An article selected from the Premiere Edition of PinotReport.TASTING REPORT: Ken Wright's Dynamite Dozen
Oregon Vintner Lets The Vineyard Speak Through His Pinot Noirs
Ken Wright Cellars
WHEN KEN WRIGHT LOOKS AT PINOT NOIR he doesn't see just another grape variety he has to muscle through the winery until it surrenders into some homogenous house style; he sees a wide open canvas on which he can work all through the season with the goal of allowing each individual vineyard site to express its inherent character and style.
Wright came to Oregon in 1986. After he and a partner sold Panther Creek in 1993, he launched Ken Wright Cellars to focus on small-lot Pinot Noir (as well as some Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc) from the best vineyard sites available to him. Today, he produces around a dozen vineyard designated Pinots—many of which struggle to meet even the definition of "small" in terms of production—from his winery in Carlton, Oregon, on the Western side of the Willamette Valley. However, one taste of these wines tells you that they are truly "huge" in terms of quality and individual character with dramatic differences between the bottlings.
Wright and his Vineyard Manager Mark Gould have carefully selected vineyards from all around the Willamette Valley and beyond. From the Dundee Hills in the northern Willamette Valley come bottlings from the Abbey Ridge, Arcus and Nyssa vineyards. Vineyards in the Dundee Hills, also called the "Red Hills of Dundee" for the reddish soils, are some of the older plantings in Oregon with very deep soils and relatively high clay content. From the Yamhill Foothills just to the north and west of the Dundee Hills come several more vineyard bottlings: Guadalupe, McCrone, Shea, Wahle and Whistling Ridge vineyards. Soils in the Yamhill Foothills tend toward a sedimentary soil with sandstone base and are well drained.
Vineyards in the Eola Hills, south of McMinnville, have shallower soils and less clay than Dundee. Bottlings from the Eola Hills include the Canary Hill, Carter and Elton vineyards. One vineyard, Freedom Hill, comes from the Coastal Range south of Dallas, Oregon. The vineyard's soil is mainly sedimentary and tends to produce very firm and tannic wines.
Ken Wright's wines are all testaments to how good Oregon Pinot Noir can be. More than that, however, they truly demonstrate his talents in "hands off" winemaking and the dramatic contribution that the right vineyard site and proper selection can make to the finished bottle.
(Listed alphabetically by vineyard name)
We tasted 12 bottlings from Ken Wright's 2000 vintage. All wines were tasted blind and scored before knowing anything other than the producer. Our notes and comments follow.
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Abbey Ridge Vineyard 2000
Deep rich ruby color; spicy cherry, nutmeg aromas, toasty oak. Rich, ripe bright red fruit and spicy notes, balanced toasty oak. Abbey Ridge Vineyard is located at the Northwest end of the Dundee Hills and is one of the older Ken Wright vineyard sources. The vineyard was planted in 1977 and sits at an elevation of 650 feet with a southwest facing. Soils in Abbey Ridge are largely the Jory type -- a volcanic basalt-based soil. The vineyard is owned and managed by Bill & Julia Wayne.
365 cases made $50 Score: 89
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Arcus Vineyard 2000
Very deep, rich ruby color; spicy, anise, licorice aromas, very fruity, young, lots of red raspberry and cherry. Very forward and fruity right now but balanced with good structure. Arcus Vineyard is in the Dundee Hills and sits at an elevation of 350 feet. Soil in the vineyard is the volcanic Jory type. Arcus is owned and managed by Archery Summit Winery.
200 cases made $50 Score: 91
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Canary Hill Vineyard 2000
Deep rich ruby color; toasty oak aromas along with some black cherry on the nose; big, full, good structure, lots of complex black cherry, plum and cola flavors, long full finish. This wine has the structure and balance to age well. Canary Hill Vineyard is located in the southern portion of the Eola Hills and was planted in 1982 and 1983. The site has a southeast facing at an elevation ranging from 450 to 550 feet. The vines are vertically trellised and the reddish-brown soil is a mixture of Jory and Nekia types. Canary Hill is owned by Dick and Nancy Daniel.
650 cases made $50 Score: 92
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Carter Vineyard 2000
Medium-deep ruby color; earthy aromas, lots of extract, earth, wood, tannin and depth; fruit is a little buried. Needs time to develop. Carter Vineyard is lower at 350 feet than the nearby Canary Hill Vineyard and has a leaner soil profile with mainly Nekia soil. The vineyard was planted in 1983 and is owned by Jack and Kathleen Carter.
320 cases made $50 Score: 90
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Elton Vineyard 2000
Medium-deep ruby color; toasty oak, spice and cherry on the nose; big, full tannins, lots of extract and structure, fruit is subdued but black cherry notes are there. This is one worth waiting for. Elton Vineyard is located on the eastern side of the Eola Hills. The vineyard has an east-southeast facing and sits at an elevation of approximately 250 feet. Elton is owned and managed by Dick and Betty O'Brien.
150 cases made $50 Score: 93
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Freedom Hill Vineyard 2000
Medium-deep ruby in color; earthy, black fruits on nose; big full and toasty on palate with balance and black cherry flavors. Freedom Hill Vineyard was planted in 1980 at a site in Oregon's Coast Range just south of the city of Dallas. The soils are sedimentary in origin and nature. Freedom Hill is owned and managed by Dan & Helen Dusschee.
365 cases made $50 Score: 91
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Guadalupe Vineyard 2000
Very deep in color, black/purple; earthy, black fruits on nose; big full and toasty on palate, lots of black cherry and earthy flavors. Guadalupe Vineyard was planted in 1989 at an elevation of 350 feet. Soils are of the Willakenzie type—a shallow, well drained top soil over siltstone. Guadalupe is owned by Jim Stonebridge and Kathleen Boeve.
680 cases made $50 Score: 93
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley McCrone Vineyard 2000
Deep ruby-purple in color; very ripe black fruit aromas, big, full, intense, lots of black fruit, spice and toasty oak. Clean and well balanced with lots of depth and a full lingering finish. McCrone Vineyard is located in the Yamhill Foothills at an elevation of 400 feet with a south to southwest facing. Planted in 1992, the site has Willakenzie soils. McCrone Vineyard is owned by Don and Carole McCrone.
220 cases made $50 Score: 92
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Nysa Vineyard 2000
Very deep, rich ruby color, muted notes of spice and oak on nose, seems closed now; tart red fruit flavors; more tannic but seems less forward than others. Nysa Vineyard was planted in 1990 and is owned and managed by Michael Mega. The vineyard sits with a southeast to northeast facing in the middle of the Dundee Hills, roughly between Domaine Drouhin and Archery Summit and has Jory soil.
285 cases made $50 Score: 86
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard 2000
Deep ruby-purple color; complex nose of red cherry and blueberry and spice; balanced, good structure, great fruit and spice; blueberries, red cherry and earth. Dynamite. Shea Vineyard was planted in 1989 and is located just west of the Chehalem Valley in the Yamhill Foothills. The site lies at an elevation of 350 feet and the soils are primarily Willakenzie. Shea Vineyard is owned by Dick Shea.
560 cases made $50 Score: 94
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Wahle Vineyard 2000
Medium-deep ruby color; deep and complex spices, earth, clove aromas—these notes carry to the palate; very big and full but with the fruit and structure to match. Will age well. Wahle Vineyard was planted in 1974—one of the Yamhill Foothills' first vineyard plantings. The site lies at 425 feet and is made up primarily of Willakenzie soil. Wahle Vineyard is owned and managed by Betty Wahle.
135 cases made $50 Score: 93
Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Whistling Ridge Vineyard 2000
Deep ruby-purple color; closed on the nose, hints of blackberry and anise on the nose; very big flavors, black fruits, earth, anise with good structure and a balanced finish. Whistling Ridge Vineyard is adjacent to Beaux Freres on the southwest end of the Chehalem Ridge. The elevation is 450 feet with a southern facing. Whistling Ridge is owned and managed by Dick Alvord and Patricia Gustafson.
110 cases made $50 Score: 92
Generally, there are two types of tastings that appear in each issue of PinotReport. The first are our regular "New Releases" tastings of Pinot Noirs new on the market. The second are our "Tasting Reports" that focus on a particular appellation, producer or style. The mechanics behind both of these tasting types is the same.
We taste wine in flights of usually no more than 10 wines. These flights are organized appropriately based on the particular type of tasting. We generally taste no more than 30 wines in a tasting session. Ringers and duplicate wines are inserted in tastings to measure consistency and whether the Editor is paying attention.
All tasting unless otherwise noted is done blind by the Editor. From time to time other tasters may participate, but their scores and comments are not part of the official tasting record. The tasting coordinator (who does not taste) arranges and bags all wines, which are then scored and comments recorded before bags are removed.
Our tastings are done under controlled, consistent conditions. We do not under any circumstances use tasting notes from large tasting events or other sub-optimal tasting venues in our published tasting reports.
Wine prices vary all around the country and can often vary significantly within the same city. We make every effort to only publish a winery's suggested retail price. This price in many cases will be higher than you can find in your local store. The wines we taste either come from the wineries in the form of tasting samples (always finished bottles ready for market) or wines we purchase at retail or at the winery.
The wines we taste are rated using a 100-point rating system. We fully understand the ongoing debate over the use of the 100-point system and while we respect the rights of those who simply despise the system to continue to do so, we believe that the scale has value when used with the accompanying tasting notes as a relative guide to wine quality that has the added benefit of being familiar and truly intuitive for most consumers.
Here is PinotReport's 100-point scale:
96-100 Superior; it doesn't get better.
90-95 Outstanding; approaching the best
80-89 Above Average; a fine Pinot.
70-79 Average; OK if it's all you have.
60-69 Below Average; not recommended.
Copyright 2002 by Gregory S. Walter. All rights reserved.