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Jackson Family’s Banke keen for more deals

Jackson Family Wines' chairman, Barbara Banke, is still keen to add vineyards to her haul of the past two years, with owners across Oregon and California more willing to consider offers than in the past.

Barbara Banke has just completed the acquisition of Solena winery in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton district, a deal originally agreed in August and where Jackson will produce wines from its recently-acquired Gran Moraine vineyard in the same district. Financial details were not disclosed.

Since taking the reins of Jackson Family Wines in 2011 following the death of her husband, Jess Jacskon, Banke has added more than a dozen properties to the business. Some of the most notable were the firm’s first foray into Oregon earlier this year, including the purchase of the Zena Crown vineyard from Premier Pacific Vineyards.

Another deal is understood to be close, but it is too early to release details, Banke told decanter.com during a visit to London last week for special tasting of her company’s Cardinale, Lokoya and Verite ranges.

Commenting on possible future acquisitions, Banke added, ‘Oregon is something we want to focus on a little bit more, [and] I like France and parts of Italy, so I might look for more there’. The group already owns Château Lassegue in France’s St Emilion, and Tenuta di Arceno in Tuscany.

Banke’s affection for Oregon reflects her belief in Pinot Noir. ‘I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that varietal. Burgundy is a small producer, and really it doesn’t grow in many places very well.’

But, volumes are a challenge. ‘In Oregon, the yields are very small. It’s two tonnes per acre when you’re lucky.’

Still, in terms of lifting volumes by accruing vineland, it’s been a good time of late for opportunists in the US wine industry. ‘It’s very interesting, because for the past eight years, maybe up until two years ago, there was really very little that was available of any high quality,’ Banke told decanter.com.

‘In the last few years, we’ve seen some really good properties come on the market.’

Mergers and acquisitions in the US wine industry have been taking place at record rate, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s 2013 annual report on the sector.  

When asked what has changed, Banke said, ‘I think the economy got a little better. I think people were sitting on their assets because they didn’t want to sell at a loss. And so, now that the economy has come up a little bit for real estate in California and Oregon, people are willing to sell.’

She added that vineyards don’t always meet owners’ expectations. ‘People think it’s very romantic, that you buy a vineyard, you make the wine and then automatically great things happen. But, it’s hard work. Some people don’t like the sales & marketing aspect, or they don’t like the nature aspect, or their kids aren’t interested – and we’ve seen that in a number of cases.’

However, potential buyers must watch prices carefully. Analysts at Rabobank said earlier this year that, while acquisitions are helping some estates to source extra grape supplies in a tight US market, producers may be forced to look beyond ‘traditional’ wine areas in order to get affordable deals.

Written by Chris Mercer

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