Producing between 15-20,000 cases of wine per year under twenty different labels, Ken Wright Cellars is still considered a small producer of Oregon Pinot Noir. Ken Wright was busy making wine at Panther Creek Vineyards, Eola Hills and Domaine Serene, before turning his attention to his own label in 2004. Focusing on single-vineyard releases from around the region, these wines really make the drinker taste place. Ten different vineyards can have a person perceiving the fruity influence of volcanic soils, and the more earthy and herbaceous notes of sedimentary sites.
Here are some notes from a wine lunch with Asa Sarver, the representative from Ken Wright Cellars:
2010 “Willamette” This is a blend of all ten vineyards in one bottle! Enough fruit for about 5,000 cases are used to make this wine that delivers a deep sulfuric bouquet that burns off quite readily leaving raspberry and cassis in the glass. Earth still lingers elegantly in the background as the fruit comes forward. This is a light-bodied, easy-drinking wine. Versatile for the diverse preferences of Pinot drinkers, it delivers earth and fruit.
2010, the year in general . . . Having to contend with a cool year, plus rain and wind that destroyed the vineyards’ grape flowers early, means loose clusters and low yields. In the glass, what this means is low sugar, low alcohol (around 12.5%) and higher acidity. The mouth-feel is a little thin, the fruit bright, and the tannins just perceptible.
2010 “Freedom Hill” The tasting term “cola,” I admit, has been an elusive taste for me. And then it was poured into my glass like magic! Of all the wines of the day, this one was the most interesting, innovative and striking to me. With sarsaparilla, both red & blue berries, and cherry up front, this wine is a cross between Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper. What saves this wine from being too much like a soda are the balanced spices, like bitters without being medicinal, and the lush textures of fresh earth, just turned in a spring fog after it rained. This wine is grown in the Coastal Range in sedimentary soils, so you can see where the earthly influences come into the glass.
2010 “Canary Hill” From the Eola-Amity AVA, abundant with volcanic rock, comes this fruit-focused bottling. Bright fruit and soft tannins reflect the year’s growing conditions. An “old school”/”Old World” style of Pinot Noir.
2009, the year in general . . . Call this a good year. Wet, warm weather pushed its way into this vintage with lots of oomph. The heaviest yield to date translates to higher alcohol, more tannic character and a full mouth-feel. From one year to the next, the highest (2009) to the lowest (2010) yields, shows off keen wine-making skills in the unpredictable business of farming wine in such variable conditions.
2010 “Guadalupe” From a mix of both soil types streaked with the volcanic red clay soil and grey, sandy soil–“like a beach”–this vineyard site expresses balanced fruit and ample earth in its realization. With a fruit and spice focus, “Guadalupe” has some cola and chocolate notes, and enough of a lush finish to contend amicably with lots of different foods–even Raisinets.
2010 “Nysa” The higher alcohol content of this warm vintage year hovers around 14.4% (compare to ’09 at 12%), and the Nysa vineyard shows off a full-bodied volcanic beauty with lots of structured fruit. Hints of caramel, mushroom caps and milk chocolate mingle with the bright red cranberry, raspberry and cherry that evolves in the glass.
*Decanting these wines will allow full expression of these single-estate Pinot Noirs. Taste place! 2010 vintages will age well with their higher acidity, and will help the wine develop with bottle time. Drink up . . . !