Shea Vineyard in the fog
Shea Vineyard in the fog

“Near the heart of the Northern Willamette Valley’s cluster of sub-appellations lies a true Oregon winemaking gem: the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. This wine region deserves a closer look for its noteworthy Pinot Noirs, spectacular setting and growing reputation as a dining destination.”

Sophia McDonald interviewed many Yamhill-Carlton producers for this feature piece in Oregon Wine Press, the leading voice in Oregon wine since 1984. Belle Pente’s owner Brian O’Donnell described the Yamhill-Carlton as “a horseshoe-shaped series of hills that sit up in the northern corner of the Willamette Valley, against the Coast Range foothills. It’s in a magnified rain shadow, making it slightly warmer and drier than the rest of the northern Willamette Valley.” This is one of the greatest qualities that make the wines from Yamhill-Carlton unique from the rest of the Willamette Valley: our rain shadow and our unique soils.

She also discusses the old theory that red dirt produced better red wines and sandier, paler dirt was best for Chardonnay. Ken Wright, Michael Etzel at Beaux Frères and Dick Shea all worked to upend this theory, planting Pinot Noir on the paler, Marine sedimentary soil we have. Marine sedimentary soils dominate the Willamette Valley to some degree, as our undulating hills and valleys were once seafloor.

Dick Shea recalled planting in the 1980s in the untried region of Yamhill-Carlton, and how his first harvest in 1991 was hard to sell. Because people only knew the Dundee Hills or the Eola-Amity Hills at that time, grapes from outside of the known subregions were unlikely to fetch the prices that Shea’s grapes actually deserved. You can read more about the revolution of the reputation of Yamhill-Carlton in the article.

Today, a collaborative attitude predominates in our region, with each other and with visitors. Come visit the wineries or the town of Carlton to see what we mean!