At 5:15 my alarm goes off as I groggily rub my eyes. Why am I awake so early? It takes me a second or two before realizing that this morning I am going to be flying up, up and away over the Willamette Valley in a hot air balloon!
The plan is to meet at 6 a.m. at WillaKenzie Estate, a stunning 420 acre domaine located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The estate takes its name from the Willakenzie soil which is evident throughout the approximately 100 acres planted to vines on the property.
This particular sedimentary soil, along with the region’s climate which, is so aptly suited to the production of cool climate varietals, are what led Bernard (a native of Burgundy) and Ronni Lacroute to establish WillaKenzie Estate in the early 1990s.
After a quick cup of coffee and a morning pastry, three balloons were fired up and off we went for a breathtaking tour of the Valley. Check it out!
As we slowly floated upwards, we got birds eye view of the WillaKenzies’ 30 or so separate vineyard blocks that were dispersed amongst untouched parcels of Douglas Fir, oak and maple trees. These vineyard blocks are planted exclusively to vines of the pinot family. Below is a quick breakdown:
Pinot Noir: 67 acres (10 different clones)
Pinot Gris: 18.4 acres
Pinot Blanc: 5.5 acres
Pinot Meunier: 3.6 acres
Gamay Noir: 3.2 acres (a cousin of the Pinot family)
Differences in elevation (300-700ft), exposition, soil depth, row orientation and drainage are important factors which influence the the specific “terroir or expression of each wine in the WillaKenzie lineup.
In addition to vineyard location, clonal selection is another factor, which when suitably paired with an ideal vineyard local can produce a more diverse range of wines with specific qualities and nuances. At WillaKenzie, 10 different clones of pinot noir are planted across the property. The idea is that each clone, planted to a specific terroir will elicit a different expression of pinot noir. These folks really practice what they preach. Take a look at the clonal bottlings from WillaKenzie below.
After our balloon ride, our balloon group had worked up a pretty hearty appetite. (It’s hard work getting up that early to check out the view!) Luckily, a delicious breakfast buffet was waiting for us by the time we returned to the winery.
Fresh brewed coffee, make your own omelettes, bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, oatmeal and the oh so popular selection of Voodoo Doughnuts were on hand.
Quick, before all of the blood in my brain rushes to my stomach, it was time for a tour of the winery with Bernard Lacroute! Located directly outside the WillaKenzie tasting room was a great overhead view of a portion of the winery’s cellar.
Here, Bernard explained that along with the significance of soil, and clonal selection, the human element, or more specifically, winemaking practices are also important in the WillaKenzie equation towards the production of top notch, value driven wine. Three practices that the domaine enthusiatically promotes are:
To promote and responsible stewardship towards the land and natural resources of the region. WillaKenzie Estate was the first winery to receive the new Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) winery certification. They are also the first winery to be awardreceive the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) designation for the 2008 vintage.
To ensure the gentle handling of grapes and wine throughout the entire winemaking process. Gravity flow winemaking is essential in the production of high quality wine. Willakenzie employs this process for their entire range of wines.
In order to safeguard the highest level of quality and consistency to wine consumers. Willakenzie Estate was the first winery to bottle their premium pinot noir wines utilizing screw cap closures.
Thanks for the ride and visit WillaKenzie Estate!
Next: East Side meets West Side at Winderlea