Walter Scott Wines, Eola-Amity Hills
California Sales Only
|Country & Region||America, Oregon|
|Producer||Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon|
Erica Landon and Ken Palow have built an enviable and well-deserved reputation for the consistent quality of their, for lack of a better term, Old World-inspired Pinot Noirs, which combine savory character with Oregon fruit exuberance.
—Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media, June 2019
Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon are the couple behind Walter Scott Wines. The operation is named for a grandfather and a nephew on Ken’s side. It’s a small business, young and altogether passionate, with solid financial underpinning.
Ken got the bug in 1995 when he joined Mark Vlossak at the Saint Innocent Winery. For fourteen years, he was Mark’s right hand, working every harvest, visiting vineyards, helping with barrel samples and blends, and taking charge of Saint Innocent’s wholesaling within Oregon. In 1999 he augmented his income and wine education by taking a job as a rep for a local fine wine distributor. The income was necessary while the exposure to wine and winemakers from the world over was inspiring.
The thing about Ken is that he’s passionately driven and endlessly inquisitive about viticulture and winemaking. He never stops. He’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t know everything (that’s a memorable line from Etienne Chaix at Domaine Voillot in Volnay, but it applies), and he’d be the first to tell you that that’s what keeps it interesting.
In 2007 he fell in love with soon-to-be Advanced Sommelier Erica Landon. This didn’t exactly happen overnight—he had been presenting wine to her since 2002—but once the genie got out of the bottle, Erica proved to be the catalyst Ken needed to start up the winemaking venture he had long dreamed about. This required both of them to empty their nascent retirement funds in order to buy enough grapes and equipment to make a whopping 160 cases of wine in 2008.
In 2009, Ken traded labor for space at Patricia Green Cellars, and the young couple ratcheted up to 650 cases. In the process, he gained a new perspective on winemaking, thanks to Patty Green.
In 2010, Ken moved the operation over to Evening Land Vineyards, where he went to work in sales and in the cellar. For the next two years his viticulture and winemaking horizons expanded exponentially under the tutelage of Dominique Lafon and his team at the Seven Springs Vineyard (Evening Land’s vineyard in Oregon). Erica, meanwhile, became one of Portland’s leading sommelières.
In 2012, the couple took on financial partners and leased a small winery facility from the Casteel family, owners of the Bethel Heights Winery. This is located on the Justice Vineyard in the Eola-Amity hills. Bit by bit, they slowly expanded their production as they managed to secure increasingly better sources of grapes.
Perhaps the most pivotal year, however, was 2014. Ken quit his day job with Galaxy Wines, a distributor job he had taken after his tenure at Evening Land; and Erica quit her wine director job with a Portland restaurant group—both to go full time with Walter Scott Wines. They made their most wine ever (3,600 cases), but the key event of that year was that they had a baby.
These days they make between 5-5,000 cases, which is a good number for them in terms of sustainability and manageability. In 2018 they had their ten-year anniversary. It was also a year in which they felt they hit their stride with winemaking, having settled on a less-is-more approach: pruning for low yields rather than green-harvesting; favoring more de-stemming and less whole clusters, and pump-overs rather than punchdowns. That said, there’s no orthodoxy here, and in a warm season such as 2018 a light touch was certainly warranted, whereas a cool season like 2019 warranted the opposite and they went for more extraction. Concerning additions, since 2013 they may have done one or two small acid additions, but only to keep a ferment going in a safe direction. Their SO2 additions are in the 30pppm zone: a touch at pressing, a touch post malo, and a touch at bottling. That’s it for additions, and there’s typically no fining or filtrations for the reds.
The key thing is site. Erica and Ken know the Eola-Amity hills intimately, and this AVA accounts for close to 90% of their production. They work with some of the best vineyards in the state, and they’re all dry-farmed. Surprisingly, in the context of Oregon, around 60% of their production is in Chardonnay. Try their Chards and you’ll see why.
For years both Erica and Ken have been intimately involved with the Eola-Amity Winegrower’s Association and with IPNC/Pinot Camp. From his sojourn with Mark Vlossak and his time with the French team at the Seven Springs Vineyard, Ken has become passionate about vineyard sites, and he now works with some of the best (all dry farmed too). Most are in the Eola-Amity AVA—his home turf and favorite zone—but the couple buy from several other sites close by. All of the wines, unfortunately, are in limited supply.
|"La Combe Verte," Willamette Valley||Chardonnay/Pinot Noir||Chardonnay: Ken and Erica are serious fans of Oregon Chardonnay and believe that the state has a bright future with the variety. "La Combe Verte" is their base Chardonnay, and they take follow the maxim of all serious domains in Burgundy that one should be judged by the quality of one's Bourgogne Blanc. This wine is made with native yeast—standard practice for the Walter Scott wines—and is aged mostly in older puncheons (500-liter demi-muids). Minimum lees stirring and full malolactic. Roughly 400 cases annually.
Pinot Noir: This is the couple's base Pinot Noir, and as with the "Combe Verte" Chardonnay they follow the rule that a domain should properly be judged by its Bourgogne Rouge. This wine is born of the vineyards listed below. A small percentage of whole cluster, made with spontaneous ferments, aged in barrel of which some 30% is new.
Vineyards: Eola Springs Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA; Vojtilla Vineyard, Chehalem Mountain AVA; Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley AVA; Temperance Hill Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA; Sojeau Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA.
"La Combe Verte" translates as the green fault or the green valley, and is a tribute to both the Willamette Valley and to Patricia Green Cellars, which helped Ken and Erica get started their first year of production. Their success is the fault of the fine folks at Patricia Green Cellars.
| "Cuvée Ruth" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley||Pinot Noir||A cellar selection and as such occupies middle ground between the generic La Combe Verte wine and the single vineyards. From many of their best vineyards, ages in barrel for roughly 14 months, with about 30% new wood.|
|Justice Vineyard, Eola-Amity||Chardonnay/Pinot Noir||The Justice site was bought by the Casteel family of Bethel Heights in 1999 and planted that year by Ted Casteel, who planted it with various clones and root stocks guided by his twenty years of farming his winery's vines. The 40-acre site sits at 550 feet in a gap in the hills directly in the path of the Van Duzer winds. The Chardonnay from here normally goes into the Cuvée Anne while the Pinot Noir (Block 1, next to the Walter Scott winery), is bottled as a single-vineyard if it's up to snuff.|
|Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley||Chardonnay/Pinot Noir||Freedom Hill was first planted in 1981 by the Dusschee family. Today, the younger generation in the form of Dustin Dusschee farms these vines organically, parcel by parcel (his parents worked sustainably). The vines grow in the foothills of the coastal range, sheltered from the Van Duzer corridor winds, and it's somewhat warmer here than in the Eola sites.
The Chardonnay is surprisingly elegant despite the parcel's low yields. Effectively, it's the inverse of the Pinot Noir, which tends to be quite a driven, darkly-fruited, intense wine.
|Seven Springs Vineyard, Eola-Amity||Chardonnay/Pinot Noir||The iconic Seven Springs Vineyard has been called Oregon's grand cru. Once leased out to many independent producers, it was bought by Evening Land in 2006 and the grape contracts to producers ended. Partner Rajat Parr has long been a fan of Ken and his wines, both of whom he got to know during Ken's time working at Seven Springs, and subsequently leased two blocks to him. East-facing, spontaneous ferments, raised in French oak, just over one-third new.
Ken also gets Chardonnay from a 1.7-acre block.
|Sojeau Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity||Pinot Noir||A west-facing vineyard on southern side of the AVA. Site is high—650 feet mean elevation—planted in volcanic clay to the Dijon 115, Pommard and Wadenswill clones of Pinot Noir. All 3 clones fermented together with native yeasts and the wine is aged 15 months in French barrels of which no more than 30% is new, and there's only one racking. 100 cases annually.|
|Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity||Pinot Noir||First planted in 1981 along the top of the Eola-Amity hills, this 100-acre vineyard has had the same vineyard manager since 1991, and that guy got organic certification for Temperance Hill in 2013. The vines grow between 700-900 feet in elevation, are well exposed to afternoon winds coming through the Van Duzer Gap, and are normally among the last to be picked in this AVA. Ken's wine shows this site's inherent high-toned elegance in spades. 100 cases.|
|X Novo Vineyard Chardonnay, Eola-Amity||Chardonnay||Craig Williams' vineyard, he of the Joseph Phelps fame (he was winemaker there for 32 years). Williams bought a prime east-facing site in the Eola-Amity Hills shortly after he departed the Phelps Winery, planted it to an extraordinary mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones, and called it X Novo or from new. Source comes from a block with 11 different clones of Chardonnay, all of which are represented in this tiny production and which speaks to quite a density of clonal material. Made primarily in neutral barrels and 1 puncheon with ambient yeast. 100 cases annually.|