Yamhill-Carlton AVA members at Anne Amie Vineyards. ##Photo by RJ Studios.

Tasting the AVA

Yamhill-Carlton Event always a fine time

By Jim Gullo

Spring weather may be anybody’s guess. Will it hail? Will it frost? Will it be sunny and 88°F or foggy and in the 40s? No matter the weather, you can rely on Yamhill-Carlton AVA’s annual spring tasting as one of the season’s best attended, well-managed and soundly staged events.

This year’s celebration, held April 30 at Anne Amie Vineyards, marked seven years, attracting a sold-out crowd of 550 customers. “This event has proven to be extremely popular,” said organizer Ken Wright, “so popular that we had to limit it.”

Guests enjoyed tastings from 38 producers, the most to participate, according to Wright and fellow-organizer Joel Kiff — the latter chairs the Yamhill-Carlton AVA Marketing Committee that plans and produces the event. Tables for participating wineries and several area restaurants were arranged inside Anne Amie’s production area to eliminate any possible weather interruptions, leaving the winery’s patio and expansive views for participants to enjoy as they pleased.

As customers lined up outside, they were greeted by the sight of Tanager Vineyard owner Susan Crum holding one of her two trained falcons perched on a glove, explaining how the swift birds scare off scavengers, eliminating the need for propane air cannons at harvest time.

Yamhill-Carlton Marketing Consultant Carl Giavanti checked people in, applying wristbands and giving each a logo-stamped Go-Vino glass. Inside, chefs busily prepared hundreds of small bites, including a velvety red pepper soup from The Horse Radish in Carlton; fresh guacamole and homemade chips from Lafayette’s Martha’s Tacos; heavenly head cheese and salmon crostini from Cuvée in Carlton; and a large, boiling pot of risotto overseen by Joel Palmer House chef Chris Czarnecki, who drizzled the family’s white truffle oil onto each portion. “It’s the most Pinot Noir-friendly food in the world,” Czarnecki commented.

Wright and Kiff also represented the spectrum of wineries pouring samples and selling wine at the event, with larger producers like Ken Wright Cellars, Soter Vineyards and WillaKenzie Estate pouring side-by-side with wineries such as JL Kiff, Belle Pente and Bud’s Bloom, seldom sold directly to the public. Wineries were permitted to pour and sell up to four wines, the only stipulation being that the grapes must have originated in Yamhill-Carlton vineyards, allowing Dundee-based producers like Panther Creek Cellars and The Four Graces to participate with their Yamhill-Carlton-sourced offerings.

Kiff noted how the event has become a must-attend for many wine lovers who return year after year. “It’s like a reunion for a lot of people,” he said. Guests have become so attached to the tasting that last year, when he debuted his own wine at the event, one enthusiastic repeat customer marched up to Kiff’s booth, exclaiming, “Welcome!” Another from Washington, he noted, returns every year, loading his car with six cases of wine purchased directly from producers.

Jessica Endsworth, general manager of Angela Estate, added that the spring event allows member wineries “to really come together as a community to showcase why we’re special and unique. The exposure is great and shows great solidarity for the AVA.” Angela Estate showcased some fabulous wines, too, like the newly released 2013 Angela Estate and 2013 Abbott Claim Pinot Noirs that she poured and sold.

Several wineries announced news and plans for summer tasting room programming. Beacon Hill in Gaston shared its expectation to open a new tasting room by the end of May, according to its sales and hospitality manager, Marc Stein. Similarly, Fairsing Vineyard, located high on a Yamhill hillside, announced the grand opening for its first tasting room at the end of May, with flights of five wines to be offered produced in collaboration with winemaker Robert Brittan. Co-owner Mary Ann McNally invited guests to reserve one of the vineyard’s picnic tables in advance to take advantage of the 360-degree view Fairsing commands.

Ken Wright Cellars, pouring its 2013 Savoya and Shea bottlings, announced that for the first time in several years, single bottles of its award-winning single-vineyard Pinot Noirs will be available for purchase in its Carlton tasting room — previously, the wines had been available to purchase only in lots of six or 12.

Pinot Noir was predictably the star attraction at the tasting, but other varietals also captured people’s attention — and discretionary dollars. Soter predictably sold out its allocation of sparkling Brut Rosé, a perennial crowd-pleaser; and Stag Hollow’s Jill Zarnowitz reported brisk sales of her 2013 Dolcetto, priced to sell at $18.

At the Roots’ table, owner/winemaker Chris Berg introduced customers to his tasty Melon de Bourgogne, also known as Muscadet.

“In terms of whites in the valley, it’s unique,” said Heather Germaine of McMinnville after sampling the Melon, a wine she hadn’t known prior to the event. “Pretty. I want that on a hot day.”

One lucky guest from Washington left with 76 bottles of wine — two from each participating winery — winning the raffle that raised $2,400 for the Yamhill Carlton Viticulture Internship Program offered by Yamhill Carlton High School.

The annual tasting may not compete with the weather for sheer surprise value, but Yamhill-Carlton wineries would love a repeat of this year’s sunny skies and light breezes for next year’s gathering, already planned.

See more information about the wine region and the people who make it.

Author/journalist Jim Gullo has contributed to a variety of national and international publications and is the author of two books; he lives in McMinnville with his family.

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