Laurent Montalieu has left Oregon's WillaKenzie Estate, where he has been a partner and chief winemaker for eight years, to devote full attention to his own vineyard and budding winery, Soléna.
"I was doing way too much general managing and not enough winemaking," Montalieu said, explaining his departure from WillaKenzie, which is best known for Pinot Noir. "I wanted to control my own destiny, from planting the vines to marketing the wines, and everything in between." He plans to remain at WillaKenzie until partners Bernard and Ronni Lacroute hire a new winemaker.
Soléna -- named after Montalieu's daughter -- started off by issuing small quantities of 1999 Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah (priced at around $30 a bottle) made from grapes purchased from vineyards in southern Oregon and eastern Washington. With the 2002 vintage, production topped 1,000 cases, en route to a target of 2,500 by the middle of the decade.
In addition to those warm-climate wines, Montalieu will also be making Pinot Noir. In 1999, he acquired 80 acres in the Willamette Valley and has planted three acres of Pinot Noir on the property, with up to 20 acres of vines to come. The site abuts Shea Vineyard on Chehalem Ridge, about 1.5 miles from WillaKenzie Estate, and is on the same Willakenzie soil for which that winery was named.
The home vineyard produced its first barrel of wine in 2002. The estate Pinot Noir will be labeled Domaine Danielle Laurent, after Laurent's wife, who is the daughter of vintners Gary and Nancy Andrus. The two founded Archery Summit, one of Oregon's leading Pinot producers, along with Pine Ridge in Napa Valley.
Montalieu, who grew up on the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe and trained at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux, used his Oregon experience -- first at Bridgeview, then at WillaKenzie -- to select rootstock and clones for the new vineyard. "It's already showing results -- smaller vines, more concentrated fruit," he said.
Check our recent ratings of WillaKenzie Estate wines.
Read more about WillaKenzie:
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