Friends pose in the photo booth at this year’s Yamhill-Carlton AVA Spring Tasting at WillaKenzie Estate. ##Photo by Kerry McDaniel Boenisch

Come Rain or Wine

Yamhill-Carlton Spring Tasting pours forth

By Kerry McDaniel Boenisch

At the tenth annual Yamhill-Carlton AVA Spring Tasting, nothing could prevent guests from enjoying the pours and plates, not even the cool spring shower outside. Valets helped groups from cars to the grand tent entrance flowing into WillaKenzie Estate’s production facility and original tasting room.

Between sampling wines from 40 wineries, people enjoyed local cuisine — including my favorite: the pork carnitas and fresh guacamole from Martha Hernandez of Lafayette’s legendary Martha’s Tacos. Attendees also delighted in the photo booth and educational table, where an impressive three-dimensional relief map showed locations for most of the wineries pouring and additional AVA vineyard sites.

Throughout the day, winery reps — mostly the winemakers themselves — mingled with guests curious about the wines and thirsty for more information about the AVA, a nested appellation of the Willamette Valley that consists of 2,500 acres of diverse vineyards, ranging from Anne Amie to Zena Crown.

As Wine Spectator editor Harvey Steiman observed, “What distinguishes the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is the ripeness of the wines. There is more blue and black fruit character, there is an open feel to the wine, and there is a welcoming quality.” I investigated his claim myself. After sampling a Penner-Ash 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, sure enough, I was rewarded with a taste of rich black fruit followed by earthy notes of cinnamon.

Ken Wright of Ken Wright Cellars, who’s been helping organize the event since its inception in 2010, says about its beginnings, “Approximately 60 regional growers from the Oregon Wine Growers Association initiated the event with the goal being to promote the industry plus educate and share with the public about what is so uniquely special about Yamhill-Carlton AVA.” He continues, “From the outset, the group has been dedicated to not just be an industry marketing event, but an opportunity, a responsibility, to invest and promote community.”

There is an academic component, too. At the end of the tasting, volunteers drew a winner for the popular raffle of six-plus cases of wine from participating wineries. Money raised benefits scholarships and internships through the Yamhill Carlton High School viticulture program.

Based on Chemeketa Community College’s studies, the high school curriculum was created with funding from Ken and Karen Wright, Dick Erath and investment from Oregon Vineyard Services. Each year, scholarships for a two-week internship are awarded to two students; they learn firsthand about the area’s geology and how it makes a difference in the farming of grapes.


Barrel 41, Cuvée, The Horse Radish, Joel Palmer House, Martha’s Tacos, Nick’s Italian Café


Angela Estate, Anne Amie, Atticus, Battle Creek, Beacon Hill, Belle Pente, Big Table Farm, Boedecker, Bud’s Bloom, Carlton Cellars, Carlton Hill, EIEIO, Et Fille, Fairsing, Ghost Hill, Gran Moraine, Ken Wright, Kramer, La Randonnée, Laurel Ridge, Lemelson, Lenné, Marshall Davis, Monks Gate, Old Wagon Road, Penner-Ash, Pheasant Hill, Pike Road, R Stuart, Roots, Saffron Fields, ShöneTal, Shea, Simoni, Soléna, Stag Hollow,Tendril, WildAire, WillaKenzie

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