Under One Innovative Roof
By Karl Klooster / photos by Marcus Larson
When Eric Hamacher and his wife Luisa Ponzi teamed up with Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin back in 2001, the business they decided to launch hadn’t been done before. Still, convinced of the need, and confident they could fill it, the partners pushed ahead.
Hamacher was a talented young Oregon winemaker and Ponzi had taken over the winemaking reins at her family’s pioneering Washington County winery.
The Lumpkins were experienced business people — longtime owners of a general contracting company — who loved wine and also happened to own Lazy River Vineyard west of Yamhill, whose 36 acres are planted primarily to pinot noir.
It all started because Hamacher wanted to build a winery and the Lumpkins wanted someone to make wine for them. That starting point quickly evolved into a plan of shared space and equipment, a place where nascent wineries, like young vines, could take root and blossom.
Hamacher envisioned an environment as much as a physical facility, where winemakers could easily interact, exchange ideas, discuss problems and even assist one another when needed. In many ways it would be similar to an artist’s cooperative. A studio.
The partners found a suitable site conveniently located at the northern end of Carlton. Hamacher gathered a group of eight winemakers who needed a place to make wine, and the Lumpkins oversaw construction of a state-of-the-art winery.
The facility was not only efficiently designed and outfitted with top quality winemaking equipment, it was agreed from the outset that the building would incorporate energy saving attributes and components following LEED standards.
Natural lighting was a major design element. Recycled and reused materials included doors and countertops.
Studio Opened in 2002
As the 2002 harvest approached, completion of the Carlton Winemakers Studio was well enough along to process its first vintage. The facility officially opened to the public for the first time on Thanksgiving weekend of that year.
Proudly pouring wines in their shared tasting room were seven of the original member wineries: Hamacher Wines, Andrew Rich Vintner, Penner-Ash Wines, Soter Vineyard, Domaine Meriwether, Dominio IV and Bryce Vineyards.
Wines from the eighth original member, Lazy River Vineyard, were made for the Lumpkins by Hamacher, but weren’t ready for market until a couple of years after CWS opened.
Given an annual production capacity of 18-20,000 cases and the logistics of rotating proprietorship, Hamacher felt 10 would be the maximum number of wineries that could be accommodated in the 15,000 square foot facility.
Ten has, in fact, been the largest number of wineries sharing CWS at one time during its seven years in operation. Production was pushed to an overflowing 23,000 cases for the prolific 2006 vintage.
A total of 17 wineries have called the Studio home over that period. Five of them — Penner-Ash, Scott Paul, Soter, Domaine Meriwether and Resonance Vineyard — left the incubator to open their own wineries.
Dominio IV now operates from another facility and Bryce Vineyards has closed owing to the death of owner/winemaker Bryce Bagnall. Others that got their start at CWS were Boedecker, Ribbon Ridge and J. Daan.
Three of the original wineries — Hamacher, Lazy River and Andrew Rich — are happily producing their wines under the eco-friendly roof to this day.
They have been joined by Brittan Vineyard, Wahle Vineyards and Cellars, Ayoub Vineyard, Retour Wine Company and Montebruno, making a total of eight wineries currently collaborating at CWS. After 16 years at Stags Leap Vineyard in the Napa Valley, Robert Brittan returned to Oregon and a challenge that has long eluded him – the opportunity to craft great pinot noir, which he grows in the McMinnville AVA.
In addition, Brittan makes pinot noir for Mo Ayoub’s from his four-acre vineyard in the Dundee Hills and is the winemaker at Winderlea Vineyard, also in the Dundee Hills.
McMinnville native and Linfield graduate Lindsay Woodard worked for IPNC and Ponzi Vineyard, before moving to California as a marketing manager with the internationally known Riedel wine glass company.
Woodard returned to her roots in 2004 determined to put her mark on pinot noir and struck a deal with Hamacher to strive for that goal under her Retour label.
New Yorker Joseph Pedicini’s Italian heritage motivated him to begin making wine. Though he still lives and works in New York City, he regularly comes to Oregon to look after his newest baby, a 2008 gewürztraminer.
Pedicini shipped most of his first commercial enological effort, a 250-case lot of 2006 pinot noir, back to the Big Apple for distribution there under the Montebruno label. It’s his mother’s family name from a clan in southeastern Italy.
Wahle Appears On The Scene
Mark Wahle hails from a family that first planted grapes near Yamhill back in 1974. A graduate of UC Davis, he and his wife planted winegrapes in the Eola Hills in 1999.
Total size of the site is 310 acres, so, though Wahle Vineyards and Cellars is currently at the Studio, the couple may have something considerably more sizable in mind for the future.
Meantime, despite a struggling economy, CWS seems to be on pretty solid ground. Ned Lumpkin said, “We had a great tasting room season. I’m gratified to say that our sales are up 20 percent over last year.”
His wife, Kirsten, expressed her enthusiasm about the prospects for a CWS wine club, which is now ready to be launched. “It’s a first for us,” she said. “With the large base of customers from our tasting room, we feel it will really benefit everyone.”
Brittan, who has just gone through his first crush at CWS, is already a true believer in the collaborative concept. “It’s a unique and energizing environment,” he said. “We don’t just share resources, we exchange ideas.
“I’ve learned more about Oregon’s wine culture more quickly here than I could have any other place. I’ve found a piece of property from which I believe I can craft great wine. And Carlton Winemakers Studio is a great place for me to do it.
“As far as I’m concerned, the book is still out on what the potential for Oregon pinot noir can be. And I want to be in the forefront of those who are determined to find out.”