Wine Star: Ken Wright

The veteran Oregon winemaker explains the bedrock of great Pinot Noir
Wine Star: Ken Wright
Ken Wright credits his distinctive Pinot Noirs to Oregon's unique soils. (Deepix Studio)
Oct 28, 2015

Above all, Ken Wright is a family man. Before introducing his supple, refined Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District Savoya Vineyard 2008 (92 points, $55) to the Wine Experience audience, he introduced his wife, children and newest grandson. But a close second, Wright is a gifted Pinot Noir winemaker and staunch champion of the many American Viticultural Areas in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“To understand Oregon is to understand geology,” Wright declared. More so than soil, Wright believes that ‘mother rock’ drives the aromas and flavors of his wines. He showcased his vast knowledge of the Pacific Northwest’s geological development, educating seminar attendees on the movement of the Juan de Fuca plate and the resulting land formations. His mastery of the subject contributed to his signature achievement, the creation of six distinct subappellations of the northern Willamette Valley, the prime growing region for Oregon Pinot Noir.

Each of these subappellations produces different expressions of wines based on the site’s bedrock. This rock contains the “mother lode” of minerals that give these wines unique characteristics. For example, exposed to volcanic rock, Pinot Noirs express bright fruit, while marine sediment creates spicy, floral wines. “That mix of mineral down below, that is so different from its neighbor, drives everything,” Wright reiterated.

Eleven of Wright’s vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs flashed on the projection screen by the stage, further underlining his belief in the singularity and individuality of each site. “Each wine is completely different from one to the other, though the wines are made in a similar fashion, all driven by place.” He wholeheartedly believes that Pinot Noir, more than any other wine or food on the planet, speaks to a specific location.

Learn more about Ken Wright and Oregon's appellations:

Oregon Pioneer (May 15, 2015, cover story)
Video: Oregon AVAs with Ken Wright
Video: Oregon's Classic 2008 Pinots with Ken Wright

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