Q&A with Willamette Valley Vineyards' president

| Print |  Email
Sunday, March 01, 2009

BEARING FRUIT

JimBernau.jpg PHOTO BY MICHAEL HALLE

WHEN JIM BERNAU founded Willamette Valley Vineyards in 1983, his 15-acre, one-man operation was one of about 115 vineyards dotting Oregon’s landscape. As Oregon’s wine industry has grown in size and reputation, so has Willamette Valley Vineyards, which is now one of the leading producers of pinot noir in the state. As the president of Oregon’s only publicly traded winery — with $16.7 million in annual revenues — Bernau oversees 121 employees and the production of more than 120,000 cases of wine annually. We caught the winemaker on a rare day away from the winery to discuss the challenges facing Oregon’s wine industry.

Q How are Oregon wineries, including your own, faring in the recession?
A Sales growth has flattened, and in some cases we are seeing downturns, especially with our restaurant accounts. I hear from my colleagues that they are seeing the effect of the economic slowdown, especially those that are making and selling fairly expensive products. Our wines are fairly expensive because our yields are so low and the costs of how we make our wines are high. Oregon pinot noir, to be really good, takes a lot of money to make. People are being very careful of how they spend their money, which they should be.

Q What’s the industry doing to survive the recession?
A What happens sometimes in downturns is you see consumer behavior fundamentally change. People start making lower-cost choices and stick with those choices. I think what you’re going to see are some people trading down from expensive wines to less expensive wines. You won’t see much price cutting, because the cost is already in the product. You’ll see some real slowdown in spending by wineries — cost saving, cost cutting. But then you’ll also see something else. For those capable of doing it, you’ll see investing. Often the best times to develop a stronger market position [are during] economic downturns.

Q Lobbyist, cellar rat, CEO — you’ve worked nearly every position in the industry. Have a favorite?
A Growing. I love being in the vineyard, absolutely love it. As a consequence, we have quite a few vineyards.

Q You recently acquired more than 200 acres.
A Yes. We’re going to be busy. What’s important when you want to make a high-quality pinot noir, you have to have absolutely the best growing site for it, and reduce the yield on the crop in such a way to produce a high-quality, world-class wine. The best way to ensure that is to do it yourself. There is an advantage of making sure you control every aspect of the growing process, but also there is no margin. So by growing more yourself, you have more ability to get pinot noir to the public at a price that is fairly reasonable. Part of Willamette Valley’s great strategic advantage is that our size as a grower allows us to do that.

Q Would reducing personal wine consumption to save a few dollars ever be an option?
A Have you seen the size of my cellar? There is no way I could cut back.

 

NICOLE STORMBERG

 


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

More Articles

Party Like It’s 1999

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
pets-com-sock-puppetBY JASON NORRIS, CFA | OB GUEST BLOGGER

Pets.com, GeoCities, eToys, and WorldCom … blasts-from-the-past that all signify the late 1990s Internet bubble. Yet we believe the dynamics of the market, specifically in technology stocks, are much different today than it was during the late 1990s.


Read more...

On the Brink

March 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
BY APRIL STREETER | OB CONTRIBUTOR

Leslie Carlson channels the big idea.


Read more...

Cache and Curry

March 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Power Lunch at Swagat in Hillsboro.


Read more...

Light Moves

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Fittingly, Light at Play — a business whose sole purpose is to create mesmerizing ambience — was conceived at Burning Man.


Read more...

7 industry trends of 2015

The Latest
Friday, January 09, 2015
covertrends15-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Industry groups identify top trends for 2015.


Read more...

Where do Portland demographics rank among the largest 50 cities in the US?

The Latest
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
thumbpdxinperspectiveBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The Portland in Perspective study, done by the City Budget Office, was released Tuesday.


Read more...

The week journalism died

Linda Baker
Sunday, February 15, 2015
deadjournalismthumbBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

As the investigation against the governor moves forward, those of us in the news business should reflect on our own potential for subverting the democratic process.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS