History of Ken Wright Cellars

Listen to an in-depth interview of Ken Wright’s Story with Levi Dalton
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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, Chalone 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 1976 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 bottling 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. Ken now makes a single vineyard bottling from 13 vineyard sites in the Northern Willamette Valley.

Given 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 Area (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 Carlton, his work with the Visioning Committee helped develop a 20-year plan for the community. He has 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. In 2003 Ken and his wife, Karen, bought the town’s train station that was built in 1923; after two years of extensive restoration, this beautiful building now houses the tasting room for Ken Wright Cellars. Here at the tasting room, you can taste a selection of Ken’s single vineyard Pinot Noir. The staff provides an in-depth geological tour of the Willamette Valley and shares Ken’s 40 years of experience of making wine.

Ken’s accomplishments have been recognized over and over throughout the years. Including in 2005 when Ken was award the VINI Award at Classic Wine Auction for a lifetime of service to the wine industry and Oregon’s community at large, in 2012 Ken and Karen were voted as the Oregon Wine People of the Year, 2013 as Salud’s! Legacy Winemaker and in 2014 an American Winery of the Year Nominee. Ken Wright Cellars wine has received 111 scores of 90 and above in the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, and they continue to year after year. In 2014, Ken’s 2012 Abbott Claim Vineyard Pinot Noir was ranked the number one wine on the world, per Wine Enthusiast. His most recent recognition was being featured as the first Oregon wine maker on the cover of the Wine Spectator, in the May 2015 issue, with a 9-page article on his lifetime achievements in the Oregon Pinot Noir industry and his local philanthropies. Read full Wine Spectator Article


Historical Timeline