One of our best single day experiences on our summer trip was discovering Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA (American Viticultural Area). We’d recommend heading straight for Carlton on the first day and enjoying being able to wander around on foot rather than spending time in the car.
Our first stop in Carlton was Alexana Estate Vineyards and Winery. Their motto, “Diverse Soils, Complex Wines” says it all. In fact, their home page (see below) has photos of the various soil types found in the Willamette Valley. Alexana is owned by Dr. Madaiah Revana and winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash (yes, from the justifiably famous Penner-Ash Winery). The winery is named after Dr. Revana’s daughter Alexandra. They own several vineyards in the Dundee Hills and other regions. Their Revana Vineyard 2009 ($40) opens with a powerful vanilla nose, followed by lovely red brambleberry fruit and a long, lovely, red currant finish. This vineyard is owned by the winery.
Despite owning vineyards, Madaiah and Lynn buy grapes occasionally. One purchase was from the incredible Shea Vineyard (2009, $75). From the winemaker’s notes: “taught [sic], tart-cherry pie-bomb with a blast of black and red fruit on the mid-palate. The flavors are long and subtle on the finish, echoing the fruit and earth notes.” This wine is still under the legal age for drinking. If you have the patience for a couple of years it should be even better.
We also tasted two of Alexana’s white wines. The 2010 Revana Vineyard pinot gris ($26) is a respectable entry in this growing varietal. The 2010 Revana Vineyard riesling ($28) carries peach aromas and flavors with a nice acid balance.
Like many Carlton wineries, Alexana’s tasting room is on the main street of Carlton, separate from the winery. A notable exception is the Carlton Winemakers’ Studio where would-be winemakers can try their hand at the craft. There are a dozen wineries using the facilities. Each produces several different wines. We tasted half a dozen wines, one each from half the wineries. The Lazy River 2008 Lumpkin Family vineyard pinot noir ($33) has a mineral nose with spice and tannins on the palate. Ayoub’s 2009 “Memoirs” pinot noir ($35) is a blend of Willamette Valley grapes. Memoirs is actually a second label for Mo Ayoub, owner, winemaker, gourmet cook, and holding a degree in engineering. Don’t be put off by the mineral nose. There is an amazing tangerine flavor followed by a cinnamon finish. Unbelievable and quite a bargain. Hamacher Wines 2007 Willamette Valley pinot noir ($45) begins with light berry aromas followed by “yummy tannins” (from my notes).
We tasted pinots from several other wineries. The three above were our favorites. Visit the Studio on several different days because the wines being tasted change from day to day. (In fact, Dukes Family Vineyard which we had favorably noted at other tastings, was not pouring the day we were there.)
Ken Wright is justifiably famous even among Oregon winemakers. But you won’t find his tasting room in Carlton. Instead head to the Tyrus Evan tasting room — which happens to be Ken’s second label. Once you’re inside, ask if any Ken Wright labels are open. You may have to pay a little — believe me, this is worth a visit. If you’re looking for an incredible bargain, Ken makes a Willamette Valley pinot noir blend. My notes about the 2009 (which we opened at dinner that night) simply say, “Wonderful stuff. A bargain.” At $25 it’s a steal.
Ken’s single-vineyard pinots are terrific examples of the influence of terroir and the varied soils and microclimates of the Willamette Valley. These two are sold out. The Guadalupe 2008 opens with black cherry aromas and an explosion of dark fruit on the palate. The Canary Hill 2008 has mineral aromas, with a full-bodied mouth feel and earthy flavors. Luckily, there are two others we tasted that are not sold out. The bad news is that Ken is selling them only by the six pack at $350 each. The Carter Vineyard 2008 has strawberry aromas followed by heavy spice on the palate. The web site says “moderate tannins and acidity.” This baby needs a few years to grow up. The Savoya Vineyard 2008has nice aromas with tart cherry and spice flavors. Ken’s web site says, “Floral and Spice Focused. Forward and lush in its youth. (Cola, hint of Tobacco, Black Cherry).” If you can afford them, these are highly recommended.
And Tyrus Evan is no slouch. The 2007 Del Rio chardonnay ($28) has citrus aromas with honey and peaches on the palate. My notes say, “Wow.”
Alexana Estate Vineyard & Winery
116 W Main Street
Carlton OR 97111
Phone: (503) 852-3013
Fax: (503) 852-3064
The Carlton Winemakers Studio
801 North Scott Street
Carlton, OR 97111
Tyrus Evan Tasting Room
120 N Pine
Carlton OR 97111