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Jackson Family’s Banke eyes Australia, Italy & English wine

Jackson Family Wines is taking advantage of a 'generational shift' in Oregon and is also keen buy more vineyards in Australia, as well as potentially southern England, group chairman Barbara Banke has told Decanter.com.

In brief:

  • Willakenzie deal shows generation of Oregon owners looking to sell, says Barbara Banke

  • Barosssa, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania are ‘exciting’ prospects

  • English sparkling wine: ‘I would like to do more research’

  • Millennials have taste for ‘cool California’

  • Plans to expand Capensis project in South Africa

Full story

This week’s addition of the Willakenzie Estate to the Jackson Family Wines portfolio means that the family-held group now has 36 wineries around the world in countries including France, Italy, Australia, Chile and of course the US.

Jackson Family Wines has been prolific in Oregon in recent years.

‘We now have 4 wineries in Oregon and a current potential of around 900 acres,’ its chairman, Barbara Banke, told Decanter.com in London this week.

‘Our focus will continue to be Pinot Noir but we’re also very excited by Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay, too, because we are working on a blanc de blancs sparkling wine project which is extremely promising.’

There could be more to come.

‘I don’t think we’re looking at more wineries in Oregon, but would be interested in more vineyards,’ said Banke.

‘There’s a generational shift going on in Oregon as some owners of small properties are looking to sell. So there could be some further opportunities to buy more top end vineyards.’

Having been on a targeted vineyard and winery buying spree for a number of years, Banke is clearly showing no signs of slowing down – provided each purchase is in the right place and the right deal.


‘Right now, I am particularly but not exclusively excited by Australia, where we already have some top class wines from Rhone varietals at Yangarra and mostly Bordeaux grapes at Hickinbotham in the Clarendon Hills,’ Banke said.

She revealed that she currently has her sights trained on the Barossa Valley and Pinot Noir vineyards in the Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania.

‘I would like to do more in Australia,’ said Banke, who feels Aussie wine can come good again in Jackson Family’s core US market.

Currently, its Australian wines are primarily selling in their home country and in Asia.

‘Brand Australia has been through its ups and downs and high end Australian wine is a difficult sell in the US. But I think that will change in time as the quality coming out Australia’s fine wine sector is very strong.’

English sparkling wine

Banke would love to buy in Burgundy and Champagne, but neither is a realistic possibility.

‘The cost of vineyards in Burgundy is very prohibitive and whilst I dream of acquiring a champagne house, I’d have to sell half of my existing business to do it. So, it’s not going to happen.’

However, what may transpire at some future point is a purchase in the UK.

Banke has noticed that, as reported in Decanter.com, the Champenois have dipped their toe in the water on this side of the channel and taken note of the rise in quality of English sparkling wine.

‘UK bubbles are certainly something I would like to research,’ said Banke.

Italy is also under discussion. At the moment, we only have one winery in Italy – Arcanum in Tuscany. Naturally, I’d love to see something in Piedmont or Bolgheri. Perhaps both.’

Does Banke have a finite number of wineries in mind?

‘Well, some people would say that I already have more than enough at 36. And you have to remember that a lot of them are very small. But no, I’m still looking because there still great opportunities out there.’

Cool California and Millennials

The California wineries where Banke has the most presence are performing well, she says. These include La Crema, Freemark Abbey, Cambria, Arrowood, Byron and La Jota.

Equally, she said that the Kendall-Jackson mother ship is also in robust good health. ‘Last year, it experienced 6-8% growth, which I think is very good for a 30 year old brand.’

Demographics in the local market are helping California wine sales, Banke believes.

‘We’re getting a lot of sales through the Millennials because wine is fashionable again.’
She also thinks that the consumer preference for a less extracted monolithic fruit bomb style has also been advantageous.

‘I think there’s still an audience for those wines, but we don’t make them. Our philosophy is to be on the cooler edge the range for varietals like Cabernet and Merlot.’

However, there are still challenges.

Water and energy

With the fourth year of drought in California, Banke is continuing to do as much as possible on the sustainability and water conservation front.

Her daughter Katie is spearheading a big push in this direction including solar technology to lower the use of conventional energy sources.

‘In terms of water conservation, a lot of that technology and innovation has come from Australia and has proved highly beneficial as we roll it out in more and more wineries,’ said Banke.

‘For instance, we’re re-using water as much as possible and recapturing rain water.

‘Something else we are doing are soil probes and micro irrigation. All these initiatives help to make a difference as does the Jess Jackson Sustainable Winery Building [named after Banke’s late husband] at UC Davis, which was opened in 2013.’

Expanding Capensis in South Africa

Another project which she is very proud of and involved in Capensis in South Africa.

Co-owned by Banke and Antony Beck, the three vineyards for this exceptional Cape Chardonnay were found and managed by the viticulturalist Rosa Kruger, while the wine is made by the South African born Stonestreet winemaker Graham Weerts.

‘We only make about 2,000 cases, but we hope to expand. We are currently replanting its Fijnbosch vineyard [one of the three vineyards] and will be building a dedicated winery.

‘There is also a possibility that Banke could branch out into other white varietals as well. I’ve been very impressed by the potential of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc from the Cape.’

Watch this space…

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