By Janet Eastman
The story Steve de Jaray likes to tell is that he will open a new tasting room unlike anything else in Oregon. It will be part distillery, part wine bar and all theater.
If all goes his way, he'll vault to the top tier of the state's wine producers by selling 100,000 cases of wine a year made from Southern Oregon grapes. In addition, he'll overcome criticism by worried residents of his plans and his past, and his serious legal troubles in Canada will disappear.
Whew. That's some story.
Undaunted by several unplanned plot twists created by what he calls a "very, very small minority that doesn't like me, the winery world and people drinking," de Jaray insisted he will launch Footstone Jive Winery soon.
Just not in Jacksonville, where he leased a historic building on the main street, taped an "Opening Soon!!!" banner in front and invited hundreds of passersby for a pre-remodel preview on June 11. On June 15, the city council voted not to endorse his Oregon liquor license application.
Council members didn't like the stories they were reading in the Medford Mail Tribune and the Vancouver Sun newspapers about de Jaray being charged in May for shipping electronic chips from the Vancouver International Airport to Hong Kong in defiance of export rules. Stories also surfaced that in 2004, de Jaray, who still lives in West Vancouver, B.C., admitted to insider trading reporting violations as a CEO of AimGlobal Technologies Co., a high-tech firm. He was fined $100,000 by the British Columbia Securities Commission and cannot be involved in a publicly traded company in B.C. until 2013.
De Jaray has explanations for all of this, but the council's mind was set: endorsement denied. So de Jaray's well-crafted story of Footstone Jive will have to be rewritten.
Footstone Jive. The name is as unexpected as everything else about the company. The aspiring wine producer explains it this way: The idea of "footstone" came to him while walking around the Jacksonville cemetery and reading some of the grave markers. And "jive," well, he says, "a 'jive' is a story. The names of the wines celebrate the stories of people who lived here in the past."
His Syrah Rosé is called "the Farm Girl" and the '40s-style pinup label depicts a busty brunette in short overalls and roller skates. His Pinot Gris is "the Librarian," who's shown with plumeria in her blonde hair, plunging cleavage and a garter high on her thigh while splashing around in a wine barrel. An aromatic blend of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc is "the Débutante," seen on the label as a Marilyn Monroe-ish seductress with a white gown and hose, and red lips, gloves and heels.
De Jaray still plans to release the white wines first, followed by a Meritage, named after a fabled aviator who ran a dance hall in Jacksonville's Redmen's Hall, the brick landmark on the corner of California and Third Street that de Jaray hoped to occupy.
Now he's moving his idea, his custom order for two towering Bavarian copper stills and the rest of his promised $1 million in equipment to another location. "We have a Plan B," said a member of his entourage outside City Hall minutes after the "no" vote. "Stay tuned," chimed in de Jaray. Will there be an appeal to the Jacksonville City Council? "The question you should be asking is 'Would I want to appeal?'" he said.
As of now, the 2009 white wines are in a holding tank at a custom-crush facility in Medford, waiting to fill thousands of custom-made bottles even though there is no "dance hall" winery in which to showcase or sell it.
The wine has a story, too. It has been specifically crafted, he says, to appeal to millennials - young adults, wandering the Applegate Valley wine region, dining in Chicago and New York, and drinking for fun in places as far away as Asia.
The wine is fruit forward, approachable, "yummy," he said. "Not your dad's wine." He predicts it will appeal to people interested in "nostalgic frugality." He has priced the wine around $25 a bottle.
Following the philosophy that the client is always right, noted winemaker Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co. in Medford created "less earthy" wines for de Jaray. They're not oaky, buttery, bitter or high in alcohol.
Getting customer attention first, he hopes, will be his "specially sculptured art collector bottles featuring commissioned-Ludvigsen original glamour pinup artwork," as stated in a premature press release announcing the opening of Footstone Jive in Jacksonville.
If not the glitz and glamour, then maybe the spirits will lure them in.
In his dream of a demonstration distillery, people will be drawn in by the intoxicating scent of fresh fruit - pears, peaches, cherries, blackberries, plums - as if they've entered their grandma's kitchen while she was canning jam. De Jaray envisions a setting in which a sound system pumps out songs by the Barenaked Ladies and black-clad staffers ask if customers want a tour of the distillery or to jump right into tasting Footstone Jive's spirits or wine. If they like, they can buy a glass or bottle of wine to drink there, or take away a bottle of the spirits.
De Jaray likes the idea of taking the barrel tasting and distilling process out of caves and cellars and into the open.
Still in the shadows - according to local critics, a Vancouver Sun journalist, a Southern Oregon wine blogger and a writer posting on www.stockhouse.com, who refers to de Jaray as "a smooth ... raconteur ... suing his own brother" - is de Jaray's intended business modus operandi.
On June 15, the same day the Jacksonville City Council decided not to endorse his liquor license, de Jaray was scheduled to appear in another Canadian court to explain why he shipped 5,100 electronic chips that might have military applications to Hong Kong without a permit. The declared value was $1,375, while Canadian officials assessed the contents worth at $200,000.
That morning, however, he called from Southern Oregon's 541 area code and calmly reassured this reporter that he was on track for all his approvals. He felt welcomed in Jacksonville because of the comments he heard from people wandering into Redmen's Hall during the opening night of the Britt Festival a few days earlier. He says he hosted 300 people, serving them only snacks, "because I couldn't serve them wine yet."
The setbacks he's experienced are "inconsequential," he says. "We have the wind at our back. One step at a time and the debutante will be born."
But that's another story.
Janet Eastman writes about Southern Oregon wine for national publications and websites. Her work can be seen at www.janeteastman.com.