“Good Things Are About To Happen” – Knudsen Revives Their Name in Winemaking
Feeling a special connection and tie to their family’s Dundee Hills cabin and historical vineyards below, some of which they helped plant as children, the now adult children of former Oregon wine pioneer, Cal Knudsen, have decided to revive the family’s name in making fine Oregon wine – starting with a soon to be released Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills 2012 Pinot Noir, their first proprietary release in 25 years.
A very small group of wine writer’s and I met Page Knudsen Cowles (one of the four children and only daughter of Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen) at the family’s cabin situated at the top of the famed Knudsen Vineyards. The deck of the cabin looks out over the vineyards, as if it were a protective hawk, and a table was beautifully set for lunch, assuring each of the seats had an unmatched view of the green rolling hill vineyards that stretched as far and wide as the eye could see. On a clear day, Page said all of the mountains could be viewed from where we were standing: Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson.
After a quick tour of the small, cozy and tastefully decorated cabin, Page poured us a glass of vintage 2000 Argyle Blanc de Blancs Knudsen Vineyards Julia Lee’s Block sparkling wine while she told us the story of how the vision of Knudsen Vineyards came to life for her father. Once a successful attorney who later became involved in the forest industry, Cal was especially interested in sparkling wine – he thought sparkling wine expressed, “good things are about to happen.”
He was also a huge fan of Burgundy and claimed that Oregon looked like Burgundy, therefore, Burgundian grapes should thrive in Oregon – sharing an eyesight for the industry with other like-minded wine pioneers like David Lett, Charles Coury and Dick Erath. In 1971, Cal bought an unprecedented 200 acre property, far larger than any other vintners had invested in at the time, and he asked Dick Erath to help plant the land with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; as well as, manage the vineyard. While busy planting 20 to 40 acres at a time and bringing the Oregon wine industry to a level of wine growing that had never been done before, other local wine growers were simply testing the waters at just two, or sometimes five, acres at a time. By 1972, they were a full blown vineyard and Dick Erath built a house and a winery next to the vines. In 1975, Knudsen Erath became the first bonded winery in the Dundee Hills (long before the Dundee Hills was designated as an AVA) and together they released many critically acclaimed wines under the Knudsen Erath label.
In 1988, Dick and Cal went separate ways (with the 1987 vintage being their last) and Knudsen Erath simply became Erath; however, the vineyards remained in Cal’s possession. Maintaining his love for sparkling wine, Cal leaned towards Argyle Winery, who came into the area in 1987 and were known as “The Champagne Guys.” Argyle Winery is one of just a handful of wineries in Oregon that mainly focus on sparkling wine production, and Knudsen Vineyards became the winegrowers for Argyle Winery. Until recently, 100 percent of the vineyard’s production of fruit went to Argyle.
The only block of vines in the Knudsen Vineyards that received a name was Julia Lee’s Block, named after Page’s mother, Julia Lee Knudsen. With the loss of both their parents, the four Knudsen children felt a strong pull to continue to keep their father’s passion and vision alive. “He was a visionary of everything. He poured his heart into this,” Page explained.
To revive the Knudsen wines, winemaker Nate Klostermann was brought on board, who is also the head winemaker at Argyle Winery. We sampled the not-yet-released Knudsen Vineyards Dundee Hills 2012 Pinot Noir, and it was outstanding. Bright cherries, cranberries and raspberries were highlighted by baking spices, truffles and earth. Soft, succulent tannins offered a lush, velvety mouthfeel while vibrant acidity rounded out the fruit characteristics. It glowed with elegance in both aromas and flavors.
We also sampled a Knudsen Erath 1987 Vintage Select Pinot Noir – what an incredible treat. Amazingly, it was still fruit-driven with quality characteristics that were alive and stunning. Baked cherry pie, raspberries, earth, licorice and fall spices were highlighted by hints of cloves and brown sugar. Much to my delight, the acidity was vibrant and spirited, while the tannins were soft and integrated. Even an hour of air exposure, this 1987 Pinot still held strong with good acidity. Some fruit characteristics had tapered off, but only to reveal really lovely earthy, forest floor nuances.
The Argyle Knudsen Vineyards Blanc de Blancs Julia Lee’s Block 2000 that Page had poured for us upon our arrival was full of honey and yeasty fresh baked bread characteristics. The lush honey notes dominated subtle hints of pears, apples and lemon zest. Natural acidity reflected the higher elevation of the vineyard (900 feet above sea level), giving it a crisp, refreshing finish. Before finishing off the vintage 2000, Page poured each of us a glass of the 1999 Argyle Knudsen Vineyards Blanc de Blancs Julia Lee’s Block, and the vintage variation that Oregon is so well known for was undeniably evident. The 1999 vintage displayed less yeast-like qualities and more savory herbal notes that were rich and complex. Pears, peaches and toasted hazelnuts were introduced with juicy, zest-filled lime and a succulent, richly textured mouthfeel. Both were delicious with very unique and distinctly different qualities.
The future of Knudsen Vineyards is bright and vibrant, like the wines that are produced from the fruit that is grown there. Because of its higher elevation, Knudsen Vineyards is truly ideal for producing elegant sparkling wine, which Page and her siblings plan to someday produce under the Knudsen label. Before their father passed away, he wanted all the vines replanted on phylloxera resistant rootstock, so the Knudsen family is on a seven year program to do so. This program is evident near the Knudsen Vineyards sign at the bottom of the property, where many vines have already been removed. In addition to the 2012 Pinot Noir that we tasted, which will be released this fall, they plan to release a Chardonnay in the spring of 2015. Their goal is to eventually produce around 2,000 cases of wine annually, and I have no doubt they will reach their goals. When Page talked about her father’s devotion and excitement for the future of Knudsen Vineyards, it’s indisputable that she carries the same vision and passion that her father did.
Check out knudsenvineyards.com.
Thank you to Page Knudsen Cowles, and the ladies of Trellis Growth Partners, for a lovely media lunch and tasting. What a treat!