Willamette Valley's Pinot Noir champion since 1986
Ken’s name is synonymous with Willamette Valley. As one of its pioneers, he was pivotal in the region’s growth and evolution. He helped put Oregon Pinot Noir on the map. Literally.
Ken launched his career in California, but Oregon won his heart before the rest of the world knew of its greatness. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate designated his – and only his – Oregon winery as ‘Outstanding.’ He is the only Oregon winemaker to grace the cover of Wine Spectator. And now, a true legend of Oregon wine is moving to a new digital era – with you.
With Angel support, Ken can educate and communicate directly with you, delivering the pleasure of world-class Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to your doorstep.
Ken Wright's Story
Ken is a Midwest boy born in Illinois, but moved frequently, living in Missouri, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Most of his family hailed from central Illinois – with many involved in corn farming – so his roots in agriculture go way back. He and his family always spent two weeks with all the grandparents in Jacksonville, Illinois. His parents had grown up five blocks from each other. He spent summers chasing fireflies, climbing the trees of his grandparents’ orchards, eating cherries and apples. He played wiffle ball and kick the can. He also grew up loving sports, listening to Harry Caray on the radio calling the St. Louis Cardinals’ games. When he was living in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Vince Lombardi created his tight-fisted dynasty. Ken can still name almost every player in that era.
While pursuing a political science pre-law degree at the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s, Ken waited tables at a restaurant in downtown Lexington named the Fig Tree. Over many months, to increase wine sales, the owner poured every wine on his list for the staff to taste. It was Ken's first experience with fine wine, with all major regions represented. The incredible depth of aroma, flavor and texture that wine could achieve excited him. He read everything about wine that he could get his hands on. He became the restaurant’s wine buyer. His interest in political science waned.
Ken remembers the moment he decided to change the course of his life. He sold all of his possessions to fund a one-way move to California to study enology and viticulture at UC-Davis. His Volkswagen van blew up twice along the way with one of those places being Winnemucca, Nevada – not recommended during the summer!
He began making wine in 1978 in Monterey County, California, at Ventana Vineyards and Chalone Winery, then at Talbott Vineyards, before moving to Oregon in 1986 to open Panther Creek Cellars. He launched Ken Wright Cellars in 1994.
Winegrowing is a journey that still inspires Ken every day, especially the energy and planning required to coordinate people, machinery and the fickleness of mother nature. Seeing his team members improve their skills while loving what they do is immensely satisfying. Planting vineyards that begin simply, but over time, sing with detail and nuance, is an extraordinary experience.
In Oregon, Ken has achieved the perfect marriage of plant – Pinot Noir – and place – Oregon. He believes Pinot Noir is the greatest wine grape on the planet. Its ability to connect wine drinkers to place is unrivaled. “Site-specific bottlings of Pinot Noir invite us to explore a tiny location of this world and to have an experience that is far beyond a simple qualitative statement,” said Ken. “Pinot Noir is a completely blank canvas and everything you smell and taste has everything to do with where it's grown.”
In 1995, Ken and his peers brought the Oregon wine industry together to discuss the creation of the first sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The process was slow, but in 2000, they finally held a meeting of prominent Northern Willamette Valley producers. There was a unanimous agreement to identify and federally certify what they believed to be world-class regions within the Willamette Valley. Six were identified. Ken wrote the federal petition to create the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. It was finally approved in 2004.
Through the decades, Ken has been lauded with honors. He has received the Wine Spectator Critics’ Choice Award eight times. Ken was the third Oregon winemaker to receive the ORVI (Oregon Vintner) award, which acknowledges major contributions to the wine industry. He also received the Outstanding Career in Technical Education Contribution Award from Chemeketa Community College for being a significant endower of their viticulture program.
Without the financial support of others, the opportunity to excel is lost. That’s where Angels come in. You’re giving Ken the opportunity to bring wine drinkers across the country the pleasure of his world-class Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.