By Karl Klooster
Passion and dedication are words that connote total commitment to a cause, a career, a way of life. They are also words that accurately describe anyone who runs a winery entirely without outside help.
Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon started their own winery with limited capital but virtually unlimited enthusiasm and sweat equity. They bring extensive industry experience to their new winery, which they call Walter Scott. Situated in the heart of the Eola-Amity Hills, their intention is to make it an expression of that AVA.
If you were thinking there may have been some relationship between either Pahlow or Landon and the eminent Sir Walter Scott, you would be mistaken. The internationally acclaimed, 18th century novelist, playwright and poet from Edinburgh, Scotland, is as distant from them as the Highlands are from Hillsboro. However, they enjoy making the clarification while telling you about their wine.
This purported connection is merely coincidental. Walter was the first name of Ken’s grandfather, with whom he was extremely close, and Scott was a favorite nephew, who died young.
They won’t deny, however, that Dumb Ox, the name of their 2011 Eola Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir, was blatantly borrowed from 13th century cleric and pluralistic philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas. He acquired the sobriquet owing to his “brilliant” and “enigmatic” views.
A firsthand glimpse of the 21st-century Landon-Pahlow philosophy in action rules out any hint of idle hands or a laid-back lifestyle.
Pahlow spent 14 years with St. Innocent Winery, while simultaneously working more than 10 years with Vin de Garde, a Portland wine importer, immersing himself in fine European wines. He went on to take a sales and distribution post with Evening Land in Salem, where he also worked harvest.
Fast-forward to 2008, when Pahlow — with Landon — formed Walter Scott and blended their first 160 cases of wine. The next year they moved into Patricia Green Cellars, thanks to Pahlow’s close friendship with Green’s partner, Jim Anderson. The 2009 vintage, Walter Scott’s first commercial release, counted 650 cases, including La Combe Verte, tribute to the Patricia Green team.
Landon started out in the restaurant business, where she discovered a real passion for wine. Working for the Accuardi family in Portland, she met Nichole Andrus, daughter of Archery Summit founder Gary Andrus — her Pinot preferences were top tier from that point forward.
Landon went straight up — literally — from there when she took a position as assistant wine steward in the Cascade Room at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. The ski resort’s restaurant had, at that point, been elevated to world-class standards by renowned chef Leif Eric Benson.
There, she met chef Jason Stoller Smith, who later took a position working for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro and brought Landon on as well, where she became the sommelier and general manager. This is where Landon and Pahlow first met, as he was selling her wines from both St. Innocent and Vin de Garde.
She agreed to help build the wine list at Ten 01, a posh Portland restaurant in the Pearl District, where she orchestrated the acquisition of a wine cellar, earning an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. During this period, Landon and Pahlow started dating.
She left when recession problems beset the operation, but keeps her hand in the restaurant side as wine director for the Bruce Carey Restaurant Group, which includes Bluehour, clarklewis, Saucebox and 23Hoyt. She also serves as a wine instructor for the International Sommelier Guild and the Wine & Spirits Archive in Portland.
To further augment their income, Pahlow works for Galaxy Wine Co., the importing firm owned by longtime Portland wine luminaries Bob Liner and Matt Elsen.
Without question, the couple can point to 2012 as a landmark year for Walter Scott. Having produced 1,300 cases in 2011, they had outgrown their existing quarters at Evening Land and needed a new home.
Enter the Casteel Family of Bethel Heights, a pioneering Eola Hills winery. They had a perfectly suited building for lease, a former cider house.
Pahlow and Landon leapt at the opportunity and put everything they had on the line to equip the winery for the 2012 vintage. Their bladder press was a vintage 1970 Wilmes.
“We had barely gotten it together when October rolled around,” Pahlow said. “And just the two of us processed 35 tons — about 2,200 cases — with our new crusher-destemmer and that old press.”
That is the kind of challenge designed to test stamina, will and marital union. But they made it through and geared up to take on this year in great shape.
The year 2012 also brought a new business relationship, and with it needed capital investment.
Good New Yorker friends Sue and Andy Steinman, who had visited Oregon wine country for years, finally decided to move here permanently. Seizing an opportunity, they decided to buy into Walter Scott as partners. Sue, an attorney, hammered out the legal framework, and Andy, an accountant, made certain the numbers added up.
A winery is nothing without grapes. Fortunately, they’ve secured strong relationships with growers, in addition to putting in several acres of their own.
In the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the vineyards Walter Scott can rely upon for fruit include Bieze (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Clos des Oiseaux (Pinot Noir), Crannell (Pinot Blanc), Eola Springs (Pinot Noir) and Temperance Hill (Pinot Noir). Additionally, they source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Freedom Hill, in the broader Willamette Valley AVA, and Pinot Noir from Holstein Vineyard, in the Dundee Hills.
Small, carefully crafted lots mark Walter Scott Wines. Production will incrementally increase, but as it now stands, wines sell out quickly.
“We owe it to many amazing friends in the industry,” Landon said. “Oregon wine people are wonderful and caring. We’re very fortunate.”
A look at the winery’s website shows only recently released 2011 Holstein and Clos des Oiseaux Pinot Noirs available, and those only on a limited basis. But 2012 whites will soon be released, then 2012 Pinots later in the year.
It’s a fun trip up Bethel Heights Road, and you’re likely to be happily and energetically greeted by winery dogs, Kira, a Blue Heeler, and Finn, a Jack Russell terrier. They don’t bite, but they’re likely to lick.