Taste the Place

By Leah Jorgensen

With lots of sunshine, temperate breezes and flowers in bloom, May 1 was the perfect day to celebrate the estate wineries of the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. At picturesque Anne Amie Vineyards in Carlton, more than 700 visitors skipped gardening, hiking and biking, opting for a visit to wine country to taste some of the most exquisite wines from the region.

"The open house is an opportunity for us to let consumers know that the AVAs exist, in particular the Yamhill-Carlton AVA," said Ken Wright, board member for the Yamhill-Carlton District Winegrowers Association.

"Because of these kinds of focused events, people get to see the high-level quality of producers in our region, and when they taste our wines, then go to other regions to taste, they can identify the personality of a place and see what makes our wines unique, " Wright added.

The Yamhill-Carlton District is north of McMinnville, where low ridges surround the two hamlets of Carlton and Yamhill in a horseshoe shape. The free-flowing North Yamhill River runs through the center of lush nurseries, grain fields and orchards.  The Yamhill-Carlton District was established in 2004 and is home to some of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in the world.

The region is well known for its coarse-grained, ancient marine sediments native to the area, which are among the oldest soils in the Willamette Valley. These soils drain quickly, making them ideal for viticulture; thus, the vines stop growing shoots and leaves earlier here than elsewhere, leading to more complete ripening, even in cooler growing seasons. This allows Pinot Noir to develop deep ruby colors and broad, silky tannins. 

Also important to the AVA is its motto: "Down to Earth."

"Our motto conveys very focused, professional farming, which gets great results - not to mention we're an easy-going, relaxed, approachable group," Wright said.

Wineries participating in the open house included: ADEA Wine Co., Alexana Winery, Anne Amie Vineyards, Atticus Wine, Barbara Thomas, Belle Pente, Carlton Cellars, Carlton Hill Wine Co., Elk Cove Vineyards, Ken Wright Cellars, Kramer Vineyards, Lemelson Vineyards, Lenné Estate, Luminous Hills, Monk's Gate, Panther Creek Cellars, Roots Wine Co., Shea Cellars, Soléna Estate, Soter Vineyards, Stag Hollow and WillaKenzie Estate.

"We set out to showcase an incredible cadre of wine producers, highlighting a balanced representation of the wine styles in our region," said Ksandek Podbielski, director of hospitality for Anne Amie Vineyards.

"This event offers greater exposure for the Yamhill-Carlton wineries and winegrowers," explained Martha Wagner, director of retail sales and hospitality at Elk Cove Vineyards. She added, "Elk Cove is the oldest winery and vineyard in the AVA, and our participation is very important in order to stay connected with loyal customers and to reach out to new consumers who aren't as familiar with our wines."

Staged at Anne Amie's state-of-the-art winery, the event was well designed, spacious and comfortably accommodated the steady flow of traffic. Attendees could meander through the open winery - among the production equipment and stainless steel tanks - to taste a handful of wines from each featured producer, while sampling finger foods presented by wine country restaurants, including Cuvée, La Rambla, The Joel Palmer House, Nick's Café and Horse Radish Cheese & Wine Bar. 

"When cooking in the region, the focus continues to be all about seasonal flavors and local ingredients that naturally pair well with Pinot," said chef Christopher Czarnecki of The Joel Palmer House. Czarnecki offered polenta topped with morel mushroom duxelle and cream cheese; blue cheese, bacon and caramelized onion tarts; and wild mushroom risotto with Oregon white truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Other hors d'oeuvres also impressed the palate, such as Cuvée chef Gilbert Henry's silky, rich chicken liver pâté served on crackers and baguette with Dijon mustard; and the Horse Radish's candied bacon with "bleubry," a blue cheese made in the brie style.

"We really want to entice people to spend more time out here, to visit our tasting rooms, to get better acquainted with our wines and, of course, to stay out here in our fine hotels and enjoy the fine dining," Podbielski said. "Our event really gives them a taste for the place."

To learn more about the vineyards and wineries in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA, and how to plan your next winery excursion, please visit

Leah Jorgensen is a freelance writer based in the Northern Willamette Valley.

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