Down to Earth


##Photo by Kelsey Chance OF Good Chance Creative

By Jade Helm

In keeping with the sage advice about eating an elephant, the best way to sample an American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is one sip at a time!

Yamhill-Carlton AVA recently held their annual– once again– tasting event at the incomparable Abbey Road Farm in Carlton. Many area wineries shared samples, offering guests the perfect opportunity to discover the unique flavors of Yamhill-Carlton.

A wine region receives an AVA designation if it is distinct relative to surrounding geography. Those differences are apparent in the finished wines. Yamhill-Carlton has warmer, drier weather, relative to its neighbors, and marine sedimentary soils. Pinot Noir frequently tells the flavor story of the Willamette Valley wine regions. Generally, Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir wines are approachable in youth, yet age well. These wines exhibit darker fruit notes and savory flavors such as coffee and tobacco.

While the Oregon wine mind usually goes first to Pinot Noir, there are many “outside the box’ grapes and wine styles within Yamhill-Carlton. The tasting event showcased that wide range.

How pleasant to start a tasting with some bubbles. Carlton Hill Vineyard’s 2016 Blanc de Noir was yeasty and floral with some earthy qualities. Laurel Ridge Winery shared their mineral-driven Estate Chasselas Doré, a Swiss white grape varietal combining salty air and flint with pear, grapefruit and an apricot finish.

Chris James Cellars’ 2017 Estate Lagrein begged for a hearty southern Italian meal, while the 2021 Estate Sparkling Dolcetto tasted light and fun with cotton candy, strawberries and lime. La Randonneé Wines poured two faces of Sauvignon blanc. Their 2021 still version, bright with a big mouthfeel, included notes of cantaloupe and a tiny bit of petrol. La Randoneé also offered a geeky, amusing “sneak peek” at their 2021 Pétillant-Naturel of Sauvignon blanc.

A deeper dive into some of the area’s finest Pinot Noir revealed many bottles especially for the cellar. A surprise from under the table, Et Fille Wines poured a memorable 2012 Kalita Vineyard Pinot Noir. Despite the warmer than average growing season, this wine ages with precision, great acidity and notes of dried cherry and herbs. Saffron Fields Vineyard knocked it out of the park with their 2014 Heritage Clones Pinot Noir. This bottle suggested bright floral and spice notes of clove and cinnamon, mellowed by a bit of sandalwood.

One of the most thrilling aspects of tasting events remains the chance to discover a new favorite. What a pleasure to taste Gautreau Family Estate Wines 2016 Yamhill Carlton Pinot Noir. A bottle from their very first vintage, this wine radiated rosy floral notes and a smooth velvet texture. Very reasonably priced at $35, this winery belongs on your radar.

In the easy-drinking category: North Valley Vineyards’ fruity and energetic 2018 Classic Pinot Noir and Lenné Estate Winery’s velvety, vanilla, and cherry LeNez Pinot Noir.
Shea Wine Cellars presented an earthy, dusty 2018 Block 7 Pinot Noir. The 2016 Fairsing Vineyard Pinot Noir felt well integrated with cherry, toast and warmly spiced cinnamon. SchöneTal Cellars’ 2019 Hirschy Vineyard Pinot Noir expressed ripeness and floral notes. Ken Wright Cellars’ 2019 Bonnie Jean Vineyard Pinot Noir revealed earthy mushrooms, dark fruits, and milk chocolate. Joyful Noise Wine’s 2021 Pet-Nat Rosé embodied the delightful flavor
of cherry sourdough bread.

It was impossible to try everything in the room, partly because of the 100+ bottles to taste. More than 40 wineries participated, many with principals pouring and available to share first-hand knowledge of their growing region. Yamhill-Carlton’s “motto,” Down to Earth, reflects the distinctive soil and friendly wine folks, making it particularly easy to be swept up in a story and a glass. While the best way to taste an AVA may be one sip at a time, this experience offers an enhanced tasting with the area winegrowers.

To plan your tasting adventure among Yamhill-Carlton’s 50+ wineries, visit

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