WillaKenzie Estate wines are sold in over forty U.S. states and throughout Canada, Japan, China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. If you would like more information about WillaKenzie Estate wines or where to locate them, please contact one of our National & Export Sales Managers,
WillaKenzie Estate Wines
Click on a wine below for technical information.
Passion for Pinot with a Sense of Place is what defines this small, family owned winery dedicated to producing wines with the highest possible expression of terroir. Our Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc as well as small amounts of Pinot Meunier, Gamay Noir and Chardonnay, are all produced from fruit grown sustainably on the Estate and reflect our French heritage. Take a virtual tour of our estate, or better yet come visit us and taste terroir at its best. We were founded in 1995. Our proprietors are Bernard & Ronni Lacroute. The Winemaker is Thibaud Mandet.
We have 127 total acres planted. We produced and average of 15,000 cases per year. We are certified L.I.V.E. (Low Input Viticulture & Enology); O.C.S.W. (Oregon Certified Sustainable Winery); Salmon Safe, USDA Organic, and Demeter Biodynamic.
All of our wine is made from 100% estate grown grapes, we do not source or sell fruit. We are committed to the well being of each member of our team, vineyard workers and admin alike, we provide a living wage & year-round employment with health benefits, 401K, paid vacation and education assistance. Innovation is a key component of our company character. We strive to improve upon existing winemaking practices with the goal of making superior wine while minimizing our eco-footprint.
WillaKenzie Estate is the longtime dream of co-founder Bernard Lacroute. After a successful career in high tech, he decided to return to his Burgundian roots and grow Pinot Noir.
The Lacroutes searched for a suitable 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 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.
As the Lacroutes laid the foundation for what would become a small, family-owned 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 vines (about a quarter of the estate) are planted around untouched stands of Douglas fir, oak, and maple trees. Two-thirds of the vineyards are Pinot Noir, primarily Dijon clones as well as some of the Pinot Noir clones originally planted in Oregon. Remaining vineyards are planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Gamay Noir, and Chardonnay.
In 2000, the Lacroutes purchased 95 acres of land in the Dundee Hills, 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.
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 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, and there are no plans to increase production further. Instead, emphasis remains on quality, not quantity. After nearly two decades, WillaKenzie Estate has remained true to its founding principles. We are dedicated to sustainable viticulture and organic farming practices with the goal of making wines that reflect the distinctive character of our land and the diversity of our extensive clonal plantings.
Winemaking at WillaKenzie Estate is guided by an uncompromising commitment to quality. We combine the best traditional French methods with American innovation to craft wines that are complex, refined, and unique — wines that express the distinctive terroirs of WillaKenzie Estate and our Jory Hills Vineyard. Our wines are also a reflection of Oregon’s cool climate, with elegance, ageability and balance as their hallmarks.With every wine, we focus on bringing forth intense flavors, robust structure, round and supple tannins. All of our wines are produced in limited quantities with sustainability in mind, bringing you an honest reflection of our estate.
Reds - Stylistically, we aim to make red wines that are complex, fragrant, and full-bodied, but with soft and silky tannins. Under the direction of Winemaker Thibaud Mandet, educated at the University of Bordeaux, our Pinot Noirs spend their first few days after harvest cooling in “Big Chill”, our cold-storage facility. They then undergo a cold-soak maceration and fermentation in a stainless-steel or oak tank with a traditional punch-down regime and pump-overs as required. This is almost always followed by a post-fermentation maceration. The wines are then aged in small French oak barrels in our underground cellar for at least one year. They typically spend another year in the bottle before release.
Whites - The goal for our white wines is to produce fresh wines that fully express the characteristics of their fruit. For this reason, all of our white wines (with the exception of our Late Harvest Pinot Gris), are made entirely in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation and no barrel aging. The grapes are first picked ripe, then loaded as whole clusters into a bladder press where they are gently squeezed. The juice is fed by gravity into closed-top stainless-steel fermenters where it undergoes primary fermentation. The wine is bottled a few months after fermentation is complete.
Gravity-Flow: Our multi-level, gravity-flow winery allows for gentle handling of our grapes as well as aging in our naturally cool underground cellar in true Burgundian fashion.
"Big Foot": Designed in 1995 by Bernard Lacroute, this punch-down robot gently and consistently punches down the cap during grape fermentation.
"Big Chill": In 2007, a cold-storage facility, also designed by Bernard, was custom built to dramatically cool our grapes before processing, thus improving the aromatics and structure of our wines. This sophisticated system can also be programmed to manage the moisture content of our grapes in wet years.
Cork-Free Closures: Starting with the 2001 vintage, we have bottled an increasing percentage of our red and white wines, including estate Pinot Noirs, with screwcaps, which prevents the taint associated with even the best grade of natural cork.
Solar Array: In 2010, we finished installing a large solar array that produces almost half of our energy needs.
French Oak Tanks: To micro-manage temperatures during fermentation, we custom designed French oak fermentation tanks and we will compare the results with our other stainless steel fermenters.
Reclamation of CO2: CO2 is produced naturally during the fermentation of grapes and is an excellent agent to protect finished or unfinished wines during their various phases of fermentation, especially during the post-fermentation phase. We have designed a very simple system that captures the CO2 from fermenting tanks, especially the closed-top tanks of white wine, and pipes it to wine tanks during the post-fermentation phase. The wines are protected, and the CO2 is reused effectively.
Created in 1995, ‘Big Foot’ was designed at WillaKenzie Estate to punch down the cap gently and consistently during grape fermentation and manage tannin extraction. Today there are similar devices commercially available, but that was not the case in 1995. A 1,000-pound, pneumatically controlled, microprocessor-driven grape stomper, ‘Big Foot’ simulates the gentle action of human feet trampling the cap, which may be more than 1 foot thick, to mix it with the juice.
Bernard drew on his technological background to design the device. It is a very simple, but extraordinarily effective robot that is moved on a rail system from tank to tank during harvest. The invention was widely publicized by Newsweek magazine in a special issue devoted to technological innovation in April 2002 (see a copy of the Newsweek article).
In 2001, a replica of ‘Big Foot’, called ‘Little Foot’ was created to fit smaller fermentation tanks. In 2007, our French oak fermentation tanks were fitted around the outside with stainless steel rings and supporting arms in order to accommodate ‘Little Foot’. After success with the first two oak tanks in 2007, three more were built and installed in 2008.
WillaKenzie Estate has a strong commitment to the quality of the wines we deliver to our customers. It is estimated that between 3% and 8% of all wines are spoiled by TCA (Trichloroanisole), a chemical formed when natural cork, after being cleaned by bleaching, reacts with the wine and causes musty, moldy aromas and flavors.
Starting with the 2001 vintage, we have bottled an increasing percentage of our red and white wines with screwcaps to prevent the contamination associated with even the best grade of natural cork and are proud to be the first U.S. winery to bottle premium Pinot Noir with screwcap closures.
In 2005, we installed a highly automated, screwcap-adapted bottling line, which can easily switch between corks and screwcaps during bottling. This innovative system was another first in Oregon.
“A bad cork is more than just spoiled wine. It’s hard-earned money down the drain…Buying bottles sealed with cork is like playing Russian roulette.” —James Laube, Wine Spectator, March 31, 2005
“The jury is in on corks: They can — and do — ruin wines. It is increasingly unacceptable that wine producers everywhere don’t give us a choice.” —Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator, October 15, 2003
You can be confident that wine sealed by screwcaps is in top condition, tasting the way the winemaker intended, and that every bottle is of consistent quality whether you plan to drink it right away or cellar it for several years. Wine is expected to age at least as long and as well under screwcap as it will under natural cork. The non-porous seal prevents oxygen from reaching the wine during aging, and the wine may also be stored upright.
“Most producers have been hesitant to use screwcaps on wines destined to age. Ironically, they are the wines that need them most because even corks not tainted with TCA dry out over time and fail to keep delicate old wines safe from the air.” —Frank Prial, New York Times News Service, The Oregonian, May 11, 2004
“Under screwcaps, wines age as they would under a perfect cork in ideal cellar conditions.” —Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, November 15, 2003
For a very long time, winemaking in Burgundy has employed the cold-soak technique. The idea is to cool the must (destemmed or crushed grapes or whole clusters) in a tank before the fermentation process is allowed to start. By keeping the must cold, typically below 50° F, the winemaker prevents the yeast from starting the conversion of sugars to alcohol, while extracting color and flavors in a non-alcoholic environment. The cold-soak process can significantly enhance the aromatic profile of the wine, especially for Pinot Noir.
At WillaKenzie Estate, we have consistently used the cold-soak technique, and a few years ago we started pushing the cold-soak concept even further by cooling whole grape clusters before processing them. We discovered that if we cool the berries to a temperature between 35° and 45° F before we destem them, we could preserve the integrity of the berries to a much greater extent and further refine the aromatics of the wines.
After several years of using refrigerated trucks to cool selected lots of grapes, we built our own custom cold-storage facility, the ‘Big Chill’. It is partially buried in the hillside to conserve energy and was ready in time for the wet 2007 harvest. We now cool all of our Pinot grapes before we process them. It functions like a giant wind tunnel in which high-velocity cold air is forced through shallow, slotted bins full of grapes. The ‘Big Chill’ is comprised of four cooling cells. Three cells are capable of bringing 20 tons of grapes to 35° F in less than 24 hours, while the fourth cell is capable of reaching 20° F in the same amount of time (like a giant freezer!).
Bernard took advantage of his physics background to design a system that not only can cool grapes very quickly but also can also remove the surface water as well as some water within the grapes by controlling the dew point and judicially using heating coils. This comes in particularly handy in wet years. And yes, the system is also capable of adding some moisture.
Long-term studies with Oregon State University are underway to assess how the system can help in maturing grapes as well as the impact of such a process on acidity, pH, and—most importantly—tannin structure. This is truly an exciting undertaking that may help us further advance our understanding of tannin structure and tannin management. The use of the ‘Big Chill’ has demonstrated improvement in our aromatics, most likely because a greater percentage of whole berries are present in the fermentation tank after destemming. This also allows the winemaking team to approximate whole-cluster fermentation without the stems, which often introduce a vegetal characteristic to the wine. A cold, uniform temperature in the tank can be achieved immediately, thus improving the traditional coldsoak technique.
High quality Pinot Noir requires gentle handling at every stage of its development. In a gravity-flow winery, grapes fall naturally into the fermenting tanks (just like Isaac Newton’s apple fell to the ground!), and wine moves gently from the fermenters to the aging barrels. Mechanical pumps are rarely used. Instead, the multiple levels of our winery buildings exploit the force of gravity to move grapes and wine softly through the processing steps.
The gravity-flow concept is simple and elegant, and its worthiness has been validated by over 500 years of winemaking in Burgundy. The inherent sophistication of the design and higher construction costs make thisapproach best suited for low-volume production of high-quality wines. Our multi-level gravity-flow facility was completed in 1995, just in time for our first crush.
Our winemaking facility consists of two hillside buildings with A-frame designs. One of the buildings is the original barn that existed on the property when the Lacroutes purchased it in 1991. The barn was completely renovated while maintaining its traditional architecture. The upper level of the barn houses offices and a gallery, while the lower level, which is naturally cool due to the addition of earth berms during renovation, stores bottled wine. The gravity-flow winery building next door was patterned after the original barn, and both buildings pay tribute to Oregon’s traditional farm architecture, blending naturally into the landscape.
In 2007, we installed two new wood fermenters emulating the traditional method for wine fermentation in France. Traditional wood fermenters offer different thermal characteristics than stainless-steel fermenters. Heat distribution during fermentation is generally more uniform in wood vessels because wood has better insulating properties. Wood also allows for more air exchange because it is porous. Wood fermenters do require a heavier level of maintenance than stainless-steel vessels since they can leak more easily and also require more intensive cleaning since bacteria can collect in the wood.
In the past, the temperature of the must in the vessel was more difficult to control in a wood fermenter because cooling systems were not readily available. Most modern stainless-steel fermenters are built with “jackets” through which glycol may be run at the appropriate temperature. At WillaKenzie Estate, we purchased our wood fermenters from a well-known French cooper and designed cooling coils located inside each vessel, enabling us to control the fermentation temperature using the same glycol fluid that is run through the jackets of the stainless-steel fermenters. We also designed a stainless-steel frame around the wood tanks so we can use ‘Little Foot‘ for punch downs. As a result, we have combined the best of the old traditional approach (using wood fermenters) with modern technology (using cooling coils and a movable punch-down device).
Bernard Lacroute grew up in a small village on the eastern edge of Burgundy, France, where he developed an early taste for Pinot Noir (instead of milk). After a classical education with much Latin, mathematics, some Shakespearean English, and vast quantities of bad Pinot Noir, he graduated with Master’s degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from the French school system. Committed to more esoteric stuff and more bad wine, he went off to study Plasma Physics with a NASA fellowship at the University of Michigan, where he met Ronni, improved his skills in spoken English (no more Shakespeare), and survived more bad jug wines.
After a successful career building computers, then computer companies, and with a taste for progressively better Pinot Noir, Bernard decided to close the loop and return to his roots. WillaKenzie Estate is his dream to make great Pinot Noir in an environment relatively unencumbered by bureaucracy, where tradition can be blended with innovation.
Our winemaker Thibaud Mandet was born in Auvergne, France, a land of mostly extinct volcanoes, great cheeses, and world-famous rubber treads (Michelin tires) but not much local wine! He earned a degree in chemistry, then moved on to study the more interesting field of wine chemistry in Bordeaux where he completed his graduate diploma from the Faculté d’Oenologie de Bordeaux. He then moved on for more chemistry and a postgraduate degree in bubbly wine making from Reims in Champagne. So, he learned how to make red wine, sparkling wine, and eat cheese, then traveled to Corsica and Texas to see if he could help make wine to accompany stinky cheese, before landing at WillaKenzie Estate in the Spring of 2000.
Thibaud is inspired by Pinot Noir and is a perfectionist about balance, aromas, and mouthfeel in wines. He shares WillaKenzie’s commitment to top quality in the vineyard and the winery and gentle nurturing of the wines to achieve the best expression of the Willakenzie terroir, but he has yet to learn about making cheese!
Ronni Lacroute grew up in the suburbs of New York City and Washington, D.C., and then finished high school in Switzerland, which is how she first learned to drink wine and to think in French. After earning a BA in French at Cornell University, she completed a Master’s degree in Romance Languages at the University of Michigan. Several subsequent years of life in France included graduate degrees at the Sorbonne, much thinking in French, and a better selection of wines.
The next stage of her life began with a return to the U.S., 14 years of teaching French in Massachusetts, much more thinking in French, periodic wine drinking, and then a momentous move to the West Coast. Next, she spent 14 years in Silicon Valley, California, with occasional teaching, much organic gardening, additional thinking in French, and a strong focus on tasting fine wines.
After visiting many vineyards in California and France, Ronni dreamed of creating a high-quality, family wine estate. It was also in California that Ronni became devoted to yoga and the growing of fruit trees (while only sometimes thinking in French). In 1997, Ronni became an Oregonian and is proud to reveal that she now can think in Oregonian as well as in French.
Bernard Lacroute and Ronni Lacroute are the co-owners of WillaKenzie Estate. They met as graduate students at the University of Michigan, and after many years of living on the East Coast and in California, they purchased their ideal Pinot site in January 1991: a beautiful 420-acre ranch in Yamhill County. They have since divorced, but sharing a passion for Pinot, they continue their collaborative business partnership actively guiding all aspects of grape growing and winemaking at WillaKenzie Estate.
Thibaud Mandet has been the winemaker at WillaKenzie Estate for more than a decade. Trained in Bordeaux, he brings a French touch to the art and science of winemaking.
As in any small, family-owned business, people are extremely important at WillaKenzie Estate. You cannot make great wines without great people who share your passion, dedication, and respect. At WillaKenzie Estate, we are proud to provide year-round employment and health benefits for our workers and pay them a meaningful wage, thereby contributing to a vital community.
We also hold a deep respect for our customers, many of who have been with us from the beginning, and endeavor to provide them not only with great wines but also exceptional experiences and service. We strive to make wines that are of the utmost quality year after year, while continuing to make them available to our customers as good values.
Finally, our dedication to sustainability demonstrates our desire to leave the land in at least as good a condition as we found it so that future generations may enjoy it, too.
Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley is a pioneer in the cultivation of cool-climate grape varietals, producing wines that are world-renowned. The soil, the climate, and the topography are ideal for growing Pinot Noir, and have earned the respect of the winegrowers who live and farm here.
We coined the moniker ‘Dirt Matters’, a phrase that recalls the time-honored French tradition of terroir, in which wines reflect a sense of the place from which they came. For us, this concept is so important we named both our Yamhill estate and our Dundee Hills vineyard after their soil types (WillaKenzie Estate and Jory Hills Vineyard respectively).
Willakenzie soils are in turn named after two of Oregon’s major rivers: the Willamette and the McKenzie. One of the oldest soil types in the Willamette Valley, Willakenzie is a marine sedimentary soil left by ancient, uplifted seabeds. It consists of moderately deep, well-drained silty clay loam over siltstone and sandstone. Characteristics of wines grown on Willakenzie soils include a predominance of black fruit (blackberry, black currant, and black cherry). By contrast, Jory Hills Vineyard is planted on a volcanic soil type with basalt as the underlying substrate. Our Jory Hills wines have a predominance of red fruit (raspberry, red cherry, and red currant).
Just as the soils in the Willamette Valley display variation, so too do the separate vineyards on our estate. We are fortunate our land is so diverse that single-vineyard bottlings are possible, each reflecting the individual terroir specific to its vineyard site. Below are explanations of some of these differences.
Aliette: Situated on a single, gently sloping southeast-facing hill that ranges in elevation from 570 to 610 feet. The ground has a deep layer of Willakenzie soil on top of harder-to-penetrate sandstone. As a result, the vines have spread their roots deeply and rarely need irrigation. Bernard named this vineyard after his mother, Aliette.
Emery: Named for Bernard’s grandfather Emery, the vineyard is situated on a south-facing bench ranging in elevation from 580 to 720 feet. This site’s layer of topsoil is deeper than in the rest of the estate, resulting in more vigorous vines.
The Jory Hills Vineyard: Located in the Dundee Hills, this is the only site planted outside the bounds of our Yamhill estate. Like its siblings, its name pays tribute to its soil type—Jory (see above). Here the vines are planted in an east-west orientation and display more red fruit characteristics.
Kiana: This vineyard is named after Ronni and Bernard’s granddaughter Kiana, which is Hawaiian for goddess. It is situated on a moderately sloped hill at 480 to 570 feet on a well-drained site with a south row orientation.
Pierre Léon: Pierre Léon was named after Bernard’s father to reflect the more masculine side of the wine. Pierre Léon and Aliette were the two vineyard designated wines that were made from the time the winery opened. The first vintage for both was 1995, and Aliette was named after Bernard’s mother to reflect its more feminine and delicate characteristics. Today Pierre Leon is made from grapes coming from several vineyard sites on the Estate. The primary clones used for Pierre Léon are Dijon 113 and 115, but also some Dijon 114, 777 and some Wädensvil. Pierre Léon continues to be a more masculine style of wine, with a firm structure and silky tannins.
Terres Basses: Meaning the “low lands,” this block is the lowest of the estate at 320 to 390 feet. Its soil structure is different from the rest of the estate, with a higher clay content making it a challenge to farm in winter, when muddy, and in summer, when a small amount of irrigation is needed. The unique soil composition of this parcel is a key contributor to the wine specificity.
Triple Black Slopes: Our steepest site composed of 4 blocks facing due south, with some sections exhibiting as much as a 45-degree slope. The name came from the black-diamond ski slopes which Bernard Lacroute loves to ski. Each slope is separated from the other by canyons filled with blackberries and quail, and the elevation varies from 350 to 670 feet. Its challenging terrain requires farming with narrow-track tractors by our best tractor drivers. The shallowness of the topsoil layer, steep angle of the slopes, south-facing orientation, and clonal selection contributes to wines of great intensity, but with lush fruit and supple tannins.
What is a clone? At its most basic, a clone is a separate organism genetically identical to its predecessor. Viticulturally, a clone is a plant that has been reproduced without a seed, directly from a bud or a shoot. This asexual method guarantees the offspring will be biologically identical to the parent with the same characteristics.
Why do clones matter? Aside from terroir—the indisputably unique sense of place expressed in well-made wines clonal selection can be one of the most expressive elements in Pinot Noir. Experts in the wine industry have always believed and have since demonstrated that clonal diversity is the right approach for winegrowers, as each clone contributes a different element to wine complexity. Creating wines that explore and reflect the specific qualities of \the clones from which they are made also lies at the heart of WillaKenzie Estate’s philosophy.
When Oregonians planted Pinot Noir in the mid 1960s, their selection was limited to two traditional clones: Wädenswil and Pommard. Over the years, new clones were devel oped in France and at UC Davis to address disease problems and later to isolate vineyard characteristics such as early ripening, open clusters, and small berries. The major efforts were lead by Dr. Raymond Bernard at the University of Dijon in France. His first selections were simply known by their numbers, i.e. “115” or “777,” and eventually became known as “New” or “Dijon” clones. These clones tend to ripen earlier and have smaller berries with a higher skin-to-juice ratio, which results in more intense flavors in the wines (see Clones Matter.pdf).
WillaKenzie Estate was one of the first Oregon wineries to embark on a systematic program to plant not only the traditional, but also all the new Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. There are more than 11 different clones of Pinot Noir in our vineyards. As a result, we have achieved an unprecedented level of diversity and complexity in our wines. In addition, we have planted more than 9 clones for the other varietals planted across our estate. These include true clones of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France, Gamay Noir clones from Beaujolais, and Chardonnay Dijon Clones 76 and 96.
Each clone has something different to contribute and is affected differently by the vineyard site. Together, clonal diversity combined with our variety of terroirs allows us to create wines that are unique in flavor and character.
Dijon Clone 113: Naturally high yielding, very fruitful, not much shattering, early ripening. Classic blend of plum, cherry, and raspberry fruits with a cedar and pepper finish. Known for elegant aromatics.
Dijon Clone 114: Lower yielding, vigor and vegetative growth can vary greatly from year to year, early ripening. Floral notes and berry, cherry, and dark plum, fruit-driven spicy pinot.
Dijon Clone 115: Naturally high yielding, significantly more shattering, early ripening. Dusty nose with primarily red and dried fruits, earthy notes, and a butterscotch and black pepper finish.
Pommard UCD 4: Consistent from year to year, balanced vigor, would produce high yields if not managed, very fruitful, later ripening. Capable of being used alone (see Aliette Pinot Noir) or as a component of a blend. Known for spice and velvety texture.
Pommard Erath: More vigor variation from year to year, smaller clusters, ripens earlier. Wädenswil UCD 2A: High yielding if not managed, slow and later ripening, almost always the last picked, resistant to botrytis and powdery mildew, best grapes in wet years. High-toned fruit and aromatics make it a good component for adding elegance to blends.
Wädenswil Lett: Lower yields than UDC 2A, much earlier ripening.
Dijon Clone 667: Lower yielding, smaller clusters, harder to position the shoots, later ripening. In Oregon takes many years (7+) to produce very high quality fruit.
Dijon Clone 777: Most site dependent. The vegetative growth, yields, cluster size are deeply influenced by the location, early ripening. Noted for fleshy, black-fruited wines with tropical notes.
Dijon Clone 828: Straight, upright shoots, larger clusters. Although the clusters are larger they are loose and weigh less. Tends to ripen later.
Swan Clone: The origin of this clone is clouded in mystery; some think it came from the Romanée-Conti vineyards. It was brought to the United States by Joseph Swan and originally planted in the Russian River Valley. It produces bright and rich Pinot Noir.
Because the soil and the vines are the heart of our wines, the long-term health of both is critical at WillaKenzie Estate. To protect them, we practice sustainability in all aspects of our vineyards and winery, emphasizing respect for the environment and the balance of the entire ecosystem.
Sustainable farming practices that respect the environment, soil, plants, and people are another expression of our commitment to genuine quality. To promote healthy soil, we use compost, kelp, and cover crops, and encourage beneficial organisms such as earthworms and fungi. To maintain the health of our vines, we use organic fertilizers and fungicides rather than synthetic chemicals. No herbicides are used. Sustainable viticulture is extremely labor intensive—we employ year round a dedicated vineyard crew who touch each of the more than 200,000 vines on our estate at least 24 times annually, further ensuring consistency and quality. The benefits far outweigh the extra work. Our wines better reflect our soils and our clonal diversity through absorption of soil minerals, and contain fewer residual chemicals. The longevity of the soil is greatly enhanced, and our workers’ exposure to chemicals is minimized.
Visitors to the winery often ask us about the trees on our property. Only a quarter of our Yamhill estate is vineyard. The rest is devoted to pasture and native plants (including Douglas fir, maple, and oak trees) to preserve an ecosystem balance and watersheds. The forests on our property are home to beneficial predators such as hawks, owls, coyotes, and vultures, which help control rodents.
WillaKenzie Estate was the first winery to receive the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (L.I.V.E.) winery certification. L.I.V.E. is an Oregon-based nonprofit organization that provides education and certification for vineyards using international standards of sustainable viticulture practices in winegrape production. These standards come from a vision of the vineyard as a whole system and promote biological diversity, natural fertility, and ecosystem stability through responsible land stewardship.
L.I.V.E. partners with Salmon-Safe to restore and maintain healthy watersheds. Salmon-Safe is an independent nonprofit devoted to restoring agricultural and urban watersheds so that salmon can spawn and thrive. Native salmon are a key species within the Pacific Northwest and their conservation is closely intertwined with the health of our larger ecosystem.
WillaKenzie Estate was also the first winery to be awarded Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) status for its 2008 vintage wines. The OCSW program is intended to increase awareness of wineries’ adherence to sustainable programs, communicate the importance and guarantee of certification, and encourage distribution of sustainable wines so consumers can access them. The program focuses on three pillars: responsible agriculture, responsible winemaking, and third-party certification. In order to earn certification, both our winery and 97% of our fruit must be Oregon Certified Sustainable WInecertified by L.I.V.E, USDA Organic, Demeter Biodynamic, or the Food Alliance. In addition, our fruit must be certified Salmon-Safe. When you see the OCSW logo on our and other Oregon wines, you can rest assured the wine was grown and made responsibly.
Our winery is sustainable in many other ways, as well, with innovation and ingenuity always playing a key part. Our underground cellars naturally keep our wines cool, and we use gravity rather than pumps to transfer our wine. We recycle winemaking by-products for compost and have even developed a system that allows us to capture and reuse some of the CO2 produced during fermentation. In 2010, a solar array was completed at our Yamhill estate, producing almost half of our energy needs.
At WillaKenzie Estate, we grow all of our own grapes and know from experience that what happens in the vineyard can be just as important as what happens in the winery. When we planted our first vineyard in 1992, we knew we were laying the groundwork for generations of great wines to come and have continued to treat our vines with meticulous care ever since.
On the original estate in Yamhill, all of our vineyards are situated on south-facing slopes. Differences in elevation, inclination, topsoil depth, restrictive sandstone layer depth, drainage, exposure, row orientation, and microclimate all play vital parts.
At our Jory Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, 25 acres of Pinot Noir are planted on gently rolling hills with vines running east to west at a density of 2400 vines per acre.
Elevation- 320ft to 750ft above sea level
Slope- from gently rounded hilltops to 45 deg. slopes
Top-Soil Depth- 8 – 30 inches deep
Exposure- South, South-East
Here we have 127 acres planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Gamay Noir, and Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir- 93 acres
Pinot Gris- 18 acres
Pinot Blanc- 5.5 acres
Pinot Meunier- 3.6 acres
Gamay Noir- 3.2 acres
Chardonnay- 3 acres
Our plantings are dense to allow for vine competition, smaller crops, reinforced flavors, and varietal character. Density ranges from 1200 to 1800 vines per acre, and 2500 to 5000 vines per acre in our experimental block.
A drip irrigation system is installed in all the vineyards. It is used extensively during the first few years after the vines are planted to make the plants stronger. It is used sparingly with mature vines, and only to increase the quality of the fruit during heat stress. It is always used directly after harvest, if no rain is in sight, to rebuild the carbohydrate reserves of the plant and produce more consistent buds in the following season.
All our vines are planted on phylloxera resistant root stock, so that they are resistant to the phylloxera bug which destroyed the French vineyards in the last century and the California vineyards in the 1990’s. A controversial decision in Oregon in 1992, it is now common practice.
We installed a weather station and soil probes in ten different areas of the Estate. Each probe has six sensors which measure the moisture content in the ground at different depths. The data is transmitted to our computer system by radios powered by solar cells and is analyzed daily to help us understand the stress level of the vines and take appropriate action during the growing season and at harvest time.
All of our vines are also farmed sustainably and planted on an upright, double-guyot trellising system. Commonly used in Burgundy, this system is best for low-yielding, high-quality fruit with small clusters. If you visit our vineyards in late winter or early spring, you will see how we prune our vines so two major fruiting canes are trained into a “T” formation along trellis wires. The trellis allows us to control the leaf canopy to maximize sun and wind exposure throughout the growing season.
Our vineyard yields are managed to Burgundy grand cru levels, and crops are thinned at the time of verasion to ensure low yields and maximize flavor intensity and complexity. We choose our picking dates based on taste and maturity, not just brix levels, another reflection of our pursuit of balance in all our winegrowing and winemaking practices.
In 2006, we planted approximately 1.5 acres of Pinot Noir at 3-by-3-foot spacing (5000 vines per acre), considered high-density even by French standards. Eager to analyze the experiment’s results against another variable, we planted another 1.5 acres in an adjacent parcel at 6-by-3-foot spacing (2500 vines per acre). Both vineyards are farmed biodynamically and will be compared to the adjacent Terres Basses vineyard. It will be a few more years before we harvest a significant crop and fully realize the findings of this experiment.