Walter Scott: Redefining Oregon
How do you tell a story that is still being written? When it comes to the story of Oregon Chardonnay two certainties exist:
1.) We're in a brand new chapter.
2.) I'm hooked.
The influence of Oregon greats such as David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards cannot escape mention, but chapter two begins with a man named Dominique Lafon: Burgundy royalty and Master Chardsman (not a real word; don't google it). When Dominique came to Eola Amity Hills and commandeered Seven Springs Vineyard for the Evening Land project, things would never be the same. The idea that Oregon Chardonnay could one day stand shoulder to shoulder with the great wines of Burgundy started becoming palpable.
It was palpable enough for one of Dominique's proteges, Ken Pahlow and his sommelier wife Erica Landon, to pour their retirement accounts into a winery. The venture would honor the lives of two men--Ken's grandfather Walter and nephew Scott. Cue yesterday...
I pulled up to Walter Scott in style because only a snow white Hyundai Accent rental can handle gravel roads like a boss. Immediately I was seduced by Ken and Erica's idyllic existence: panamoric views of hillside vineyards from their deck. At my feet scurried a white Jack Russell Terrier (Finn), who is constantly being stalked by a tiny Devil-kitten (Bobcat). Kira is the quadruped matriarch aptly coined (MamaDog) by their two year old daughter Lucy (every bit of what you would expect a toddler named Lucy to be). This was a little slice of heaven.
And then there is Ken and Erica. What to say about them? I'll get to that later. Let's geek out for a quick second. We hopped over to the winery -- basically an extension of their front yard -- and tasted perhaps twelve Walter Scott Chardonnays between '13, '14, and '15. For those of you who like naughty "m" words like Montrachet and Meursault, you're in for in a real treat. It's hard not to draw comparisons to top-tier white Burgundy and each wine in its youth was flat-out delicious! What strikes me about Walter Scott is like great Burgundy producers before them, they are trying to use Chardonnay to express a place instead of the other way around. Perfect segue to our vineyard tour...
Ken and Erica's pastoral digs.../Dominque, looking extremely French. Larry Stone wonders why the rum's gone.
The Willamette Valley is beautiful -- pines mingling with oaks on drought-defying green hills. Ken and I got some bro-hang time, off-roading through narrow dirt tracks and forest canopies. He speaks with such passion about Oregon Chardonnay, as a man who' has discovered a gold mine. "I've been known to suffer from land lust" Ken confesses while walking through the progressively cultivated 'X Novo' (pic at the top of the page).
But instead of hoarding next-level Chard sites and the secrets that exalt the grape, he wants to share. He wants consumers to know about it and taste it (best job ever) and he wants what other industries would deem 'competitors' to grow with him. Imagine a business that shares its trade secrets with the trade for the betterment of the industry at large. At its least, a higher form of commerce; at its greatest, the stuff that pioneers are made of.
Those secrets are buried in higher-elevation vineyards where you don't have to dig too far to find volcanic beds that Chardonnay loves so intensely. That savory/salty mineral character we all crave is enhanced by winds that as Erica tells me "can render Eola-Amity 10-15 degrees cooler than neighboring AVAs" (Eola is named after the ruler of winds in Greek mythology). And so, from some of their finest sites Ken and Erica have created a special bottling for Viticole members that captures the dynamic character of Eola-Amity--it's elegant floral nuances ('Les Fleurs') and vibrant texture.
Me and my admin team mid-offer
A last word: I found myself at a large lunch today where I was randomly seated next to Dominque Lafon. He summed up Ken and Erica in four words: "salt of the earth". Their life is a constant juggling act of three full-time jobs: parenthood, Walter Scott, and building up Oregon wine. I honestly don't know how they do it all but their love and respect for each other is as tangible and inspiring as their sense of hospitality and community. 'Share' is a powerful word. For those who embrace it, the world is limitless.
Tasting Notes: Bright citrus and stone fruit, soft white florals, medium bodied with saline mineral texture.
Seasonal Pairing: summer corn!!!
When to Drink: Accessible now but best in 2017 thru 2030+
Geeky Things: Viticulture: organic/sustainable, dry-farmed. Vinification: Indigenous yeasts. Fermentation in neutral barrel. Aged 25% new—transferred at the end of elevage to stainless. 12.9% abv.
Area Eats: Community Plate in McMinnville for the morning ritual. Head to Thistle or Nick's for dinner. Painted Lady in Newberg.
Bigger Than Wine: $5 per case of 2015 Walter Scott ‘Les Fleurs’ sold here will be donated to Salud. Ken and Erica personally chose this charity whose mission is to provide health services to vineyard workers and their families. You can check them out online.