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Ken Wright is a long-time and much-respected winemaker in the Willamette Valley working out of his winery in Carlton to craft twelve single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from several appellations. There is also a small amount of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc produced.
Wright left a position at Talbott Vineyards in California and found his way to Oregon in 1985 with his family and 10 barrels of California Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He set up business in a warehouse in McMinnville and although gaining attention for the Pinot Noirs he crafted at Panther Creek through the late 1980s and early 1990s, the 10 barrels that he brought from Talbott turned out to be the 1984 debut offering of his Panther Creek Winery. The first Panther Creek Pinot Noir was released from the 1986 vintage and the wines steadily improved thereafter. Wright lost Panther Creek Winery and left to start his own namesake winery in Carlton with the 1994 vintage, starting out in an old brick building (a former glove factory) in Carlton, and later building a new winery in Carlton in 1999. Panther Creek Cellars was sold to Ron and Linda Kaplan, who sold it to Elizabeth Chambers, and most recently Bacchus Capital Management.
Wright received his education at UC Davis and while working his first full-time job as assistant winemaker at Ventana Vineyards in Monterey County, he met a number of California Pinot Noir pioneers including Dick Graff. Josh Jensen, Stever Doerner, Richard Sanford, Larry Brooks and Steve Kistler. The group met regularly as the Small Winery Technical Society to discuss winemaking techniques.
Wright was a pioneer of single-vineyard Pinot Noir, beginning early on to make as many as a dozen single-vineyard Pinot Noirs each year which earned him the title of "terroirist." His knowledge of Oregon geography allowed him to be instrumental in gaining approval of the six landmark sub-AVAs in the northern Willamette Valley in 2005. He has continued with long-term leases of many vineyard sites and also planted some estate vineyards.
Wright is known for commitment to quality and he spares no expense or effort. He is known to discard a large percentage of his harvest as substandard, to employ merciless triage and sorting, and to disassemble and toast his own barrels to meet his stringent standards. Other wineries followed his lead of using dry ice to cool grapes before the onset of fermentation. As early as 1994, he paid growers by the acre instead of by the ton, so he could farm for quality instead of high yields. He was among the first in Oregon to use vertical shoot-positioning to expose grape bunches to sunlight.
Ken Wright Pinot Noirs are polished enough to drink early, but they will easily age ten years. He prefers not to use stems in his fermentations although he likes whole cluster in other producer's wines. He has cut back on the use of new French oak barrels.
The Wrights own 36 acres of vines including Canary Hill Vineyard and Svoya Vineyard, and they purchase grapes from other vineyards (Guadalupe, McCrone, Carter, Bonnie Jean, Tanager, Shea, Nysa, Freedom Hill, Meredith Mitchell, Bryce, Angela and Abbott Claim) Wright not only manages his own vineyards, but also several other vineyards with which he has long term leases.
In 2000, Wright bought a 200-acre parcel in the Yamhill-Carlton District and planted half of it. Named Abbott Claim Vineyard, he sold the other half to Tony Soter, who planted his Mineral Springs Ranch Vineyard there. Businessman Anthony Beck eventually bought Abbott Claim Vineayard and had Wright plant 34 acres named after his wife, Angela. Wright manages both vineyards, buying Abbott Claim grapes for his own label and makes Angela Pinot Noir for the Becks.
Ken Wright Cellars produces 13,000 cases per year under the Ken Wright label, primarily vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs. A second label, Tyrus Evans, offers warmer climate varietals made with fruit from Washington and southern Oregon.
Wright is a proponent of Normacorc, avoiding cork because of cork taint and "scalping" - the removal of aroma and flavor from wines by cork closures. He switched to Normacorc in 2002.
Wright is co-founder of ¡Salud!, a noted charitable event in Oregon that provides free medical and dental care to Oregon's vineyard workers. He was also instrumental in founding A Walk in the Park, a festival that raised funds for local food banks, preschools and after-school programs in the town of Carlton.
The wines have widespread retail distribution. The winery offers futures a year in advance of release, a practice that is unique among Oregon Pinot Noir producers. The winery's tasting room is located at 120 N Pine St in Carlton and is open daily. The winery is not open to the public except the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving every year.
2013 Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., $45. Vineyard owned by Antony and Angela Beck. Vineyard manager Mark Gould. Marine sedimentary soil. · Light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of red cherry, dried red rose petal and fern leaf. Light to mid weight flavors of red cherry with a hint of red hots and a bit of earthy flora and nutty oak. Flavorful, with nice balance and some finishing intensity. Very good without being special. Score: 89. Reviewed September 3, 2015 ARTICLE »
2013 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $45. Vines planted in Willakenzie soil in 1989. · Moderately light cherry color in the glass. Perfumed with scents of cherry, raspberry, dusty earth and underbrush. Light in weight, even a bit shallow, with flavors of red cherry, cranberry and red raspberry with a hint of spice. A delicate wine with soft tannins and a short, somewhat empty finish. Could pick up intensity and interest over time but the wine was unchanged two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 87. Reviewed January 23, 2015 ARTICLE »
2013 Ken Wright Abbott Claim Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., $50. Vineyard owners Antony and Angela Beck and vineyard manager Mark Gould. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Shy initially, but explodes with time in the glass, strutting hi-tone aromas ob cherry, baking spice, rose petal and a hint of smoke. A cherry-driven wine with a hint of raspberry and spice, lively on the palate and really hanging on to the finish. This wine is crisp, juicy and has enough structure to age. Score: 92. Reviewed December 11, 2014 ARTICLE »
2013 Ken Wright Meredith Mitchell Vineyard McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., $50. This vineyard is planted to own-rooted Pommard first established in 1988. Soil is Yamhill - shallow silty loam over basaltic bedrock. The vineyard is owned and managed by Susan Meredith and Franck Mitchell. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Scents of cherry, forest floor and oak char are somewhat shy, but the fruit explodes on the palate. Rich raspberry and cherry flavor that attacks the mid palate with a vengeance. Accents of baking spice, earth and conifer add interest. Uncommon fruit energy that fuels an intensely flavorful finish. Rare to find a wine with such palate saturating fruit. The nose has not arrived, so give this wine at least a year in bottle. Score: 93-95. Reviewed December 11, 2014 ARTICLE »
2012 Ken Wright Cellars Abbey Claim Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $45. 17 acres planted to Pommard, 777 and 115 at an elevation of 450 feet above sea level. Soils are varied but primarily ancient marine sediments among the oldest in the Willamette Valley. The vineyard is owned by Ken and Karen Wright and managed by Mark Gould. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The nose is subdued and slowly evolving with aromas of dark fruits including spiced plum with a hint of earthy flora and oak. Flat-out delicious on the palate with attention-grabbing flavors of dark cherries and black raspberries accented by baking spice and an echo of oak. Discreetly concentrated with modest, firm tannins, and a lovely texture that is pure velvet. Beautifully composed with the balance for long-term aging. Score: 94. Reviewed December 18, 2013 ARTICLE »
2012 Ken Wright Cellars Guadalupe Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 400 cases, $45. This vineyard was planted in 1989 in Willakenzie soils. Clones are Wädenswil and Dijon 115. Small berries and clusters are typical. Owned by Jim Stonebridge and Kathleen Boeve and managed by Joel Myers. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy, but pleasing aromas of black cherry, sassafras, raw beef and spice. Very smooth on the palate with a tasty core of sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. Very juicy, with balanced, supple tannins, and bright underlying acidity lifting the soprano finish that is flush with cherry flavor. This wine needs time for full expression. Score: 90. Reviewed December 18, 2013 ARTICLE »
2012 Ken Wright Cellars Meredith Mitchell Vineyard McMinnville Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 310 cases, $45. This vineyard was planted in 1988 to own-rooted Pommard clone. Yamhill soil - silty loam over basaltic bedrock. Owned and managed by Susan Meredith and Frank Mitchell. Typically produces small berries and clusters and is well-structured, requiring a bit more aging. · Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. A wide array of aromas appear in the glass, including black raspberry, forest floor, bramble, leather, vanilla and spicy oak. Very soft and smooth on the palate with ripe flavors of red and black raspberries, Satsuma plum and cherry. Impressive depth of flavor and a persistent finish that is almost painfully intense. The tannins are firm and muscular and make an appearance on the finish. Much better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more integration of tannins. Tremendous aging potential. I find wines from this vineyard to be in the upper echelon of the Willamette Valley. Score: 94. Reviewed December 18, 2013 ARTICLE »
2012 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 725 cases, $45. Sourced from three blocks ranging in elevation from 450 to 600 feet, originally planted in 1989. Willakenzie sedimentary soils. Vineyard is owned by Dick and Dierdre Shea. Pommard and Wädenswil clones. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Muted aromatically with delicate scents of autumnal forest floor, pine forest and dark red berry fruits. More expressive on the palate with moderately rich flavors of red and black raspberry, pomegranate, black cherry and plum. Nicely balanced tannins and acidity, with a juicy texture and a big, cherry hard candy finish. Very young and primary, becoming more giving over time in the glass. Check back in another year or two. Score: 91. Reviewed December 18, 2013 ARTICLE »
2010 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir
13.75% alc., $44. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of black cherries and dark red berries with a hint of vanillin and sandalwood. Reasonably concentrated flavors of dark cherries, berries and currants with a subtle note of oak and herbs. Nicely balanced with supple tannins. This wine is slow to give up its charms. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the aromatics were much more expressive with scents of cherries, spice and cut flowers, and a delicious black cherry core had emerged, offering good intensity and length. Decant if you must drink now. Very good. Reviewed September 12, 2012 ARTICLE »
2010 Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim Vineyard Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir
13.0% alc., $48. This vineyard is owned by Ken and Karen Wright and is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. Label artwork by David Berkuam is a homage to field workers depicting harvest. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromatics are a bit unusual opening with a little reduction funk which resolves revealing scents of spiced red berries, rose petals, cotton candy, sweet oak and other unidentifiable aromas. Sweet blue and black fruit on entry, austere and unripe in the middle, finishing with a kick of citrus peel acidity and tartness. Minimalistic and acidic. Could be an off bottle. Decent. Reviewed January 12, 2012 ARTICLE »
2008 Ken Wright Cellars Canary Hill Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
13.3% alc., $42. The Canary Hill Vineyard is owned by Ken and Karen Wright. Planted in 1983 to Pommard clone, the vineyard is located at the southern end of the Eola Hills in Jory soil. · Hi-tone aromas of red and black fruits with backing oak and a vegetal note. The fruits are moderately concentrated and clothed in noticeably firm and wooly tannins. The smooth texture is quite pleasing and there is a hint of citric peel on the bright finish. Not as expressive as it will be, even tasting a little dilute now, but will reward the patient. Decent (+), but may merit a higher rating in a few years. Reviewed January 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Ken Wright Cellars Carter Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir
13.2% alc., $42. This vineyard is owned by Jack and Kathleen Carter and managed by Mark Gould. Located in the southern end of the Eola Hills, this vineyard is primarily Nekia soils and was planted in 1983. Clones 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wädenswil. · Needs air time to open revealing purple fruits, forest floor and oak. On the palate, the plum sauce essence is quite pleasing, yet restrained, with a supporting note of oak. The husky tannins need time to shed. Silky in the mouth. Decent (+). Reviewed January 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Ken Wright Cellars Savoya Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $42. This vineyard is owned by Ken and Karen Wright and managed by Mark Gould. Planting began in 1999 with five clones. · Very attractive perfume of black cherries and berries with a hint of wildflowers and oak. Juicy and lipsmacking in the mouth and fairly approachable now. Undertones of grilled meat add interest. Well-crafted with harmonious t n ‘a and a lasting finish. Very good. Reviewed January 22, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $42. · Subdued, but lovely aromas of red plums, wild berries and grilled meat. A bolt of dark red and black fruits attacks the palate with a vengeance, clothed in ripe tooth-sticking tannin and sporting a lively grip of acidity. Reserved and not together yet. Much better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with much improved integration of oak, tannin and acidity. Check back in 2 to 4 years. Very good. Reviewed February 15, 2010 ARTICLE »
2007 Ken Wright Cellars Carter Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $47. This vineyard is owned by Jack and Kathleen Carter and was planted in 1983 on Nekia soil at the northern end of the Eola Hills. The vines are own rooted and unirrigated. Clones are Pommard and Wädenswil. Ken Wright Cellars manages the vineyard. · Aromas of toasted oak and black cherries. Earthy with a heavy tug of oak overwhelming the tart cherry flavors. Bright acidity with an underpinning of citrus peel and moderately firm tannins. Reviewed August 17, 2009 ARTICLE »
2007 Ken Wright Cellars Guadalupe Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $47. Sourced from a vineyard located in the southwestern end of the Dundee Hills just north of Lafayette planted in 1989 in Willakenzie soils. Owned by Jim Stonebridge and Kathleen Boeye and managed by Ken Wright Cellars. · The nose has reluctant fruit aromas but pleasing notes of exotic spice and oak char. On the palate the fruit remains in the background with a heavy tug of oak and herbal flavor dominating. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was much better, with the dark fruits advancing to the forefront and the oak receding along with a smoother mouth feel. Wait at least 2 to 3 years on this one. Reviewed August 17, 2009 ARTICLE »
2007 Ken Wright Cellars Savoya Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $47. The vineyard is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District, owned by Ken and Karen Wright, and managed by Mark Gould. Five clones. · Sensual nose displaying bright red berries and red plum aromas. Packed with hi-tone cherry, berry and pomegranate flavors that are caressed by ripe fine-grain tannins. The finish shows a zippy acidity. The fruit is linear at this stage with hints of persistence but the potential is evident. Reviewed August 17, 2009 ARTICLE »
2007 Ken Wright Cellars Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 725 cases, $47. From the noted Shea Vineyard planted on Willakenzie soils in the Yamhill-Carlton District. Sourced from three small blocks, Pommard, 114 and 777 clones, planted in 1989. · Deep aromas of black fruits, forest floor and loam draw you in. Earthy dark fruits flood the mouth and fill every nook and cranny. Noticeable oak and tar with a hint of citrus peel on the finish. Big boned and brooding. Picks up expression with time in the glass. This is a wine of obvious pedigree that has the potential to sparkle over the long term. Drank well the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Reviewed August 17, 2009 ARTICLE »
2006 Ken Wright Cellars Abbott Claim Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $50. This vineyard is on a ridge line on the east side of the Yamhill-Carlton district and is owned by Ken and Karen Wright. Mark Gould manages the vineyard. The label on Ken Wright wines pays homage to field workers depicting the practice of pruning. · Darker fruit aromas are dominated by toasted oak and dried herbs. Both red and black earth-dusted fruits are teasing now but the wine is brooding and reticent. Beautifully balanced with moderate tannins that need softening. Great stuffing here, but this wine needs a couple of years to flesh out. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2005 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $60. Ken Wright crafts multiple single-vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and his wines are superbly crafted. · A terrific wine of great charm and intensity with an alluring nose of brown-spiced cherries, cola and oak. Black cherry driven in the mouth with an appealing earthiness. Seamless in every way. Reviewed January 30, 2008 ARTICLE »
2005 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $60. · Terrific nose of brown-spiced cherries, cola and deft oak. A seamless wine which is black cherry driven, but with charming spice and earthy sidecars. This is pure pleasure and silk that is luxurious. I would look for this one every vintage. Reviewed April 7, 2008 ARTICLE »