the return of elegance

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday was another lovely day spent exploring Oregon wine country, this time centered on the town of Carlton. A small agricultural enclave, it was all but dying after the main employer, a seed company, went out of business some years ago. Then winemaker Ken Wright moved in, purchased some abandoned buildings, set up a winery, and opened the doors to Carlton becoming the most wine-centric town in the state.

Barely scraping the surface of what is happening in town and nearby, I visited with winemakers Eric Hamacher (Carlton Winemakers Studio), Robert Brittan (Winderlea and Brittan Vineyards), Anthony King (Lemelson) and Kelley Fox (Scott Paul and Kelley Fox Wines). What emerged from my conversations with all of these talented people was a sense that elegance and terroir are blossoming in Oregon wines.

In part, it is happenstance. The 2007 (and to a lesser degree, 2008) vintages were years that naturally produced lighter wines, with less sugar at harvest. In addition, many Oregon winemakers are focusing on vineyards with organic/biodynamic grapes, minimal intervention winemaking, creating wines with moderate alcohol levels, and cutting back on the use of new oak.

The Kelley Fox wines really exemplify what I am talking about. Her winemaking background includes time at Torii Mor, Eyrie, and the Studio. At Scott Paul she crafts just a handful of pinots from exceptional fruit. With her own wines, made in tiny quantities and marketed through her website, she is working to channel the spirit of her self-described mentor, David Lett.

“I learned everything I know about pinot noir from David,” she explained as we sipped through her current releases. “Not from him telling me. He doesn’t work like that. I was already a very good winemaker. I learned it as a ‘way’ – not mental, but a way of being, a way of living. His style is ‘the truth.’ For good or bad. His truth was very beautiful, because he made it so. He truly built the wines in his vineyards. It takes tremendous character not to meddle with pinot. Good pinot is wild.”

Fox’s current releases are all barely more than 13 percent alcohol. In color they have the rosy delicacy of The Eyrie wines. They open up gently, aromatically. You could easily miss what they have to offer, unless you are willing to give them a little time and attention. The Kelley Fox 2007 Maresh Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) opens with vanilla cream flavors over soft, seductive raspberry fruit. The grapes come from 38-year-old, self-rooted vines. Nine hours after it was first poured, this gorgeous wine had continued to develop aromatically, and added some caramel to the vanilla, but remained indescribably delicate and perfectly proportioned.

Her other 2007 release is the Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40). Here there is more minerality; along with somewhat muted biodynamic earthiness and funk. Cranberry and raspberry flavors gain focus and concentration in the mouth. Again after being open for nine hours, it had become a more graceful wine, albeit with more stem and grip to the tannins than the Maresh.

Finally there was a just-released Kelley Fox 2008 Maresh Vineyard Pinot Noir. Darker and more effusively fruity, this delicate, complex, extremely young wine tasted of black cherry, hints of caraway, and a gentle streak of vanilla. All three wines have the unmistakable grace of great pinot noir, and the potential to age for many years.

Kelley Fox Wines


Steve M said...

The 2007 inaugural wines are terrific. Totally agree. Her 2008's are jaw dropping fantastic. I'll be in for a case of each.

Anonymous said...

This is great news and a great piece. I'll be ordering some online very soon.

Jason Moore said...

Kelly is a fellow Texan turned winemaker. I look forward to meeting her and tasting her wines. Check out my blog at

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