Last weekend I was asked to speak at The University of Oregon to students from the entire Oregon University System who were about to study abroad. I've done this a few times now and it's one of my favorite reasons to visit Eugene. I say that because now I have a new favorite destination; King Estate Winery.
My speaking engagement wasn't until 1:30, so the plan was for Josh, Alyssa, and I to hit up King Estate when they opened at 11. I had never been there before, but Josh had been talking it up for the better part of a year and what better way to check out a winery than at the minute they open? As we scaled it's long, winding driveway, we were greeted by this view:
Did I mention that it just so happened to be the most beautiful day of the year?
As you can see, King Estate isn't your average tasting room. In fact, it's a tasting room (technically two), vineyard, full service restaurant, and self-sustaining farm. We'll get to those last two points later. On to the wine!
We walked up to the tasting bar and were greeted by both Randy and Jill. Jill, who has been with King Estate for about a month, was receiving some words of advice from Randy, who is a veteran of the wine industry for approximately 21 years. As he put it, even his experience is old enough to drink. We certainly appreciated this as both were incredibly warm, friendly, and open to any questions we may have had. While talking about blogging, the Oregon wine industry in general, and of course King Estate, we had the opportunity to sample a dozen or so wines.
2007 Domaine Pinot Gris
This organic, 100% estate grown pinot gris is one that immediately jumped out to Josh. It's picked up quite a bit of hardware lately and I'm always excited to find a great pinot gris. This one certainly stood up to its reputation as possibly the best pinot gris I've ever had. While crisp like most Oregon gris, this one deviated from the standard green apple and pear hues by also incorporating those of more tropical fruits, such as tangerine and pineapple. Definitely worth picking up.
2008 next: Oregon Pinot Noir
King Estate's next line is their own foray into the under $20 wine market. What made this pinot noir stand out? It's a $18 pinot noir with all of the characteristics of one twice as much, just toned down a bit. I've found that many entry-level pinots feel a bit unfinished with a ton of tart, but not this one. Randy mentioned that this was specifically made to be a great pinot and not just what they had left over with a new label slapped on it. I highly recommend this one as well.
2007 NxNW Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
King Estate's NxNW line of wines is a really intriguing concept. Like many wineries who source grapes from the Columbia Valley or Walla Walla AVAs, it's sometimes not always clear which state your grapes are actually from. The solution? Embrace it with a new label celebrating your grapes' diversity! Their Walla Walla cab, for instance, sources from 11 vineyards. Their Columbia Valley cab, while completely different, sparked my interested with its unique hues of dark cherries, coffee, and plum.
With all three of us now equipped with full glasses of the previously mentioned cab sauv, Randy graciously offered to give us a tour of the facility. It's tough work, but we're semi-professional wine bloggers, so we had to agree.
Our first stop was outside looking over the estate while Randy explained what exactly we were looking at. The various plots of grapes were obvious, but what none of us realized is that they also grow various orchards of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even bees for honey! About 30% of this is used in-house at their restaurant, while the remainder is all donated to FOOD for Lane County. Definitely cool and always encouraging to see the great things our local wineries do for their communities.
Next up was to check out their production facility. On the way we learned about the King family themselves, who were the original founders of King Avionics. I didn't think avionics had much to do with winemaking until we saw how incredibly high tech their production facilities were. Not only were they spotless, but they're all connected to an internet-based monitoring system where the winemakers can view statistics from the comfort of their homes and change settings as needed.
From there we saw their bottling facility, the original tasting room, and this beautiful barrel room
I was running short on time at this point, so it was time for lunch! Randy handed us off to Tara, who was our server for the afternoon. As Randy put it, they essentially grow everything on-site aside from the beef (which is from 5 miles down the road) and cheese. I was immediately sold on their house-cured pastrami placed on house-made bread and house-made sauerkraut with a side of house-made chips. The verdict? The best pastrami sandwich I've ever had. Josh had the KE Burger, which also happened to be the best burger I've ever had. All in all lunch for three (minus drinks) was only $28. By far your best bet if you're anywhere near Eugene and want a phenomenal meal.
When we were done with our meals, Tara stopped by with what was described as a mispour of their pinot noir from the bar. It otherwise would have had to have been poured out, so might as well give it to us! We obliged and did our part to aid King Estate's conservation efforts.
All in all one of the best winery experiences I've had. A HUGE thanks goes out to Randy, Jill, and Tara for making our afternoon so memorable. King Estate is definitely a gem worth visiting for phenomenal wine, great people, and some of the best food I've ever had.