King Estate Winery – Organic Wine from Oregon

Amy Atwood spoke with John Albin, Director of Wine making for King Estate Winery in Oregon. King Estate is certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

How did you become a winemaker?

I started making wine with my father when I was a kid. I grew up in Seattle and at the time there were no grapes grown in Washington so we bought grapes from the Central Valley that came in on a rail car. While attending the UW I worked at Associated Vintners; that lead to UC Davis and a career in winemaking.

King Estate\’s own vines are certified organic. But you also purchase grapes from surrounding vineyards that are not certified organic. What specific standards do you hold these outside vineyards to, especially regarding pesticides and herbicides?

All of our contracted vineyards develop an annual vineyard management plan during the off season. That plan is reviewed together. We have worked with most of these growers for many years so we are all on the same page as far as what we are striving for. If you were to examine the practices of all of our growers you would find that they are all in the sustainable camp, some are LIVE certified and some are in the process of being certified organic.

No pre emergent herbicides are used nor are herbicides that “travel”; chemicals like Paraquat or 24D are not allowed. As far as pesticides go, no one uses insecticides; we are fortunate in Oregon that insects are not really a concern. Sometimes sulfur is used to keep mites in control but we use that mainly for powdery mildew. Fungicides would include those on the organic list; sulfur, potassium carbonate, copper sulfate. In addition, many outside growers add DMI’s to the list. All of this boils down to using a little common sense when it comes to using any material responsively whether they are organic or not .

You obviously care about producing pure fruit grown without chemicals. How does this translate in your actual wine making process in the cellars?

The winery is also certified organic. We don’t use any wine additives that you wouldn’t recognize; things like egg whites, yeast, gelatin. Same thing for cleaning supplies.

Do you believe that organic grapes produce better wines or is organic farming simply better for the environment?

I don’t think those statements are mutually exclusive and depends a little on what your definition of “better” is. Organic farming can be better for the environment depending on the farmer. Organic grapes can produce better wines, certainly it can be done sustainably which is better no matter how you slice it. Good farmers on good sites will produce good fruit, that’s the long and the short of it.

What has been your biggest challenge to date as a winemaker?

I think the biggest challenge has been to try and figure out what makes Oregon viticulture tick. There are so many micro climates and soil types along with clonal selections and rootstocks that getting down to what are the best combinations is a life long endeavor.

Which winery or winemaker inspires you and why?

Robert Mondavi; great winemaker and a great promoter of American winemaking. He’s probably done more than any other single person for winemaking in America.

Please share your favorite wine and food match.

We are very fortunate to have a chef on staff. Michael Landsberg makes a seared scallop dish with fresh sweet corn, leeks and a wonderful Aromatique sauce. I’m addicted to it. Our Signature Pinot Gris is dynamite with it.

King Estate Signature Pinot Noir 2007 $25

Beautiful bright ruby color. Tastes like plum tarts and cinnamon. Light style for a domestic pinot noir. Delicious with Moroccan style braised chicken with golden raisins and almonds.

next Riesling from King Estate 2008 $12

Light golden color. Flavors of marinated peaches and lemon custard. Very bright acids to cleanse the palate. This is definitely the wine for spicy food. Great match for Thai or Vietnamese cuisine.


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