Oregon’s pioneering spirit is most felt in the wine country and is the reason for its success. Today there are over 400 wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, making it challenging to decide where to go. For this wine tasting trip we decided to drive the back roads of the wine country to discover some new favorite wineries in the Yamhill – Carlton area.
As we meandered along country roads it felt very much like we were threading our way through our own Oregon Wine Trail surrounded by agriculture of all types. Depending on the location in wine country we found clusters of wineries while many others were located a great distance from one another.
Our first stop was Kramer Vineyards, at their winery location. Driving up the gravel road to the property gave us the feeling of getting away from it all. The vineyards covered the hillside and were turning autumnal colors. This family owned winery has been making wine for 30 years and is now into the second generation with daughter, Kim as winemaker. The tasting room was surrounded by the vineyards which were in constant view.
One of the reasons we chose Kramer Vineyards was for their sparkling wine, which is not that common in the Willamette Valley despite the abundance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown. Their four sparkling wine choices include: Mueller – Thurgau, Rose of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and a Brut made in the traditional method, our favorite. We sipped the glass of bubbles while we learned about their history of winegrowing and winemaking for over 30 years.
In addition to sparkling wines, they also produce still wines both white and red. Their 2012 Heritage Pinot Noir is made from the oldest vines on the property and tasted of ripe red fruit. We also enjoyed comparing the 2012 Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir with the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, both of which were delicious now and will age well.
Stewardship is important in their winegrowing and winemaking processes. They believe that great wine is made in the vineyard, so minimal intervention is necessary. Some of the sustainable practices include LIVE and Salmon Safe Certified, utilizing solar energy, and recycling and reusing whatever they can. In fact, when renovating their tasting room, they reused much of the existing wood and other elements.
Provisions are few and far between once you get out of the main towns. We stopped for lunch at The Horse Radish in the charming town of Carlton. Their hearty sandwich selection and cheese plates were just what we sought. They also offer homemade desserts as well as local wine and beer but we were eager to be on our way.
The next winery we visited, Willakenzie Estate, produces more single vineyard Pinot Noir from one contiguous estate than any winery in the nation. They are serious about terroir evidenced by their slogan, “dirt matters,” and the reason for naming the winery after one of the primary soil types in this wine region. The vineyards are planted throughout the 400 acres formerly home to a cattle ranch.
Owners Bernard and Ronni Lacroute chose the Willamette Valley to create their winery in keeping with the Burgundian style of winemaking, planting their first vineyards in 1992 and producing estate wine since 1995.
They are dedicated to growing and producing wine in a sustainable manner and are LIVE and Salmon Safe Certified. They utilize solar panels to provide energy to the winery, capture rainwater for irrigation, recycle and compost, and have left much of their estate undeveloped to provide ecosystems for wildlife.
The tasting room affords views of the vineyards and rolling hills with ample outdoor seating. We received a warm greeting and were given a tour, in addition to our tasting. We enjoyed seeing the gravity production facility and the high tech drying/cooling shed.
One of the most surprising wines was the 2011 Pinot Blanc which was refreshing with a dry finish, a perfect pairing with seafood. The 2013 Gisele Pinot Noir was a blend of several estate vineyards, tasting of red fruit with earth and minerals. We sampled many of the single vineyard Pinot Noir’s including 2012 Aliette Pinot Noir tasting of ripe red fruit, one of the lightest of their Pinot Noirs; a 2012 Pierrre Leon which exhibited darker red and black fruit characteristics while the 2012 Terres Basses tasted of rich black fruit.
What we discovered traveling the Oregon Wine Trail was a warm welcome, delicious wine, and bucolic views.
Details: Kramer Vineyards is open daily from 11 – 5. They are located at 26830 NW Olson Road, Gaston, OR 97119 and can be reached by phone at 503- 662-4545. They also have a tasting room in downtown Carlton open Thursday – Sunday form 10 – 5.
Willakenzie Estate is open daily from 10 – 4. They are located at 19143 NE Laughlin Road, Yamhill, OR 97148 and can be reached at 503-662-3280.
Karla Erovick has written over 500 articles on the subject of wine, travel, and food. She love traveling to undiscovered destinations.