Pinot King

By Beacon Staff

EUGENE, Ore. – There they are, one after the other, on the side of the road – blue and white signs indicating a winery. Almost everywhere you look on Oregon State Route 99E (formerly U.S. 99 and nicknamed 99 Wine for obvious reasons) there are wineries of every size and shape.

A number of years ago, Oregon became the center of the universe for the fickle Pinot Noir grape (it’s difficult to grow under most conditions) and the luscious Burgundy style wine by the same name. Its unique geographic location and collection of microclimates near the Pacific Ocean, along with fertile volcanic soil, created one of the great treasures of viticulture.

My wife and I were on a business trip to Portland recently, and so we decided that as long as we were “in the neighborhood,” we’d go on a pilgrimage to visit our favorite pinot noir and pinot gris producer, King Estate. It was only 117 miles out of our way.

We were introduced to King Estate pinot noir 14 or 15 years ago by none other than the founder of the vineyard and winery, Ed King, Jr. We were in Arizona at a restaurant in Cave Creek and the chef/owner was someone I was acquainted with. Mr. King was a regular customer, as he owned a winter residence nearby. The chef introduced us and so the relationship between King Estate pinot noir and the Grays began.

Ed King, Jr., is now 88 years old and still takes an active part in the winery, while the second and third generation of Kings ensure that the viniculture and product quality continue to be top notch.

Wine tastings at wineries are not exactly objective comparisons of similar varietals. The winery wants to sell you the wine(s) it makes. My wallet would be somewhat thinner if the state of Montana’s archaic liquor laws allowed for the shipment of wine from other states. But the Montana Department of Revenue chooses not to recognize a U.S. Supreme Court decision of several years ago that permits shipment of wines across state lines. And so we were limited to what would fit in our vehicle.

With two exceptions, we bought some of everything King Estate produces. That’s what we think of their products. (I should also tell you that we stopped in Walla Walla, Wash., in the heart of the Columbia Valley wine country because we really like the wines coming out of there, too.)

Many of the vineyards and wineries we passed were small producers. King Estate is not a small producer. There are hundreds and hundreds of acres under cultivation. And the primary building on the premises is rather large and includes a fantastic restaurant. But there is something about the way they produce their wines that makes it seem as though the wines are from these little one- and two-acre patches.

The King Estate pinot noir and pinot gris are beautifully made wines. The 2007 and 2008 vintages were recently released. The pinot noir has all of the deep berry and spice notes you would expect, while the pinot gris drinks like honey-laced citrus fruits. When I cook for guests in my home, I think about what I can cook that will pair well with my King Estate wines. I know that’s sort of backwards, but it’s my kitchen and I’ll play by my own rules!

So as we were stowing our newly acquired bounty, we came across a bottle of the King Estate 2000 Reserve Pinot Noir. I didn’t know we still had it. I had asked our wine guide at the tasting if any reserve vintages had been bottled and available for sale and she said that none had been available for quite some time.

I’m relishing this treasure I have because I can still remember what the other bottle tasted like. The dilemma is when to drink it and under what circumstance.

It’s unlikely that Ed King, Jr., or Ed King III will see this column because I was kind of hoping for some guidance. I’ll figure it out.

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