Mike Veseth, editor of the Washington-based Wine Economist, spoke at the Oregon Wine Cluster Conference in Jacksonville Friday. Photo by Janet Eastman

Grape growers gather to explore wine options

Grape growers and winery owners took a break from overseeing vineyards, tasting rooms and bottling lines on Friday to attend the Oregon Wine Cluster Conference in Jacksonville that focused on the economics of the state's $3 billion wine industry.

Speaker after speaker presented information on growing lesser-known grapes to interested buyers, marketing bottles of wine beyond state boundaries and promoting Oregon as a quality producer of higher-priced wines.

"No one has to buy wine," said Mike Veseth, editor of the Washington-based Wine Economist. "And no one has to buy your wine."

The Southern Oregon Wine Institute at Umpqua Community College organized the conference.

This was the first time the biennial conference was held in Jacksonville and in conjunction with the Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival, a four-day series of events for wine consumers that concludes at tonight's Grand Tasting.

The 100 industry professionals who attended the business conference were reminded that wine manufacturing, shipping and sales in the state support 11,000 workers, according to state employment reports. Most of the jobs are centered around the Willamette Valley.

At the conference, Anne Root, who founded EdenVale Winery in Medford in 2000, said she learned more about out-of-state stakeholders coming to invest here.

"Our wine industry is growing and making a contribution to our region with higher-paying jobs and a different agricultural product that enhances pears and other fruits businesses here," she said.

Future success, however, depends on a statewide effort to promote the already-respected Oregon brand, rather than focusing on the Rogue Valley region, she said.

"There is already a lot of good traction for Oregon wine overall," she said, after spending the day listening to marketing experts and then participating in discussions about wine styles and vineyard sourcing.

Mark Wisnovsky, who is a second-generation owner of Valley View Winery in Jacksonville, noticed that conference-goers who are new producers or people who want to enter the business kept their questions focused on the bottom line.

"They were there to do their homework," he said, "which is a good sign."

People wanted to hear about grape varieties that are economically viable, not necessarily the most well-known.

Speaker James Wolpert of the viticulture and enology department at the University of California at Davis gave details on little-known grapes that ripen consistently and are finding a place in the market.

Winemaker Stephen Cary of Yamhill Valley Vineyards and Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars in California spoke about working with smaller vineyards that produce better grapes.

"Growers at the conference wanted to know what types of grapes they can sell to wineries or sell in their own tasting rooms," said Wisnovsky, rather than planting what the owner likes to drink.

He said finding the grapes that will grow well here, year in and year out, will help build a larger industry and allow the grower to pay his workers and his bills. "Which is always a good thing," he said.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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