Posted May 2006
Going Indie in Portland
PORTLAND—Winegrowers Jack and Kathleen Carter barely made 500
cases of Pinot Noir in 2003. With highly desirable Pinot grapes
growing on their Eola Hills property (just west of Salem, Oregon)
since the late 1980's, most of their fruit has gone into other
well-known bottlings of Pinot Noir, like Panther Creek, Domaine
Serene and Ken Wright Cellars. But with Oregon Pinot Noir taking
center stage on the wine scene over the last few years, it seemed
to be just about the right time to start making a label of their
Pinot Noir, despite its notorious moodiness and difficulty
in growing, has become a staple of Oregon winemaking, with some
80% growth in sales just in the last year—and folks are jumping
on the bandwagon left and right.
So, reserving some of their
much-coveted grapes, the Carters began their own label. Like
so many other hopeful winemakers, the Carters have released a
handful of vintages as "indie" or
independent vintners, handcrafting their wines on a wing and
a prayer and sending them out into the world, case by case, hoping
for the best. And so far, the Carters have been successful, garnering
90+ scores by popular wine ratings magazines, as well as critics.
They also happen to have a top winemaker, Ken Wright, at the
helm, which doesn’t hurt.
But it's this kind of starry-eyed success
that's bringing dozens of other Pinot makers into the fold.
For the last two years, Portland has celebrated these newcomers
at its annual Indie Wine Festival, featuring only winemakers
who make less than 2,000 cases per year—a shockingly small number
when compared to other winemaking facilities that turn out
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cases each year. The
Carters were among the Indie winemakers featured at this year's
event, held in Portland in early May 2006. In fact, it was their
wine that was a benchmark for many of the others I tasted on
Saturday—some 20 vintners were on hand that day, as well as another
20 the next, and samplings of many local restaurants paired with
the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
Among the small wineries pouring
on Saturday, Black Cap, Ankeny Vineyard winery, Velocity Cellars
(a notable label coming out of Southern Oregon), Paradis, Methven
Family Vineyards, Bryce and Z'Ivo and Coeur de Terre: many
names you'll likely hear of again. The wineries were selected
by a jury of media and trade who picked the more than 40 wineries
invited to the festival.
And though there were a fair number of clinkers--wines
that need a bit more time and/or experience in the cellar--the
passion and enthusiasm for Pinot making was evident by the
owners and winemakers pouring at the event, as well as the attendees.
Eager glasses were swirled and jostled through the crowd for
a single pour of these indie wines, and folks stood in line
for what seemed interminably long minutes waiting to speak
to the owners and winemakers about the many purring, cherry
and flower-tinged Pinots that are making Oregon the darling
of the wine world.
In fact, the Carters were nearly overwhelmed
by the response, pouring for several hours to adoring fans
who love their supple, elegant Pinots and their pioneering, independent
winemaking spirit. For the Carters and the other festival attendees,
it was a weekend of thinking big, reaching for more…and realizing
that being independent doesn't have anything to do with how
big your dreams can be.