A couple of posts back I mentioned taking a trip south with Jeremiah the Bullfrog and Toonces the driving cat. Toonces wasn’t a very good driver until GPS came out, but now he is good to go. As we departed Umpqua Valley to head north towards Broadley Vineyards tasting room, our GPS led us up Territorial Lane where we passed King Estate, a winery whose products I have consumed and supported for years.
I had to yell at Toonces to slow down and let me get some pictures of the place but that cat rarely knows where the brake pedal is—it is amazing we taught him to recognize a stop sign. So as we zoomed past I thought I should make it a point to come back and take a weekend and learn more about what they do. After all, they are the leading producer in the state. That position is put in perspective when you consider E&J Gallo ships 65 million cases of wine compared to King Estates 175,000 per year so regardless of what some people think they are still small enough to have a very personal hands on style of producing wines. I’m starting to wonder why it took me so long to get down there for a visit, not to mention I have known their marketing guy Sasha Kadey for three (maybe four) years now. This is a man who has always been ahead of the curve. Sasha has quietly manipulated social media in a graceful and tediously balanced manner that has kept King Estate in the forefront of the limelight. It helps that the wines are really good too. I always say, “Wine will sell itself, you just need the right person telling the story.” The relationship between King Estate and Sasha Kadey resembles that statement a lot. So while most of Portland was elbow to elbow in the tasting rooms of central Willamette Valley’s wineries during Memorial Day weekend we decided to head south and learn as much as we could about King Estate.
As we pulled into the Estate at noon on a Saturday, we pulled over at the gate to take some pictures (the estate really does look fit for a King). I was confused for a moment because a string of cars came whizzing by like they were headed for a pit stop during some Grand Prixe race. Turns out the onsite restaurant is such a draw it fills up quickly at lunch time. That and some of the staff who were supposed to start at noon were running late. By the time we took a couple of photos and made our way up to the parking lot the restaurant and tasting room were already in full swing. Here we are out in the middle of the country and when you stepped into the winery, you would have thought you were in Union Square in San Francisco. People were well dressed and well mannered. That’s what happens when you acquire talent like Executive Chef Michael Landsberg and Pastry Chef Tobi Sovak (husband and wife team) formerly with Eugene’s Marche restaurant, a fine dining experience I would recommend if you happen to be in Eugene, Oregon.
Austin Kumm, the Visitor Center manager greeted us as we entered and introduced ourselves mentioning Sasha Kadey had arranged a special tasting and visit for us. Austin was well aware of our impending arrival and quickly summoned Quentin Ranson who was to be our host for the afternoon for one of the best wine tastings I have had the pleasure to experience in a long, long time. We were quickly offered the option of having lunch in the dining room but we had just finished a very large breakfast. Something I recommend to everyone before they go out wine tasting. You can never count on food being available at every tasting room. No, really it’s true. Quentin was quick to inquire if we needed any special accommodations (I think he noticed that Pamela and I were both limping) she had twisted her ankle while jogging the night before and I was still healing up from knee surgery so I spoke up and said if he had one of those two-hour tours walking in the vines we would have to skip it and just taste through some wine. I think that made everyone happy as the weather was typical Oregon drizzle then sun and back and forth.
After we were situated, Quentin started our tour in Pastry Chef Tobi Sovak’s workspace. I love touring kitchens I really miss the action. There was a lot of action going on, too. The Landsberg and Sovak culinary team and staff make everything down to smoking the bacon that is served in the restaurant. I was happy to see it was a Southern Pride smoker they use to smoke meats and fish. That piece of equipment is one of my favorites. This pair (Michael and Tobi) has Michelin Three Star brigade experience under their belts and the food they produce shows it. Tobi handles Pastry and all other production assignments. Executive Chef Michael commands the dining room. Breads and pastries are made on site as well as honey, jams, jellies, even the ice cream. After touring the organic gardens and the production kitchen, I was ready to start some serious wine evaluations. If you think you have tried most of King Estate’s products I recommend you go there. I am sure they will pull out a wine of theirs that you have not tasted before.
Quentin was the consummate host. He had set us up in a private setting where the old tasting room used to be. Of course, we started with their amazing Pinot Gris. Who knew they had so many selections. The selection of Pinot Noir was just as impressive. If only more Oregon wineries would learn that just because you can only grow Pinot Noir for red grapes there are plenty of great vineyards just to the northeast of us that have lots of great Syrah and other red varieties they would love to sell. The Next label and NXNW labels showcase the possibilities and offer a choice for those few non-Pinot Noir red wine drinkers out there. Quentin introduced us to the following lineup:
2008 King Estate Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Lemon-lime and peach zest finishing with a touch of spice; good acidity and balance. 160 case production. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good | $22 | 13.5% ABV
2008 King Estate Unity Pinot Gris
Asian pear, mineral and stone finishing slightly zesty and steely; great balance and acidity; simply an exquisite example of Oregon Pinot Gris. Drink now.
Rating: Excellent | $22 | 13.5% ABV
2008 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris
Orange blossom and grapefruit flavors; soft entry, good balance. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good | $25 | 13.0% ABV
2009 King Estate Acrobat Pinot Gris
Lemon-lime and pear flavors finish clean and crisp. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good | $12
2009 King Estate Signature Pinot Gris
A cornucopia of flavors—peach, apple, grapefruit and lime. Finishes with lively mineral and citrus notes. Drink now.
Rating: Good | $17 | 13.0% ABV
2009 King Estate Pfeiffer Pinot Gris
Zesty and vibrant with honeysuckle and red ruby grapefruit flavors. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good | $22 | 13.5% ABV
2009 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris, Clone 146
Great lemon-lime flavors with mineral and tropical fruit; finishes with a zesty tang. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good | $22 | 13.5% ABV
2009 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris, Clone 152
A fruit forward nose of pineapple and mango. Flavors of grapefruit, banana and lime. Good acidity with a lively crisp mouthfeel. Drink now.
Rating: Very Good $22 | 12.5% ABV
2007 King Estate NxNW Columbia Valley Syrah
Silky and smooth with flavors of dark chocolate, blackberries and cherries; supple tannins, finishing long and strong; 750 case production; drink now or hold through 2014.
Rating: Excellent | $35 | 14.5% ABV
2007 King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir
A very pretty Pinot with nuances of vanilla, cherry and spice; good medium-long finish; drink now or hold through 2014.
Rating: Very Good | $62 | 13.0% ABV
2008 King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir
The dried rose petal nose is followed by flavors of sweet French oak, black cherry and spice; elegant and restrained with an enticing mocha finish; 1,171 case production, drink now or hold through 2016.
Rating: Excellent | $60 | 13.0% ABV
2008 King Estate Backbone Pinot Noir
Rich and round flavors of chocolate and cherry covered blueberries; great balance with medium-long finish; drink now or hold through 2016.
Rating: Excellent | $55 | 13.0% ABV
2008 King Estate Blackjack Pinot Noir
Cherry and raspberry with heavy oak finishing with a slight mineral flavor. 140 case production.
Rating: Very Good | $75 | 13.5% ABV
2008 King Estate Roserock Pinot Noir
A lovely food friendly wine with good acidity and balance; dusty finish.
Rating: Good | $55 | 13.5% ABV
At the conclusion of our private tasting, we were escorted into the winery where it becomes very apparent that you are viewing the workings of Oregon’s leading wine producer. The size and amount of tanks the operation has dwarfs almost every other winery I have been in the Northwest. The fact that it is as pristine as it is and organically certified is impressive.
We had a couple of hours to kill before it was time for our dinner reservation so we took a very slow walk around the grounds checking out some of the berry farm and happened to get very close to a red fox who seemed pretty at ease around humans. If you are in the area and need lodging I can recommend the Village Green Resort in Cottage Grove (make sure to ask for a new unit as they are remodeling.) Another good best is the Best Western Hartford Inn one exit off I-5 north of Sutherlin if you are headed south for a look at other Oregon wineries in the Umpqua Valley. If you are headed north into Eugene, the Hilton Conference Center is where I have always had pleasant stays.
We headed into the dining room at 6PM and the tasting room at King Estate was in full swing. They have extended hours compared to most Oregon winery tasting rooms. It is a great way to keep restaurant customers engaged while they wait for a table and unless you make a reservation, you are probably going to have to wait a few moments. It was encouraging to see how well the local community supports this restaurant and this winery. Our server Aaron Blair was very efficient and intelligent enough to know we did not need a tour of the menu or wine list. One of the best options on the wine list is their flights of tastes and the amount of half bottles they offer at incredibly reasonable prices. The menu is phenomenal not only in its selection and balance but the execution of each and every dish is something you would expect from a chef with Michelin two-star brigade experience in their resume.
Our meal began with a flight of whites and one of reds. We shared appetizers and entrees to fully experience the kitchens strengths as our dinner consisted of dishes from every station on the line fish and meat side and even a couple of items that were done in that wonderful southern pride smoker.
We started out with the crab cakes with confit tomato, fennel, Provencal olive sauce, saffron aioli. I liked everything on this plate except the olive sauce. It was a distraction from the crab and not a good match with the Pinot Gris. I think we both agreed on that. The charcuterie plate with brandied duck liver terrine, estate cured prosciutto, pork belly confit was well presented and tasted even better than it looked. The terrine paired well with both the Pinot Gris and the ‘06 Signature Pinot Noir.
The Seared Alaskan Halibut with fennel, peas, corn, fingerling potatoes, lemon basil sage (an aromatic broth that can be made with seafood or vegetarian) was on almost every table as we walked through the dining room, and for good reason. The dish also paired well with both the Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir. The Smoked Veal Chop with braised garden vegetables, new potatoes, and maple rum sauce was the best dish of the evening. I have to say it was a real treat. On the west coast, veal has almost disappeared on most menus. I was very happy to have the flight of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from King Estate’s NxNW series.
We finished the meal with vanilla bean crème brûlée with shortbread cookies. I could write for days describing how good every tiny minute detail was. The taste, textures, aromas and presentation of each dish was (as it should be) perfect, but you really should go there and eat.
As we exited after a two-hour food and wine excursion I felt utterly satisfied in every meaning of the word. Is King Estate a big winery? Yes, and it’s a winery that goes above and beyond in guest satisfaction. Once you experience the hospitality offered there every time you see a King Estate wine on your retailers shelf it is very likely you will be taking it home.