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Spotlight Shines On Local Wine Industry

WEST SALEM -- Welcome to the neighborhood, Jackson Family Wines.That was the overall message of a round table gathering and reception at Chemeketa Community College's Northwest Wine Studies Center Monday, which included local and state officials and representatives of the regional wine industry.Jackson Family Wines, the owner of Kendall-Jackson and La Crema labels, this spring purchased three already planted vineyards and one parcel ready for planting in Polk County, along with another vineyard in Yamhill County. The company's total Oregon holdings stand at 1,350 acres.Industry representatives at the gathering took the opportunity to ask questions of Congressman Kurt Schrader, one of the event hosts with Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope, about long-term issues, including possible immigration reform and marketing Oregon wines internationally.However, the focus centered around the possibilities for Willamette Valley wines, and those in Polk County in particular, now that the Sonoma, Calif.-based company's investment has brought some welcome attention.Christopher Jackson, son of Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson, said the company "is humbled" by what winemakers in the region have accomplished and hopes to become part of the collaborative environment the state's wine industry is known for."We are going to respect the culture and we are here as students to what you have done," he said. "This is the beginning of the conversation for us. We are looking forward to having a very lively dialogue with you in the future on what we can do right, what we can do better, and how we can continue to make the Willamette Valley a world-renowned appellation for high-quality wines."Katie Jackson, Christopher's sister, said the company has compiled a team that will manage the Oregon properties, including a winemaker, Shane Moore, who is in the process of moving to the Willamette Valley."Our goal is to make wines that are reflective of the place," said Aimee Sands, Jackson Family Wines communications manager. "That means making wines here."While there are no immediate plans to build a winery, the Jackson Family is in talks with regional facilities about producing wines locally. The company purchased Willamette Valley-grown grapes from the 2012 harvest, which Christopher Jackson said produced high-quality wines.But he was more excited about the future."We are happy with them," he said. "I wouldn't say they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Part of having new estates is learning the personality of the estates. I wouldn't be surprised if our second, third and fourth, and so on, efforts are superior to what we did, but they are high quality and we are proud of them."Pat Dudley, the owner of Bethel Heights Winery, said Jackson Family Wines' choice of location will be especially beneficial to an under-the-radar winemaking region."It's been a long time that the Eola Hills and south in the Willamette Valley have had great grapes being grown and not too much economic activity otherwise in some of the towns," she said. "It was partly as a result of you coming that there's some new initiatives self-generating in some of the local towns and cities. We are hoping for some really good, new opportunities for development in the rural communities down in our end of the valley that have been pretty much monopolized by Yamhill County."Among those initiatives are talk of downtown tasting rooms, wine hiking trails connecting vineyards -- including one in the West Salem area where three of Jackson Family Wines' properties are located -- and more lodging for tourists. The latter is something Independence has been researching over the last year."There is a strong conversation about amenities, because we know that people who want to drink and enjoy wine don't want to buy it at a store, they want to go see where it is made," said Independence Mayor John McArdle. "They want to visit and we would like to have that opportunity here."

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