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Ken and Karen Wright

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Ken Wright - Biography

The seed for a career in wine was planted squarely in Bourbon country of Lexington, Kentucky. While waiting tables to put himself through school, Ken was exposed to fine wines from regions around the world. The passion became avocation when Ken left the Bluegrass State to attend enology and viticulture classes at UC-Davis. Eight years were spent winemaking for Ventana Vineyards and Talbott Vineyards in Monterey County of California’s central coast. Friends from the Willamette Valley piqued Ken’s interest in the region when they would visit, and a trip to the Dundee Hills in 1982 convinced him that this was where the finest Pinot noir in North America was being grown.

In 1986, with family, belongings and 10 barrels in tow, Ken moved to McMinnville and started Panther Creek Cellars. His concept of focusing on vineyard-designate bottlings began during those years at Panther Creek and was cemented as a core philosophy in 1994 when Ken Wright Cellars was founded in historic downtown Carlton. A Chardonnay from Celilo Vineyard in Washington State and a Pinot Blanc from the Willamette Valley added to the winery portfolio and in 2001, an additional label was launched, Tyrus EvanTyrus Evan. The name on the vintage western label came from Ken’s two son’s middle names; the wines, also made in Carlton, are from fruit sourced from the Del Rio Vineyard in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, Ciel du Cheval in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington and Seven Hills in the Walla Walla AVA of Oregon.

With his appreciation of sense of place, it was a given that Ken would contribute to the locations and industry near and dear to his heart. Instrumental in organizing the six new American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) in the Northern Willamette Valley that define in detail the distinct growing areas within the region, he wrote the proposition for the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and served as the association’s first President.

For the town of Carlton, his work with the Visioning Committee helped develop a 20-year plan for the community. Ken and his wife Karen have been active in downtown improvements as well, from selecting the trees and vintage street lamps lining Main Street to purchasing and restoring historic buildings in keeping with the town’s rich, agricultural heritage. Ken and Karen bought the town’s train station that was built in 1921. After extensive restoration, this beautiful building now houses the tasting room for Tyrus Evan and Ken Wright Cellars, in addition to hosting a variety of community events. The town’s granary and accompanying silos are next on the list for potential development.

Ken is also a founding member of two respected and well-loved events in the Valley: Carlton’s Walk in the Park is held the first weekend every August, and showcases a wide range of fabulous artists and musicians, along with the region’s top restaurants and wineries. Now in its sixth year, the Event has raised over $150,000 in support of local charities and community service organizations. ¡Salud! is a joint venture between the Oregon wine industry and Tuality Hospital, and provides healthcare for the seasonal workers and their families who are so integral to the industry. Held in November after the Fall Harvest, the Event showcases the Valley’s top 42 Pinot Noir producers, who auction just five cases of wine from the best barrel in their cellar. With over $6 million raised to date, ¡Salud! has had a profoundly positive health impact on thousands of our seasonal workers and their families.

Ken’s most recent undertaking was the funding of a winery for the viticulture program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. All of these accomplishments were recognized in 2005 when Ken was awarded the VINI Award at Classic Wine Auction for a lifetime of service to the wine industry and Oregon’s community at large.