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Ken Wright

“The plant is special: the way it can connect us to a place is wonderful,” Ken Wright

Sometimes you forget why you’re in the business you’re in. You get lost in the monotony of the day-to-day, and passion is pushed aside to make way for the practical. But then you come across someone who reminds you exactly why you do what you do. Ken Wright is one of those people. I walked into another wine expo, expecting the usual: tasting 30, liking a few, and seeing some familiar industry faces by the deli cheese tray.

In an intrusive shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, I made my way to the Ken Wright station and began with one of four Oregon Pinot Noirs. As I glanced at the pourer’s name tag, I noticed it said “Ken Wright.” Now let me preface this by saying you usually meet a winery ambassador, not the actual winemaker at these types of events. This sweet gentle man seemed familiar, like the uncle always excited to see you at Thanksgiving. With his white pepper hair, and unassuming cobolt blue collared shirt, I listened intently as he spoke with each taster about the nuances differing ever-so-slightly between each pinot.

This sentiment of terrior is what allured me to the wine game and keeps me coming back for more. It’s like any long-term relationship, you get used to the ebs and flows, until your partner pulls out a new dress for date night, and flirts with you across the table in a way that reminds you why one date turned into thirty.

Yamhill-Carlton, the AVA in Oregon where Ken Wright is located, is composed of all marine sediments and is the oldest area of Willamette Valley. Sand was the original soil type here, which is now covered with a vaneer of besalt, but even still if you crush a bit of the soil in your hands, it crumbles.  These besalt minerals create fruit-driven wine.  “Wines from Yamhill Carlton AVA have more blue and black fruit character, with an abundance of spice and floral qualities that are layered onto the dark fruit flavors,” Ken Wright informs the intently listening crew.  He continues to describe the flavor and aroma profiles of the area by breaking it down into three groups of descriptors that would intice even a typical bud light fanatic:

Fruit qualities are mostly blue and black fruit, including mostly blackberries, black raspberry, blueberry, black cherry, and black currant. The aromatics hold strong in the floral and herbal category with anise, clove, rose petal, violet, lavender, tobacco, wood smoke, and mocha. Tying all these flavors together are the “texturally driven” broad, and silky tannins, that provide a nice sturdy structure without overwhelming astringency.

Keeping these nuggets of information in mind, I come back to the restaurant to retaste one of his Pinot Noir holding strong on our menu. The sensual black cherry and silky tannins dance on my palate with a smooth grace, but just enough excitement of anise and clove spices to make it interesting. My mind immediately races with dishes to pair this with, other wines to line up against in a pinot noir flight, and for the first time in a couple of weeks, instead of spreadsheets and emails,  I get excited about the juice again.

Written by Nat Stew (heroine of wine)

Pairs with ‘Blue on Black’ – Kenny Wayne Shepherd