City of Carlton: Oregon Wine Country’s Front Porch
Picture this: a main street lined with picture-perfect historic buildings filled with bustling, thriving businesses owned by welcoming and friendly people that have one thing in common- wine. Quaint shops with unique wine country gifts and collectibles, tasting rooms with no shortage of stellar wine offerings, and restaurants that present locally sourced fine foods and wine – surrounded by miles and miles of rolling hill wine country dotted with world-class wineries.
Located in western Oregon’s Yamhill County, between Portland and the coast, the City of Carlton prides itself on being a “great little town” with a strong community and vibrant downtown. It boasts a main street lined with historic buildings. Thriving restaurants, tasting rooms, a bakery, a gourmet jam shop, a chocolatier and a mixture of other shops draw in residents and visitors from around the globe. With over 40 wineries doing business within the city limits, and most downtown businesses focusing on the surrounding wine country, Carlton is much like a welcoming front porch – where relaxation and socialization are second nature.
The wineries that surround Carlton are located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. It’s home to many Oregon wine industry pioneers and some of the most well-known and revered Pinot Noirs in the world. Some notable wineries in the immediate area include Elk Cove Vineyards, Ken Wright Cellars, Stag Hollow Vineyards and Winery, Willakenzie Estate, Penner-Ash, and Shea Wine Cellars – to name just a few.
Last month, I visited Carlton for the first time. Wine Consultant Carl Giavanti, of Carl Giavanti Consulting, set up a tasting and lunch with world-renowned winemaker and winery owner, Ken Wright, of Ken Wright Cellars. Before the lunch and tasting with Ken, we met up with the Mayor of Carlton at a very unique vintage and collectibles store in Carlton: Valley Emporium. Owners Val and Jeff Lorton had hot mulled wine and a tray of fresh baked goodies from Carlton Bakery waiting for us when we got there – what a fabulous treat. Valley Emporium is truly a gem, everything from paintings and furniture pieces to scarves and jewelry, the entire place was filled, wall to wall, with treasured conversation pieces and prized finds. One prized find in particular, was a bright yellow Pacific Stoneware circa 1972 casserole dish with an awesome fish lid that I just could not resist taking home with me – I absolutely love it.
While Kathie, Jeff, Carl and I walked down Main Street, Kathie and Jeff proudly pointed out each of the businesses and provided a brief history. Each of the historic buildings had established businesses, most of which were tasting rooms for the surrounding wineries; including, a tasting room for a winery as far south as Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon – Troon Vineyards. We walked along one side of Main Street, crossed over towards the end of the block by the community pool and public park, and proceeded along the other side. People walking by would greet us with a friendly hello, while drivers of cars traveling through town would beep and wave.
Since the walking tour took place mid-morning, the tasting rooms were closed, except for one: WildAire Cellars. We stepped in from the cold and I was able to taste some stellar WildAire wines with owner and winemaker, Matthew Driscoll. Matthew poured me a sample of the WildAire Cellars 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir ($34) and the 2009 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48).
Starting with the Reserve, I immediately noticed bright, ripe cherry aromas with hints of earth and fall spices – all of which flowed sleekly through the mouth from the initial aromas to the smooth flavors. The finish was long and offered notes of caramel with a touch of spice. This is an incredibly relaxing, easy drinking kind of Pinot – perhaps the mellow tannins and balanced acidity play a role in creating it’s smoothness.
The Shea Vineyard Pinot was layered with exceptional aromas and flavors of sweetly ripened dark cherry, blackberry and cinnamon. Flavors flowed from front to back in seamless layers with supple, soft tannins. A beautiful finish beckons a Pinot lover, like me, to want more…and more. This is a hard one to put down, it’s delicious.
I loved the labels on the WildAire bottles. Matthew explained that the labels were paintings that his mother had done, and the name WildAire came from his parents estate in Roanoke, Virginia.
“They [my parents] found the name while hiking along the Appalachian Trail, they came across an old burned down hotel, all that was left standing was the chimney and it said ‘WildAire’ carved in granite, so they liked the name and took it for their own. When my mom passed away, we thought we’d name the wine business in her honor.”
I love it when a great wine has a great story behind the label. In fact, the whole town of Carlton is filled with great stories of the history, the people and the wines – stories that can be truly enjoyed by a simple visit to wine country’s front porch. Indeed, Carlton is my kind of town.
“You can’t get a haircut in Carlton without having someone hand you a glass of wine.” – Jeff Lorton.