The beautiful landscape of Knudsen Vineyards even inspired Oregon's "Wine Country" license plate!
Oregon wines are all the rage now but that wasn't the case in 1971 when C. Calvert "Cal" and Julia Lee Knudsen purchased a 200-acre former walnut orchard in the heart of the Dundee Hills. True trailblazers, the Knudsens planted 30 acres of vines in 1972 and it became the largest vineyard in the Willamette Valley. In 1976, Knudsen partnered with legendary winemaker Dick Erath and built the first commercial winery in the Dundee Hills. For more than a decade, Knudsen Erath Winery produced wines until the dissolution of the partnership in 1987. However, that did not mark the end of Knudsen's role in winemaking and the family invested in Argyle Winery, where they maintain a grape supply and vineyard management relationship.
Now the second generation of the family is moving their winemaking legacy forward and the four Knudsen siblings have formed Knudsen Vineyards. Showing how the wine industry has dramatically grown in Oregon, Knudsen's 130 planted acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay now make them one of the smaller wineries in the state. However, few can compete with the Knudsen family's important role in Oregon's viticultural history and the historical significance of their Willamette Valley vineyard.
Page Knudsen Cowles beams when she speaks of her admiration and appreciation for what her parents created almost 50 years ago. She and her three brothers (Colin, David, and Cal) have a strong connection to their land. To ensure that it remains healthy for the following generations, Knudsen Vineyards is certified sustainable.
But what did Cal Knudsen see in Willamette Valley all those years ago that inspired him to take a leap of faith? Passionate about the iconic wines of Burgundy and Champagne, Cal was convinced that Willamette's similar climate, topography, and sedimentary soils could also produce wines of exceptional quality. He certainly has been proven right. Wines from Oregon, especially Willamette, are critically acclaimed for their elegance and terroir-driven style. How poetic that Cal Knudsen was inspired by France and today several prominent French winemakers are producing wines in Willamette Valley!
Current offerings from Knudsen Vineyards focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wines certainly have an Old World quality where the essence of the fruit and terroir are clearly expressed, instead of heavy-handed winemaking.
Juicy and zingy Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($45) is rich and robust but still demonstrates impressive restraint and balance. Ten months in French oak add a warm hint of vanilla and spice to its vibrant citrus, pear, and crisp green apple flavors. Ever-so-slightly creamy, with a long finish, this Chardonnay is charming now and has enough structure to keep aging gracefully. (2016 vintage is also available).
Finicky Pinot Noir is known as the "heartbreak grape"but winemakers can't resist the challenge. Perhaps more than any other red wine grape, Pinot Noir has the uncanny ability to transmit the ineffable qualities of terroir. Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 ($55) meticulously balances poise and playfulness. Clearly inspired by Burgundy in its direct communication of fruit and earth, there is also a charming thread of American exuberance in its hints of spice, juicy & ripe red cherries, and supple tannins.
Knudsen's petite but precise portfolio stands up to their impressive legacy and I certainly look forward to following this new chapter of the family's winemaking journey. If your travels take you to Oregon, contact Knudsen to schedule a visit.