Willamette Valley winemaker’s son makes his own way
Address: 10505 Red Hills Road, Newberg
Hours: Friday–Monday, 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Ken Wright earned a preeminent place both on the local scene and well beyond since founding Panther Creek Cellars in 1986. Not a novice even then, his prior wine experience in California dated to 1978.
His son, Cody, was six years old when the Wrights arrived in the Yamhill Valley. He became a member of the Panther Creek cellar team just four years later.
“I quite literally grew up around wine,” Cody Wright said. “It became an important part of my life, and I’ve always wanted to make it my life’s work.”
In 1994, Ken opened Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton and Cody, then a 14-year-old high school student, added “winery assistant” to his extra-curricular activities. Over the next six years, Cody helped in establishing the new venture; then, in 2000, he went off to college. His choice was the University of Oregon; his course of study, environmental science.
Back home, Cody was further indoctrinated into the industry when his dad, in 2003, honored both sons, Cody and Carson, by using their middle names, Tyrus and Evan, for his new second label showcasing warmer climate varietals from Southern Oregon.
A year later, Cody graduated returning to work for Argyle Vineyards under the tutelage of vineyard manager Allen Holstein and winemaker Rollin Soles. Both men have played prominent roles in his life. Holstein was a close friend of his father, Ken — the two have known each other since their college days in Kentucky.
Rollin Soles was general manager and head winemaker of Argyle Winery from its founding in 1986 to 2013. While he is Argyle’s consulting winemaker, he now focuses on his newest winery, ROCO Wines, with his wife, Corby Stonebraker Soles, who is also Cody’s mother.
Her marriage to Soles brought Cody another top-tier, professional wine person into his life. Soles was pleased to be able to help encourage and foster his stepson’s interest in wine. Given these close associations with on-the-job training from three of the Oregon industry’s most skilled and knowledgeable wine pros, Cody received a superior wine education.
Working the harvest in Australia and New Zealand during 2005 added another dimension to that learning experience. When he returned from his Down Under interlude, Cody launched — as a sideline venture — his own brand with the 2005 vintage.
The name Purple Hands symbolizes all the years of hands-on immersion he had already at just 25 years of age. For the first two vintages, the sole Purple Hands product was an excellent value, a blend of Merlot and Pinot Noir.
Cody marked another personal milestone in 2005 when he met Marque, the woman who would become his wife. After mutual friends introduced them at a Pearl District restaurant, they struck up a friendship lasting seven years before they ultimately tied the knot in 2012.
As he continued to hone his skills at Argyle and Ken Wright, the signature red blend remained Purple Hands’ staple, increasing from 250 to 1,000 cases. The wine was made at Ken Wright Cellars and augmented in 2007 by 100 cases of Pinot Noir sourced from Canary Hill Vineyard — first planted in 1982, the prime Eola Hills site had recently been purchased by his father, who offered Cody the opportunity to express himself with mature Pommard clone fruit.
In 2008, opportunities arose to make an Oregon red blend using Del Rio Vineyards Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In addition, for the first time, Pinot Noir fruit from Allen Holstein’s own Dundee Hills vineyard made up the Purple Hands Pinot Noir.
For the record-breaking 2009 vintage, Purple Hands’ total production jumped 50 percent from 1,000 to 1,500 cases. Despite the bird-ravaged 2010 vintage, the addition of Stoller Vineyard fruit took his Pinot Noir to 1,000 cases equaled by another 1,000 for the red blend.
In 2011, Cody’s Pinot production topped the red blend for the first time. With 500 cases from Holstein and 1,000 from Stoller, it totaled 1,500; while the blend dipped to 500 cases. The years of using the red blend as a building block ended in 2012 when Purple Hands kicked in the afterburners and rose to another level.
Having stashed away all the cash he could over those first several years, and now joined by Marque, Cody was able to partner with longtime wine buffs Scott and Michele Campbell to plant Latchkey Vineyard, in the heart of the Dundee Hills, now Purple Hands’ estate vineyard.
On the property fronting Red Hills Road was a 1935 bungalow, which they converted into a tasting room. This attractively renovated residence now embodies their public presence.
Close acquaintanceships built over nearly 20 years in and around the local wine business paid off for the now 34-year-old when he secured ongoing Pinot Noir commitments from Holstein, Bill Stoller, Bill Wahl of Barron-Wahl Vineyards and the Duschees of Freedom Hill Vineyard.
Coupled with the fruit from their partners’ Latchkey Vineyard, Purple Hands now produces approximately 3,200 cases, including 500 cases of Chardonnay from Latchkey.
The wines are now made at nearby ROCO Wines, which, itself, was started in 2003 by Rollin Soles as a sideline to his full-time position at Argyle.
“It’s really gratifying to be able to work with people, most of whom I’ve known all my life,” Cody said. “We’re going to stay small and sell primarily at the tasting room and through our wine club.
“My philosophy is that wine is food, best aged for a minimum of 10 years in bottle. As a clear example of the farm-to-fork ethic, wine provides a special sustenance with nourishment both undeniable and undefinable.”