If you read the paper, you may be familiar with a new tasting room tentatively opening this June in Jacksonville called Footstone Jive. The operation is spear-headed by Steve de Jaray, former Canadian businessman, and is a custom-crush client of Pallet Wine Company in Medford.
When I first learned of this new brand it was under the label, Lipstick Lake. Now, the focus has changed into a legend of "Glamorous girls... A heroic Aviator... A dream of a dancehall winery," according to their website. The debut wines are each cleverly named after a character in the legend focusing around a 1940s war hero and bottled in a gaudy bottle. The logo (not pictured) is reminiscent of the St. Paul Beer Girl. Due to the nature of wine production schedules, the white wines will be released this Summer and the reds will ideally follow in the Fall. The reds are a 2009 Aviator Meritage, which they describe as a "Pomerol inspired premium Meritage red blend," 2009 Chorus-Girl Cab, and 2009 Celebrity Merlot. No mention of what vineyards the fruit is sourced from have been made.
When I met with de Jaray he titled himself a winemaker, which I notice was omitted in the Medford Mail Tribune and retitled, wine connoisseur, which seems more fitting. He also claimed he owned Pallet Wine Company, which I knew was not true due to touring the facility. He explained his mission for his wines was to bottle a $60 quality wine and sell it at a $20 price. One cost-saving way he plans to do this is through using a low-cost Chinese manufacturing contact he made through his past manufacturing business. He also continued, that his style is to focus on fruit-forward wines that would appeal to the uneducated, Millennial palate, which was enlightening to hear that Millennial's had different palates (it is correct to sense sarcasm here).
De Jaray designed his tasting room as a mock urban winery to give visitors a sense of experiencing a real winery. Space around the bar is narrow, but he doesn't think this is a problem, because he doesn't want it to be a hangout, simply try the wines, and sign up for the wine club. He also plans to sell more than just wine. Brandy, rum, vodka and other spirits are in the works with the addition of a European still in the front window.
With aspirations of producing 100,000 cases annually in four to five years, distributing in major East Coast markets and opening up exporting channels in Asia, De Jaray would be a major player in the Oregon wine industry. Currently, the largest winery in Oregon produces approximately 139,000 annually.
De Jaray is the former CEO of AimGlobal Technology, Inc. of British Columbia that reported annual revenues of $350 million. Though the Mail Tribune briefly mentioned de Jaray's past legal troubles in their first article announcing his winery's opening, it seems they are slowly uncovering the full story that most of us are aware of now by simply Googling his name. These troubles include an export crime, illegal retirement transfers and multiple lawsuits. I've also caught wind that local producers are not happy with de Jaray's current actions of trying to recruit their employees or making proposals to buy their vineyards or inventory (which they refused).
Many Southern Oregon wine producers seem startled by de Jaray's entrance and worried of how his business plans might effect their reputation. I'm sure similar feelings have been felt by industry members in past growing wine regions. How many of us criticize Napa for being full of wealthy estates backed by Fortune 500 executives? And none of us want that for our prized Southern Oregon. It is easy to be on the defense when "your" region starts attracting people with money to back up their ambitions if they do not align with your own. I know I am one of the biggest perpetrators of this. I am very protective of this area and I only want it filled with the people who have the upmost passion at producing the highest quality wines. But, I do want it to grow and for more people to experience our amazing wines and I have to accept that some bad will come with all the good.