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Oregon wine country, part 5
King Estate

Website: www.kingestate.com

After visiting Brick House, I had a long drive south. It was Sunday afternoon, sunny, and the views were good, so this was no hardship. The destination was King Estate, located southwest of Eugene, away from the rest of Oregon’s wine country. The two hour journey was well worth it, because King Estate is a remarkable place, and in the late afternoon sunshine was quite stunning.

The 1033 acre estate has good water availability from springs, so it has always been an important property through history. Before the King family, who made their money from avionics, purchased this property in 1991, it was a cattle range. Now they are managing it as an integrated ecosystem with, at its heart, 465 acres of organic vineyards, but including wetland restoration, organic gardens and orchards. It is the largest contiguous organic vineyard in the USA, and I can’t imagine that there are many more bigger elsewhere in the world.

The winery/visitor’s centre/restaurant complex (viewed from a distance, above) is amazing. It’s big, but beautifully done, perched on the highest point of the property with great views all around. King Estate is a bit different from most other Oregon wineries in that it’s big (most are smaller operations) and that its most famous not for its Pinot Noir, but for its Pinot Gris.

I toured the vineyards and then checked into the palatial Ranch House (above), which was mine for the evening. [Whenever I stay somewhere like this – in such a beautiful setting, in such nice accommodation – I just want to invite my family and friends to share it. It seems such a waste to just be there on your own.] Then I wandered up the road to the restaurant, where I joined the Japanese importers for a very jolly evening.

The next morning I wandered up to the winery again to meet with winemaker Lindsay Kampff (above). King Estate has three winemakers: John Albin oversees the whole operation and is responsible for both the winery and the vineyards (there are over 40 contracted vineyards who supply fruit, in addition to King Estate’s own); Lindsay is in charge of red wines. She is technically very adept and was great at fielding my very geeky questions.

Pinot Gris is fermented cold at 55 F (11 C). It takes about a month to finish at these temperatures. Lindsay and the other winemakers have remote access to the tank cooling system at the winery, which is quite handy. The lees are stirred during fermentation to make sure that nothing goes reductive. The Pinot Gris fermentation is stopped at about 3 g/litre residual sugar, and some Vin Glacé is used to add back the textural component, such that the signature is around 4 g/litre residual sugar and the domaine is about 6 g/litre.

We looked at some 2007 Pinot Noir samples. ‘The rains came and never stopped in 2007’, says Lindsay, ‘so it was a winemaker’s vintage’. She didn’t do as many cold soaks, and says that winemakers were using tannin additions widely to achieve colour stability. There were two harvests: before and after the rain, and generally those before were more successful. But she’s positive. ‘I think 2007 is actually a pretty good vintage for us, similar to 2005. The wines are elegant and balanced, and fruit forward – not the jammy, concentrated style that everyone made in 2006’. Lindsay says that the philosophy in the King Estate cellar is ‘nothing for simplicity, everything for quality’. 

King Estate Pinot Gris 2007
King Estate have 200 acres of newly planted vines, much of which is Pinot Gris. This cuvee is made with part contracted fruit. Fresh, almost grassy nose is quite crisp and a bit mineralic. The palate is smooth and fresh with nice texture and good acidity. Appealing and fresh. 88/100

King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris 2006
All estate fruit. Quite complex on the nose: herby, taut and minerally. The palate has lovely freshness with bright, lively, expressive fruit, some minerality and a hint of spiciness. 90/100

King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir 2000
Some earthiness here, with a tight herby character on the nose, evolving quite nicely. The palate has nice red fruit freshness and definition with some spicy structure. Red fruits dominate. Still fruity, but with a lovely fresh earthy structure. 92/100

King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir 2006
Sweet, smooth red fruits nose is quite pure. The palate has lovely sweet red fruit character. It’s smooth, ripe and accessible but also quite elegant with sweet purity. 91/100

King Estate Signature Pinot Noir 2006
This is 45% estate fruit, the rest contracted, aged for 11/12 months in oak, 30% new. Quite supple and balanced with nice generous sweet fruit showing good balance and a bit of grippy structure. Attractive. 89/100

King Estate Signature Vin Glacé 2006
This ice wine takes two days to press and ferments for four months at 55 F. It’s viscous, sweet and intense with lovely spiciness. The lively acidity offsets the dense, sweet citrussy fruit.

As well as making Oregon wines, King Estate is also working with fruit from Washington State. This project started in 2005, and the wines are labelled NxNW, for ‘north by north west’.

NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Columbia Valley
Pure, focused dark fruits nose of blackberry and blackcurrant, and some nice spicy depth. Rich textured and nicely pure, with great balance. 91/100

NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Walla Walla
Sweet, pure black fruits nose. Smooth and intense with nice purity and delicious freshness. Smooth and a bit eaty. 92/100

Finally, Lindsay Kampff’s own wine.

Journey Red Pinot Noir 2006 Oregon
Clone 113, aged for 16 months in barrel, half new oak, all organically certified fruit. Smooth, pure red fruits on the nose which is a little tight. The palate is smooth and elegant with lovely structure and great balance between the nicely textured red fruits and the acid/tannins. Stylish. 93/100

See also:

Wines tasted 07/08  
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