AWG Correspondent

Rob Boss

Ken Wright Cellars / Tyrus Evan Photos

Ken Wright Cellars / Tyrus Evan Review

Regions: Willamette Valley AVA, Yamhill-Carlton Region, Oregon

Reviewed: August 31, 2013 by Rob Boss
Published: September 24, 2013

A longtime staple of the Oregon wine lovers, undisputed authority on terroir and on top of that, pillar of his own community, Ken Wright is one of the most respected wine makers in the industry. The tasting room for Ken Wright Cellars is located across the street from the winery, in Carlton, Oregon. On first glance rustic, it’s full of upscale and elegant wine, with low key but equally elegant accessories. It’s tastefully appointed, despite the fact that virtually everything in the room is for sale; never upstaging the wine of course.

Not that that’s very likely, since Mr. Wright’s wines are generally, well, righteous. The salad-friendly 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc that kicked off the tasting had a fantastic floral nose. The palate was citrusy and lemony, as if it were invented for leafy greens. Wet stones came as a surprise in the nose on the 2010 Celilo Chardonnay—followed by a little lemon peel. The wine showed bright acid with clean, defined pear and apple flavors.

Many winemakers feature single vineyard wines these days but Ken Wright’s focus is terroir—the expression of place in wine—and single vineyard production allows him to zero in on that sense of place. He’s been making wine in Oregon since the mid-80s and has refined his style to a razor edge. That can be overlooked when the wines are not tasted side by side, as is pointedly done in the tasting room. All the Pinot Noirs presented were 2009, 300-600 cases produced, from four different AVAs in four different glasses. The differences were not subtle.

Spice? How about horseradish and white pepper? That was the lead off for the Freedom Hill vineyard, from the Coastal Range. After that, flavors of black cherries, huckleberries and lingonberries (an advantage to living in the Pacific Northwest is constant access to obscure berries). Up next, from the Dundee Hills was the Nyssa Vineyard, with crushed cherries and plums in the nose. The ripe cherry and plum flavors came as a little bit of a surprise, because Dundee usually shows more acidity, more tart, younger fruit flavors. But darker is also part of Ken Wright’s bigger style.

Canary Hill vineyard is in the Eola-Amity AVA and was shy that day, but still showed some spice in the nose. On the palate were the ripest fruit flavors yet, with cherries and blackberries; a very silky texture that set it apart from the others. Finally, the Guadalupe vineyard showed what the Yamhill-Carlton AVA—and Ken Wright, himself—is all about. The wine offered a spicy nose with a fascinating note of… gunpowder. The palate was full of Yamhill-Carlton’s characteristic black fruit flavors (although less ripe flavors).

Arguably, some of the best wine in the Willamette Valley—“arguably” because this bolder, weightier style is often maligned as “too big for Pinot Noir.” But it has its devotees, as shown by the futures sales that sell out every year. What’s not arguable is the quality of the product; whether or not the style is what you’re looking for in a wine. Ken Wright’s wine succeeds in expressing “the sense of place,” and this tasting room offers a lesson in terroir like few New World wineries are able to do. For the education alone, Ken Wright Cellars is a gem.

Address & Contact Information: 236 N Kutch St. Carlton, Oregon 97111. Telephone: 503-852-7010, email:, website:

Overall Rating:  

Red Wine White Wine Service View/Ambiance

More information about Ken Wright Cellars / Tyrus Evan

Explore Oregon wineries

Explore Willamette Valley AVA wineries

Explore Yamhill-Carlton Region wineries