High on a hill in the Lorane Valley west of Eugene, Oregon sits a wine chateau so vast and extensive that from a distance you would think it was fit for a king. In truth, it was built by one.
As we drove up the hill to the King Estate Winery early one morning on a July day, we noticed school buses and “OSU Seminar” signs with arrows pointing to the vineyards. In the already full parking lot, we paused to debate the possibility of needing sunglasses on this cloudy day, before we headed to the front door, where wait people rushed in and out, setting up for lunch at the plainly-named Restaurant and Wine Bar. I’d wished we had time to linger at a table with the spectacular view, but we wanted to be in Sonoma County before midnight, so no lunch for us. We were here for the wine.
The interior is as palatial as the exterior. Marble floors, exposed beams, redwood paneling, and well-appointed dining rooms made me wonder where they buried their knights. We met up with tasting room manager Randy Stokes who poured us through the wines before filling us up on the entry level Domaine Pinot Gris and saying, “lets go.”
We headed out the front door to take in the view. As tables filled up and food smells wafted from the café, Randy explained the workings of the King Estate.
I’d known that King was an organic wine producer, but I had no idea that they belong to the most stringent organic certifier in the world, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic Association. Randy told us about King’s massive composting program to fertilize the estate’s thousand acres which, as part of the OTCO dictates, is multicultural. That was why the Oregon State University agricultural program was here, holding a seminar. In addition to grapes, King grows vegetables, herbs, honey, and flowers, to maintain a high level of biodiversity. Most of the crops get served in the Restaurant, but much is donated to the local communities.
Ed King was an electrical engineer who invented the first navigational device to allow airplanes to fly around the world. He made his fortune with his company, King Radio which manufactured and marketed navigation, communication, and identification equipment, like auto-pilots and radar for commercial and military aircraft. He was the king of radio who, in 1991, became a prince of pinot. Now the Kings split their time between a house on the property and Florida.
As we stood there, Randy pointed out a grey haired guy in a sport jacket sitting at an outside table and whispered, “that’s him.” Evidently, Mr. King likes to eat at his own joint.
Inside, the cellars are expansive and majestic and reminded me of Silver Oak’s or Jordan’s – like, spotless. Randy explained how, to prevent funky stuff from ever rising through the floor, the 100 K sq feet of concrete was poured systematically over four days to prevent the formation of any seams. But then, he said they plan to take out a good chunk of winery to install an elevated crush pad in order to maximize their use of gravity. Hmmm, better for the wine and the environment, but too bad they didn’t think of that when they built the place.
In the barrel room, Randy just had to show us a giant oval barrel they’d brought from France. He snickered as he explained its name – Foundre – which apparently means Fuck You in French. In olden days, these barrels were used because their oval shape made it difficult for the taxman to assess the quantity of its contents, allowing the peasants to economically stick it to the king. It’s ironic this king-screwing barrel should come into the possession of another King.
The wines are all very good, all “collections” of them. I really liked the Signature Pinot Gris, done in a crisp Italian style, with lots of peach and citrus flavors. I liked the Domaine Pinot Gris even better. It’s more French style, showing a rich texture, vivid tropical fruit, spice and minerals. Similarly, I felt the Domaine Pinot Noir was far superior to the Signature, but felt that for what they were, they are both overpriced at $60 and $29. The NxNW label is their non-estate line of wines from the Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys. Both the cab and the syrah were chewy, juicy and well priced.
Next time we pass this way, we’re staying for lunch!