Now I grow tired. It is time to sleep. To sleep: perchance to dream…
Joseph Swafford email@example.com