JACKSONVILLE — Footstone Jive Winery hopes to add a colorful — and profitable — chapter to the chronicles of this historical town, if its founder's vision comes to fruition.

JACKSONVILLE — Footstone Jive Winery hopes to add a colorful — and profitable — chapter to the chronicles of this historical town, if its founder's vision comes to fruition.

Canadian investor, wine connoisseur and Footstone founder Steve de Jaray has big plans and has backed them with a lease and purchase option of Redmen's Hall in the center of town, as he prepares to open a winery that he says will boost grape growers all over Southern Oregon.

De Jaray says he is making a major investment in property and equipment because he believes the grapes grown in the Rogue and Applegate valleys rival those anywhere. With the right blend of product and marketing, he says, Southern Oregon vintages can gain a foothold in major metropolitan markets that have traditionally opted for California labels.

But the vision doesn't end there.

"Footstone Jive is all about the fruit in the Rogue Valley, and of course the grapes are at the top of the list," de Jaray said. "But we're talking blackberries, yellow plums and cherries, too."

The blackberries and such will be distilled into eau de vie — French for fruit brandy — at the restored 1880s-era Redmen's Hall on the corner of North California and Third streets.

The start-up winery, spirits distillery and tasting room is scheduled to open in mid-June, just in time for the release of Footstone Jive's 2009 Débutante Melange, a white blend; 2009 Librarian Fauvet, a single vineyard pinot gris; and 2009 Farmgirl Rouge, a syrah rose.

"I'm an enormous wine collector and a big fan," admitted de Jaray, who looked into two areas before settling on Jacksonville.

"A successful Napa vintner told me about Red Mountain in Washington and the Rogue Valley," de Jaray said. "I found the Red Mountain Bordeaux varietals hollow unless they were in the desert area, and then water was an issue. When I came to the Rogue Valley, walking, sniffing and tasting, I found wines that were much more elegant. I found a great deal more passion about growing the grapes. Wine is greater than the fruit it comes from. The grape growers here walk through vineyards, like they were their children, sharing stories about buying ladybugs to eat mites instead of spraying. That passion was reflected in the wine I tasted."

De Jaray has signed a lease with an option to buy the two-story historical building, said Ken Stringer an agent with Merit Commercial Real Estate in Medford. He earlier pursued the nearby U.S. Hotel building across the street, but decided Redman's Hall was a better match.

"It's significantly bigger and better in all respects and we were able to put our stills in there," he said.

De Jaray said Dana Keller of the Noonan House will be the tasting room manager.

The wine will be developed, stored and bottled at custom crush producer Pallet Wine Co. in Medford.

De Jaray's vision could boost the region's wine industry to new heights.

"What Steve's doing that is really different is that he's coming in with an idea to develop a national or even a global brand, based on Rogue Valley fruit and wine," said Dan Sullivan, one of the Pallet Wine Co. partners "His scope for distribution, going to China and Asia, as well as U.S. markets is different from what the other Rogue Valley wineries have done."

The proliferation of planted acres and number of wineries, accompanied by growing recognition from reviewers and competition judges, have given the Rogue and Applegate appellations plenty to promote.

"The evolution we're going through is similar to what Napa-Sonoma and other wine growing regions of the world experienced as they went through rapid (change)," Sullivan said. "Going from nowhere on the map to producing wines that can stand up to any in the world."

De Jaray said he has hired a staff of five but hopes to more than double that number by next summer. He said he has connections with distributors in Chicago, Massachusetts, Houston and Oklahoma but will keep West Coast distribution in-house.

While the sagging economy has hurt high-end wine markets, there is plenty of opportunity for mid-priced vintages.

"With export wines coming in and Millennials making up the burgeoning side of the marketplace the selling price point has been $20 to $23," de Jaray said. "What is changing in the wine marketplace is that people truly realize they don't need $400 to $500 cabernets from Napa, you can get just as delicious a wine at $20 to $25."

De Jaray predicted his winery could sell 100,000 cases in four or five years.

"One thing the Rogue Valley does not lack is land to plant grapes," he said. "The nice thing is that growers are currently feeding grapes to the Willamette and Umpqua valleys. As a supply chain, these grape growers are only going to flourish."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.