The most impressive example of a wine estate that we visited was King Estate Winery. This is the largest winery in the state, and according to Tracy, our ebullient wine steward for the afternoon, they have the largest: "contiguously planted organic Pinot Gris vineyard in the US." Hard to believe that Oregon has any type of vineyard that would be larger than California, but there it is.
The estate building itself is impressive. Massive wood beams support the high roof of the main entrance as you walk through the over-sized front doors. Directly in front of you is the tasting area which is an impressive 30 foot long curved bar with a display screen in the back showing different views of the vineyard. To your left as you walk in the door is the restaurant with a beautiful outdoor dining area. The building is grand and seems to go on forever (they offer free tours on the hour). We are there to taste wine, so we head for the bar. Our server is a talkative, intense, and extremely entertaining woman. She pours us a taste, flies to the far side of the bar to get another group started, and then totally disappears for several minutes taking care of some problem behind the scenes and comes back to our next wine without missing a beat. We are treated to the entire lineup of wines, and they are great. We start with their Acrobat 2nd label wines, and the '09 Pinot Noir which goes for $20 seems a great value to me with nice fruit forward presentation and wonderful aroma. But what I really like are the NXNW brand red wines. Tracy explains that the labels are shorthand for North by Northwest. Each label has a long list of the type of grapes used, the vineyards from which they were sourced and other fun information. We both loved the '08 Syrah which sells for $30, and the '07 Cabernet which goes for $40. These are going down to our cellar to age for a decade or so. They are big, reds with a generous tannin content that should age wonderfully.
On the way out of the estate I stop to look at some grape clusters. I can't believe how small they are. This is August for goodness sake. I have heard talk in some circles that this may be a year when some vineyards simply do not harvest their fruit. Spring was so late in coming, and the summer has lacked critical heat and sunshine, and the birds are going to be back in force during the later than usual harvest, so it just might not be worth it to pick the grapes. Can you imagine that? It's hard for me to imagine just writing off a whole harvest, but some growers may be forced to do exactly that. Farming is a gamble however you look at it. Especially with vineyards, the capital investment is huge, and the manual labor required to prune and care for the plants is staggering. When you add to that harvesting each grape cluster by hand the costs are astounding to me. I've had folks ask me why Pinot Noir costs so much money. I explain it's because it cost a lot of money to grow and make, and in some ways I'm surprised that wineries can turn out a great quality example for only $20.
I'm hoping for a long, sunny fall this year. The vineyards need it, and after a late, late start of a fairly cool summer, it would be nice to have that bright orange globe in the sky for a bit before the rains came back, and I head back into work!