WillaKenzie Estate Winery is the longtime dream of co-founder Bernard Lacroute. After a successful career in high tech, Bernard decided to return to his Burgundian roots and grow Pinot Noir.
Finding an Ideal Site
The Lacroutes (Bernard and then wife Ronni Lacroute) searched for a suitable grape growing site for several years and finally purchased a cattle ranch in January 1991 just outside Yamhill, Oregon. The rolling hills of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA (American Viticultural Area) are ideal for growing world-class Pinot Noir. They named the property WillaKenzie Estate after the ancient Willakenzie sedimentary soil on which the vineyards are planted (Click here for more information on Willakenzie soils and see why ‘Dirt Matters’).
The First WillaKenzie Vines
As the Lacroutes laid the foundation for what would become a small, family-owned Oregon winery, they knew their goal would always be to make wines reflecting the place on which the vines are grown. In 1992, they planted their first vineyards on south-facing slopes replacing pasture, blackberries, and poison oak. Additional plantings in Yamhill continued through 2001. Today, 105 acres of grape vines (about a quarter of the Willamette Valley estate) are planted around untouched stands of Douglas fir, oak, and maple trees. Two-thirds of the vineyards are Pinot Noir, primarilyDijon clones as well as some of the Pinot Noir varietal clones originally planted in Oregon. Remaining vineyards are planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Gamay Noir, and Chardonnay.
The WillaKenzie Estate Jory Hills Vineyard
In 2000, the Lacroutes purchased 95 acres of land in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon, again naming the vineyard after its soil type: Jory (of volcanic origin). To date 25 acres have been planted at the Jory Hills vineyard, using various clones of Pinot Noir vines.
Building the WillaKenzie Winery
Construction of the Lacroutes’ state-of-the-art, multi-level, gravity-flow winery was completed in 1995, just in time to make the wines from their first Oregon harvest. Since then, they have continued to make improvements, building an innovative facility in 2007 to dramatically cool their grapes before processing as well as a large solar array and new tasting room in 2010. Today, production remains at around 20,000 cases, no plans to increase further. Instead, emphasis remains on quality wine, not quantity.