I recently shared the story of Kansas City native Brad McElroy who owns and makes the wines for Ayres Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Today, I return with another winery whose Oregon roots stretch back to Kansas City — King Estate. Founded by Ed King III, King Estate has grown to one of the most prominent wineries in Oregon with 1,033 certified-organic acres.
King grew up in Kansas City. He attended the University of Missouri where he earned a law degree. After practicing law in Alaska, King returned home to develop and manage the mobile communications division of King Radio, his father’s Kansas City-based company.
Not long after, the company was sold, and King moved to Oregon. Less than a decade later, in conjunction with his father and other family members, King began the search for what would become King Estate.
I spent a couple of weeks trying to catch up with the very busy King before finally reaching him as he drove from one meeting to another one recent morning.
“I remember looking for the land that would become King Estate,” King said. We wanted something close to Eugene and we found this property that was pasture land. We pretty much knew right off this would be the place, so we bought it. We added more acreage later.”
King is a visionary when it comes to the Oregon wine industry. He shared with me the text of a speech he made recently at the Wine Industry Leaders Summit, where he focused on the future of the state’s wine business. It’s no surprise that King is bullish.
“It comes to mind that the future will find Oregon fully arrived as a wine region standing on an equal footing with the world’s greatest; that the wine industry in Oregon will be the single largest component of Oregon agriculture in terms of dollar value; and that the industry will be politically powerful, and a key element in Oregon’s global image and Oregon’s global tourism,” King told the gathering.
King believes that being green is the pillar of the Oregon wine brand. He and others have worked tirelessly at King Estate to be as green as possible. King told me organic farming isn’t new or trendy.
“It’s the way our ancestors farmed. It’s a great way to differentiate our wines from others’ because we can farm sustainably in Oregon while different regions may not take the time or make the effort. But more than anything, it’s just the right thing to do,” King said.
As for the wines, I’ve been a fan of King Estate for as long as I can remember. Their wines are always solid and provide some of the best bang for the buck in terms of quality versus price of any winery in the state.
What many people don’t realize is how well King Estate wines, red and white, can age. Among other bottlings, I tasted a 2006 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris and a 2002 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir.
I was not at all surprised that the Pinot Noir still had plenty of life to it. Softer and earthier than a young King Estate Pinot, the wine is layered, elegant, and complex — a true joy to experience.
If the ’02 Pinot Noir was a joy, the ’06 Pinot Gris was an epiphany! I knew great Pinot Gris from Alsace could age, but I had no idea the aging potential of Pinot Gris from Oregon. I do now.
The ’06 King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris was a stunner — more viscous than in its youth, but still offering layers of fruit and spice with a nice backbone of acidity to keep the wine fresh.
King is a major proponent of laying down the good vintages of his Pinot Gris to enjoy down the road. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to buy some extra bottles of Oregon Pinot Gris and set them aside. It’s a different drinking experience and a story not a lot of people know,” King said.
I’ve learned my lesson. I’m definitely going to be buying a few extra bottles of 2015 King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris this year. I just hope I can keep my hands off them or forget where they are as they do their magic with five years of aging or more. If I’m successful, I’ll try to remember to tell you all how they turned out!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.