Tag Archives: Pinot Noir
Posted on April 18, 2022 in Uncategorized
A Conversation With Ken Wright & a Look at His 2019 Pinots
By Paul Gregutt
Click to view on PaulG on Wine
I have known and admired Ken Wright since we first met almost 35 years ago. His winemaking skills are only matched (and maybe even exceeded) by his deep knowledge of the terroirs of the Willamette Valley. He was instrumental in helping to define and develop the initial sub-divisions of the AVA – perhaps the first person to dive so deeply into the nuances of the region from a vintner’s perspective.
He has worked through all manner of vintage conditions, from ideal to dismal, and found ways to make great wines in all of them. His community support for the town of Carlton is unparalleled. So it was with great anticipation that I asked Ken to partner with me in the first Zoom tasting and discussion I’ve hosted for this new website.
We tasted four of the 2019 Pinots together, but the discussion quickly became far more wide-ranging. Of particular interest were Ken’s remarks on the geologic history of the region. We also talked about changes in wine styles and consumer preferences; the trend to using less and less new oak; the difficulties of assessing young wines; my go-to glass for Pinot Noirs and much more. Here is a link to the entire one hour discussion. I’ve noted touchpoints for key topics.
Overview of 2019 vintage (at 8:40)
Geologic history of Willamette Valley (at 10:30)
Volcanic wines and mother rock basalt (at 15:40)
Thoughts on oak (at 19:40)
Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir (at 25:00)
High-scoring wines (at 29:35)
Old vines (at 30:25)
Dundee Hills vs. Eola-Amity AVAs (at 38:30)
Bonnie Jean Pinot Noir and Yamhill-Carlton AVA (at 39:40)
Importance of good stemware (at 44:20)
Low alcohol in wine (at 47:58)
Palate evolution (at 50:20)
Freedom Hill Pinot Noir and Mount Pisgah AVA (at 56:50)
Over the course of several days I tasted through nine different Ken Wright Pinots from 2019. A few things about the entire lineup stood out. Overall case quantities were lower than previously, and finished alcohol (abv) on most wines came in below 13%. Yet the wines are anything but lean. They are intensely aromatic, fresh and fruit-driven. They are balanced and compact. They are generous as long as you give them a chance to breathe and then give them your full attention. Many, if not most, are ageworthy. All are recommended.
Here are Ken’s comments on some of the challenges of the 2019 vintage, with my reviews following:
“Yes, 2019 was down in production. Down 30% from 2017, 15% from 2018 and 20% from 2020. We decided to produce less of everything proportionately. 2019 was a cooler year overall, especially late season, which resulted in lower sugars and higher acids when ripeness was achieved. It was the first year that we produced the two AVA-designated bottlings, Eola-Amity and Yamhill Carlton. We expect to produce them every year going forward.
“Part of the explanation for the small volumes of 2019 was fragility of the berries during harvest. We had endured two significant rain events. After drying out we harvested and the first thing we noticed was how easily berries were popping off of the rachis (cluster frame, stem). The connection between the berry and the cluster is that very small stem which is called a pedicel. When ripening fruit experiences a rain event the berry enlarges and strains that connection. The connection can become quite fragile resulting in berries easily falling off of the stem during picking.
“Once on the truck these loose berries are more prone to juicing. In 2019 we saw juice cascading at times off of the delivery truck. It was literally like watching profits flow down the drain. Once on the sorting line we did our best to capture and retain the excessive juicing but you can only do so much. It was essentially an unwanted bleeding off of juice or saignée. The positive is that it increased our skin to juice ratio which meant greater intensity of color, aroma and flavor… but at a dear cost.”
In conclusion Ken and I both found our Zoom conversation quite interesting and enjoyable. I am deeply grateful to him for joining me. I will announce the next Zoom tasting and chatfest in the near future. Now on to the reviews of the 2019 Ken Wright Pinot Noirs.
In 2019 Ken Wright introduced a pair of AVA-specific Pinots for the first time. Although his pricing on all his wines have long held the line and represent exceptional value, the AVA designates are roughly half as expensive and are a very fine introduction to all the rest. This wine is particularly significant as Ken was the man behind the application for the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. The flavors bring together blueberry fruit, clove spices, moderating acids and a textural mouthfeel with refreshing wet rock minerality.
581 cases; 12.8%; $35
Every dark cloud has a silver lining; in the instance the stresses of fires and Covid on the Oregon wine industry has led many star wineries to blend more and offer lower-priced cuvées. Ken Wright’s AVA series is one such. Rippled with tart black cherry fruit, hints of tanned leather, a dash of cinnamon spice and supple tannins, this is a substantial wine with at least a half decade of prime drinking ahead.
610 cases; 13.2%; $35
The Yamhill-Carlton wines get the special bottles. Again note the lower abv, not sour but showing accents of sweet tomato and mixed citrus along with tart pie cherry fruit. Might the acids overtake it at some point? On the second and third days it seems better, still tart but more concentration to the fruit.
189 cases; 12.6%; $65
Tart as abv indicates, bright flavors of raspberry and citrus, blood orange and a hint of chocolate. Like chocolate orange peel. Crisp and clear as a bell. A touch of wintergreen in the aromas. Complex, compact and tart. Supremely ageable. That minty note persists but it’s a feature.
396 cases; 12.8%; $65
Brambly red berry fruit packs a tangy punch. There’s a touch of Dr. Pepper and plenty of citrus flesh and rind. Overall it’s balanced and tight; though it leans toward a high-acid profile. As with most of the 2019s from Ken Wright it should be aerated aggressively.
362 cases; 12.8%; $65
Ken Wright 2019 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir
(See ‘For the Cellar’)
Here are inviting aromas of red plum and crushed raspberries, a lick of spice, and a palate-pleasing wine of medium concentration and good overall balance. It satisfied from front to finish. Dig in and find hints of peat moss in a compact wine with plenty of detail. This wine unlocks itself carefully so aerate aggressively and give it your full attention. I found it still drinking beautifully when down to the bottle’s last glass on the third day it had been open. As with the Freedom Hill this is one for your cellar and could last for decades.
This Yamhill-Carlton vineyard makes a Pinot with the deep colors and juicy flavors of boysenberry, accented with hints of truffle. It’s complex and compelling, muscular and powerfully built throughout. The tannins are drying but proportionate and framed with phenolic accents. Perhaps the most distinctive wine in the lineup, with unique aromatics.
182 cases; 12.8%; $65
Ken Wright 2019 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir
I don’t know that I’ve seen another Shea with such low finished alcohol, but the exceptional quality of Shea fruit is still much in evidence. The wine’s tart berry mix runs from strawberry to raspberry, showing medium body, juicy acids and good overall balance. The tannins are slightly chewy and carry a touch of herb and stem through the finish. It’s not a standard Shea but nonetheless compelling, finishing with nuanced notes of menthol.
262 cases; 12.2%; $65
(See ‘Wine of the Week’)
Posted on February 17, 2022 in Press, Videos
A conversation with winemakers Ken Wright & Cathy Corison, moderated by Jordan Mackay.
Join Ken Wright and Cathy Corison, of Corison Winery, for a conversation about their 40+ years of winemaking experience, fun stories about the start to their careers, and insight about their respective wine regions. This conversation between Ken and Cathy is moderated by James-Beard-award-winning writer, Jordan Mackay, a specialist in wine, spirits, and food. Jordan’s work has appeared in Food & Wine, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Wine and Spirits and many others.
As you may have read, both Cathy Corison and Ken Wright were featured winemakers in October’s Decanter article, by Jordan Mackay— North American Trendsetters: five modern-day pioneers. Which inspired this collaborative virtual event, offered first exclusively to Ken Wright Cellars and Corison Club members with additional shared club benefits.
With Ken’s 44th vintage under his belt, we think it’s pretty awesome to still be considered a trendsetter in our industry. The environment at Ken Wright Cellars really is one of constant research, innovation and drive to do better at our craft.
Cathy Corison, owner and winemaker of Corison winery, and a fellow University of California alumna, has carved her own self-made path in California. Her secrets to success— beyond winemaking skill— are focus and integrity. Since her first inclinations toward wine as an undergraduate in college, she’s taken her own road, and now countless others are following the trail she blazed.
A special thank you to the team at Corison Winery and to Jordan Mackay for this fun collaboration!
Posted on January 6, 2022 in Reviews
“The issue’s most impressive wines. Includes top-scorers and wines that represent optimal purchases
based on their combination of score, price and availability.” — December 2021 issue
2019 Eola-Amity Hills AVA Pinot Noir
“Structured and full of tension, this Pinot captures what Eola-Amity is all about, featuring handsome notes of blueberry and dark cherry laced with savory minerality and dusky spices, finishing with medium-grained tannins. Drink now through 2030. 610 cases made.” — Tim Fish, Senior Editor
2019 Yamhill-Carlton AVA Pinot Noir
“Expressive and detailed, featuring a vibrant core of acidity and handsome tannins framed by cherry and tart blueberry flavors, with dusky spice accents that build tension toward refined tannins Drink now through 2030. 581 cases made.” — Tim Fish, Senior Editor
Posted on September 14, 2021 in Press, Reviews
Page 29 | October 2021 Issue | Decanter
Download PDF of Article
Wright’s story is prototypically American: in spite of a lack of pedigree and finances, he achieved his success in wine through talent, hard work, common sense, courage and access to lands with unrealized potential. What makes him a vital trendsetter in Oregon and in American Pinot Noir is that his triumphs have not only benefited his own cause, but have had a powerful impact on a nation of burgeoning winemakers and wine lovers.
Arriving in Oregon’s restless climate in 1986, he found an economy here growers sold grapes by the tonne, making it near-impossible to get them to drop fruit. So he used his significant powers of persuasion to convince growers to both charge by the acre and follow his farming protocols.
Such shifts may seem trivial today, but Wright’s actions helped spark the major leaps in quality and consistency that catapulted Oregon to its status as a top Pinot region. Likewise, he was among the first to bring sorting tables and dry ice into the winery in Oregon.
Just as crucially, Wright has also been a leader in promoting and mapping Oregon’s terroir. Decades before every vintner seemingly began hiring geologists to map their properties, Wright was professorially lecturing and scrawling on chalkboards to explain how subduction, volcanism and ancient flooding created the distinct flavours of Oregon Pinot Noir. Connecting these flavours to the underlying geology became his passion (while popularizing the mantra ‘mother rock’), leading him to pave the way for American single-vineyard Pinot Noir – of which he released as many as a dozen separate wines in a vintage.
His unrelenting belief in terroir resulted in what will likely be his most durable legacy; the create in 2005 of six sub-appellations in the northern Willamette Valley. Wright’s energy and enthusiasm overcame the skepticism of fellow wine-growers (who thought the demarcation premature). But today no one questions the wisdom of the act because, as Wright has repeatedly shown, shaping the way one thinks about vineyards and earth shapes the wines themselves in a way that benefits everyone.
Ken Wright, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA 2019- 90
US$23-$34 Raspberry and cherry lead the way, joined by hints of vanilla and subtle aromatic spice notes. There’s lovely weight in the mouth, accompanied by finely honed tannins. Drink 2021-2026. Alc 13.5%
Posted on June 11, 2021 in Press
By Erin James | Sip Magazine
The origin story of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley is more intricate and involved than just its 2004 establishment. It’s more than the low ridges that surround the two towns of Yamhill and Carlton in the shape of a horseshoe, more than the North Yamhill River that courses through the rich agricultural land, the forestry encasing it, the Coast Range’s rain shadow coverage or even the ancient marine soils.
This story is about the right plant in the right place. The tale begins in 1995 when the burgeoning collection of Northern Willamette Valley winemakers, grape growers and community members came together to create six sub-appellations of their own.
“Any time you’re trying to create anything of this magnitude, there is endless strife to do it and the fact that we pulled it off is amazing,” says Ken Wright, proprietor and winemaker of acclaimed Ken Wright Cellars, who was instrumental in writing the FDA proposal for the six regions to receive individual designation. “We came together to identify the world-class parts of the Northern Willamette Valley as we were seeing different qualities coming from the different regions.”
In their experience of farming and producing wines in these neighboring areas, the community of vintners concluded that each region’s distinctly different soil material resulted in producing distinctly different wines. Volcanic soil material, such as that found in the Dundee Hills, would produce Pinot Noir that had a red fruit–focused profile, with strawberry, cherry and raspberry. In Eola-Amity Hills, which is also volcanic in its soil, they found darker fruits like cassis, blackberry, blueberry and black cherry. In the old ocean bed with marine sediment of Yamhill-Carlton, Wright says a divergent, savory profile emerged with anise, clove, tobacco, cedar and fresh-turned earth.
Wright explains that the source of these regional differences isn’t the soil, per se, but the soil series — the entire profile that encompasses the soil, the root system and the parent material, or “mother rock.” In Yamhill-Carlton, that ancient marine mother rock — created 200 million years ago with the evolving coastline — is the base material that contributes to what Wright calls a “treasure trove of trace elements,” such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and copper that contribute to its identity of place.
“Those trace elements provide health to the plant, but in our world what’s equally important is whatever trace elements below the soil will end up being the influence that creates the profile of that wine and that place,” Wright details. “As farmers, we hope to be that deep into the mother rock. You have to be farming in that way to have the right populations of microbiology to deliver trace elements. We need those aerobic, microbial populations to be successful, we need them to create wines that truly connect us to place.”
Wright likens Northern Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to San Marzano tomatoes, the famed plum tomato variety originally from the small Italian town of San Marzano sul Samo, grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. “San Marzano tomatoes are amazing because that plant found its perfect home,” Wright says. “We have that here, this very small area of the Northern Willamette Valley that covers all of these AVAs, this part of the world was just waiting for Pinot Noir to be planted here.”
For Pinot Noir, and other varieties grown in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, marine sediment makes up the soil series and builds the character of the wine. Wright says that coarse, granular, well-drained mother rock loses moisture as a result of its composition, therefore influencing the vine to ripen earlier than a region with volcanic material — a bonus for growers and winemakers as this can mean avoiding a lot of fruit-destroying weather issues, like rain. That, among a few other reasons, is why seven of the 13 single-vineyard Ken Wright wines hail from this region.
“I love all the regions but I love this profile,” the winemaker says of the AVA. “When we are perfectly ripe, we tend to have a little bit less acidity than the volcanic [sediment areas] so the wines here tend to be lush and enjoyable right out of the gate. We tend to have both blue and red fruit, a beautiful, seamless marriage of the two. Underneath that, there’s cocoa, tobacco, cedar, baking spices and a fresh earthiness; lots of floral qualities, but not herbaceous — it’s more like violet and rose. The wines tend to be quite complex and texturally very enjoyable.”
Dig into the ancient marine soil series of Yamhill-Carlton by way of these seven wines — each of which found their place in this unique Northern Willamette Valley AVA.
Ken Wright Cellars 2017 Savoya Vineyard Chardonnay
Ken Wright, a bona fide Master of Pinot Noir, colors outside that varietal box just a few times to showcase what also grows beautifully in Yamhill-Carlton: Chardonnay clone Dijon 548 planted on half an acre at Savoya Vineyard. Fermented and aged in French oak barrels, the wine is brilliant, clean and vibrant. A lovely glycerin quality peaks out with beeswax on the nose and a mouth-filling texture on the palate, while honeycomb, white flower, guava and mineral rest on bright acid. | $55 Click Here to Purchase
Ken Wright Cellars 2017 Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir
Tasting Ken Wright’s wines back-to-back draws a parallel of sophistication between them, a consistency that exudes supple texture, savory qualities and a freshness that allows the wines to be enjoyed now, or later. Spice and floral notes bloom in front of the red fruit in this wine, but make way for smoked cedar, mineral, cola, blackberry and more of that red fruit. Complex, smooth and with brilliant clarity. | $62.50 Click Here to Purchase
Posted on March 10, 2021 in Press
Because of Burgundy’s storied pedigree, Pinot Noir is almost as noble as grapes come. And Pinot Noir in the States is gaining a foothold. Even Burgundian denizens praise Oregon’s Willamette Valley for its great terroir for Pinot production.
The region’s Mecca is often considered to be Shea Vineyard, a 290-acre property in Yamhill County renowned for its sedimentary sandstone soil. Shea dedicates 149 acres to Pinot Noir and six acres to Chardonnay.
Proprietor Dick Shea supplies grand cru-quality grapes to some of the most vaunted and well- known Oregon and California wineries.
Notable Producers: Bergström, Ken Wright Cellars, Shea Wine Cellars, Winderlea
Posted on October 28, 2020 in Press
Sure, you know the basics: White wine goes well with fish, red wine with red meat—a perfect rule for the simple week-night dishes you whip up at home. Going out and want something more complicated? You can just ask your waiter, or the restaurant’s sommelier, for suggestions.
But what happens when two culinary worlds collide, and you order out to eat in? You’re probably in that situation a lot lately. (Here’s a statistic for you: in May, DoorDash—the online delivery service that also owns Caviar—reported orders were up 110 percent since the beginning of the year. During lockdown, people were stuck inside, and therefore ordering in more.) It often presents a pairing predicament: what, exactly, goes well with spicy pad thai, Shake Shack, or the sausage pizza you ordered hungover on a Sunday night?
In an act of extremely important service journalism, Vogue asked sommeliers and wine experts from across the country to help us solve this particular quandary. Without further ado, our definitive guide on the best wines to pair with your takeout, from fried chicken to Chinese food.
Pinot Noir. “In today’s time of take-out and eating at home—a personal favorite (and minor guilty pleasure) is pizza and a good bottle of Pinot Noir. If we have classic Margherita or mushroom pizza, a great pairing can be red Burgundy, preferably Gevrey-Cambertin or Nuits-Saint-Georges, as their fruit expression will not overpower the taste of the simple ingredients. If we have pepperoni or pizza with any type of meat or spice, some great pairings would be with Nebbiolo or Sangiovese because of their raspberries, cherries, dried fruit and leather notes, as well as higher tannins that can hold their own when up against that type of food.”
-Marija Mijic, sommelier and beverage director at La Mercerie
Sparkling wine. “Sparkling wine is a great style to have in the fridge because it pairs excellently with many takeout options. It will enlighten a vegetarian dish, cleanse your palate when eating fried food, balance out a spicier dish, and, my personal favorite, will pair beautifully with white pizza.”
-Geneviève Pelletier, partner at Lieu Di
Lambrusco. “Lambrusco and pizza are one of my favorite pairings. It has a little fizz to cut through the melty cheese plus a savory side for the tomato, spices, and pepperoni. Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco is a slightly earthy bottling that is great with mushroom pizza and the nuttiness of parmesan.”
-Amy Racine, beverage director of JF Restaurants
Barolo. “I cooked in Piemonte for two years and naturally ate a lot of pizza and drank a lot of red wine. On pizza nights (or afternoons), Italians didn’t shy away from opening a nice bottle of red wine which always elevated the experience. The dusty fruit and juicy tannins of Nebiollo’s like A. & G. Fantino “Cascina Dardi” Barolo cut through the rich mozzarella and transports me back to Piemonte.”
-Kelly Mariani, culinary director at Scribe Winery and former chef at Chez Panisse
Champagne. “Raw fish and bubbles work really well together. I had this fun pairing last week with Marie-Noelle Ledru Extra-Brut Grand Cru. It’s all about clean fresh flavors and rich textures. This combo feels luxurious and celebratory!”
Riesling. “When it comes to sushi, it depends largely on what type of sauces are used and the way it’s prepared. Riesling—especially semi-sweet to sweet style—is the perfect pairing if there is wasabi or ginger. Riesling’s apple, pear, quince and sometimes even expressive citrus notes, along with the residual sugar and bracingly high acidity, are magically harmonious with spice.”
Assyrtiko. “A colorful and fresh array of sushi calls for an equally fresh and tart wine. Assyrtiko is a Greek grape variety that has a tone of mineral that pairs well to fresh fish and anything briny like the seaweed wrapper on your favorite roll. Sigalas makes a great Assyrtiko from Santorini, where ocean winds are constantly whipping around the grapes. You can taste that saline quality in the wine so it pairs perfectly to any sushi or sashimi.”
Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay. “Sonoma has some excellent Mexican food and I’m often grabbing Mexico City-style street tacos with friends. Alongside tacos, I love drinking crisp and textural white wines, like Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, especially our friend Joel’s Las Jaras Chenin.”
Pinot Noir. “A hearty burrito with a spicy salsa calls for a juicy, but low tannin red wine so it doesn’t amplify the spice (in a bad way). Willamette Valley makes excellent Pinot Noirs in Oregon that fit the bill perfectly. Ken Wright makes a style that has a smokey tone for the beans and char on the tortilla. It’s fruitiness comes by way of plum and blackberry flavors, which are especially great for a beefy carne asada burrito.”
Champagne. “Champagne can be sweet and toasty, but a Gronget Blanc de Blancs Brut is bright, citrusy, and savory. It’s my go-to for anything spicy and smokey. Mexican flavors just seem to be the perfect match.”
-Christine Collado, general manager at Parcelle Wines
Pet’Nat. “I eat Mexican food about three times a week because there is a good place across the street from work. I usually get a crispy fish taco, guacamole and chips and then build from there. The Texan in me always wants a Mexican beer to wash it all down, but for a wine substitute, Pet’Nat gets the job done. It’s a little more raw and extremely expressive. Those ingredients work well with a lift of acidic bite and bubbles make every bite brighter.”
-Zwann Grays, Wine Director at Olmsted
Rosé. “A dry rosé is great with fried chicken. You need something really dry and tart to be refreshing between those crunchy bites of chicken. Plus, if it’s a well-seasoned fried chicken or has a little spice/hot sauce, the fruit from rosé cools you off and gets you ready for the next piece. La Fête du Rosé is one of my favorites from Saint-Tropez—it’s dry, crisp, and refreshing.”
Chardonnay. “Chardonnay from Burgundy can take any chicken dish and make it fancy. Even if it’s from Chick-Fil-A.”
Chablis. “Chablis and Crab Rangoon are a knockout. The region of Chablis in France only works with Chardonnay, but doesn’t use new oak, so it isn’t too heavy or buttery. It just has a creamy texture to it which echoes the filling of the Rangoon. The flavors of the wine are slightly nutty, like blanched almond, which pairs to that flakey wonton wrapper.”
Rosé. “When I’m not drinking Scribe rosé I’m drinking Domaine Tempier thanks to my years in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. Tempier’s Matriarch Lulu just passed, giving us yet another reason to raise a glass of this delicious wine. This iconic rosé is refreshing and rich enough to compliment the myriad of flavors and complexities of Chinese cuisine.”
Riesling or Pinot Noir. “Our favorite wines to drink with Thai food are either an off-dry Riesling or Pinot Noir. The sweetness of the riesling goes well with the mouth watering spiciness, and a lighter pinot noir complements the full flavors of the food.”
-Bobby Leonardo, bartender at Wayla
Rosso Sicilia. “Have this delicious Sicilian red with a chill. Pair it with noddles or a curry. It’s great.”
Nouveau or Beaujolais. “Nouveau is our first glimpse into this year’s harvest and we’re bottling our 2020 vintage this week. Alongside a burger, I want to drink a chilled, crushable red wine from California or Beaujolais in France with enough body to stand up to the juicy meat and smokey char.”
Australian Grenache. “The only thing to order from In-n-Out is the Double-Double with cheese, and the only thing to drink with it is Australian Grenache. Because burgers are primarily defined by grease and heaviness, they call for wines that are big on flavor, body, and alcohol so they don’t get buried in the starch-and-fat groundswell. This down-under twist on the classically European grape is thick and dense, making for a heavy hitter combo of high tannin and alcohol that washes away any lingering grease from the meat and cheese. If you ask for your burger ‘animal-style,’ you’ll get it with mustard fried into each patty, plus pickles, chopped grilled onions and an extra helping of In-N-Out’s famous sauce (think Thousand Island Dressing). They all blend beautifully into the spiced plum, new leather, stewed berries and dried herbs that typify hot-climate Aussie Grenache.”
-Vanessa Price, author of Big Macs & Burgundy
Posted on October 1, 2020 in Press
Article by Michael Alberty | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her family journeyed to Carlton, Oregon, to render a verdict on Willamette Valley pinot noir. It was a unanimous decision: delightful as charged.
In the wake of Ginsburg’s death last Friday, mourners celebrated her life and a legal career spent championing equal rights. Close friends also found time to remember Ginsburg’s more private pursuits. Opera singer and friend Joseph Calleja posted on Instagram: “Her love of food and wine only confirms that she was a perfect being.”
In September 2008, Ginsburg traveled to the Willamette University College of Law in Salem for the Oregon Civic Justice Center’s dedication ceremony. Despite a busy schedule of activities, Ginsburg found time for a secret mission: a visit to Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton.
News that Ginsburg wanted to meet with him was a bolt from the blue for winemaker Ken Wright.
“We only heard about it a week in advance. Then her security team called two days before she arrived to nail down every little detail, including the route we’d be taking to visit McCrone Vineyard,” Wright said.
The arrival of Ginsburg, her family, and Secret Service agents in black vehicles with tinted windows was not an everyday occurrence in the sleepy little wine town of Carlton.
“It was pretty funny with all those suits in sunglasses running around. It was also quite a scene when everyone packed into my winery office,” Wright said.
Ginsburg’s visit was exploratory in nature. According to Wright, “She was just getting into pinot noir, and she wanted to know why the Willamette Valley was so special. She wanted to know why this grape worked so well here.”
To tell the Willamette Valley’s story, Wright packed Ginsburg, her husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg, and her daughter Jane C. Ginsburg off to McCrone Vineyard. The vineyard, owned by Don and Carole McCrone, is located just north of Carlton, in the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area.
“The vineyard sits on a ridgeline with a view that allows you to see everything from the Coastal Mountains to the Eola-Amity Hills. It’s a nice spot to explain things,” Wright said.
Wright’s family joined the group along with the McCrones and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Bennett from Willamette University. It was a warm day, so a tent was constructed, and as much water was poured as wine.
Wright remembers the Ginsburg family being knowledgeable about wine, with a wine vocabulary to describe what they liked and didn’t like.
“The words freshness, texture and purity came up a lot as they talked about Willamette Valley pinot noir. Especially purity,” Wright said. Oregon’s signature grape had a new set of fans.
The Ginsburg family left just as much of an impression on Wright.
“It was a super enjoyable two hours. Justice Ginsburg was an amazing, open person. We didn’t talk a lot about politics. We discussed wine and other mutual interests we enjoyed. She was definitely a thoughtful, critical thinker,” Wright said.
When the vineyard session concluded, the convoy traveled back to the winery, where Wright set up Justice Ginsburg with an assortment of wines based on their vineyard discussions. “Then ‘poof,’ she was gone,” Wright said. Wright returned to harvest preparation.
A few days later, Wright received another bolt from the blue: an envelope from Washington, D.C.
“It was just the most beautiful ‘thank-you’ note from Justice Ginsburg. Her family loved wine for all the right reasons,” Wright said.
Note to readers: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links we may earn a commission.
Photos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Visit to Ken Wright Cellars & McCrone Vineyard
Posted on October 1, 2020 in Announcements
Just checking in with everyone to let you know that our families and our teams are safe both regarding COVID-19 and the fires in Oregon. We are extremely grateful to have been spared from fires and smoke damage. Our hearts go out to so many in the west coast wine communities that are still battling.
Our team is not unfamiliar with battling fires and emergencies across Oregon. Ken has been serving as the board treasurer for the new Carlton Fire District for 15 years. Mark Gould, our lead vineyard manager, has been serving as a Carlton volunteer fire fighter for years. In fact, Aaron, our Winery Ambassador Ivory’s husband, is still in Southern Oregon near the California border battling the Slater fire. Our thoughts are with the firefighters and first responders who continue to serve and protect.
The recent fires have spurred industry concern over smoke taint. With rumors swirling in the Willamette Valley, literally like smoke, it is very important to get the facts out. Smoke taint occurs in grapes when a vineyard is in near proximity to a fire or directly downwind from an active fire. The volatiles that create issues are ephemeral, over a fairly short period of time they break down. Which is why we are not concerned about “old smoke”.
It is a common occurrence in Oregon in the fall for there to be an east wind. Which is the opposite of the onshore flow that we normally experience throughout the year. When there are fires in the dry high desert of eastern Oregon, those east winds can bring smoke to the Willamette Valley. We have experienced this numerous times before. In a number of years, we have had smoke cover in the Valley for as long as 10 days. In none of these occasions have we had a wine that had an issue with smoke taint. We credit the lack of affectation to the fact that this is “old smoke” from quite a distance away.
As of today, we have tasted all of the fruit from every site that we farm or source from in the valley, 13 in total. We have yet to see affectation to this point of any kind. It is true that we have had a couple of regional fires, one near Hagg Lake in Washington County and one on the north side of the Chehalem Mountains. These fires were contained very quickly. A vineyard neighboring these fires would have a realistic cause for concern. Vineyards that are miles away should not be concerned.
Over the last week, emotions seem to be driving decisions more than science regarding smoke taint with some of our industry members. They are reacting in fear instead of with critical judgement. Perhaps with the combination of the pandemic and the smoke, it is causing knee-jerk reactions. Scientific testing of smoke taint in a laboratory looks for free guaiacols (smoke markers). There are no laboratory tests that have been done that show we have an issue regionally.
Critics agree that 2017 produced a lush and remarkable vintage from the Willamette Valley. In that year, we experienced 10 straight days of smoke from the eastern and northern fires, much longer than we have experienced this year.
Do not be faint of heart, we are going to make great wine this year.
Photos of Ken Wright & Seth Miller Sampling at Hirschy Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA
Posted on September 30, 2020 in Charitable Giving, Videos