Originally published August 25, 2017 in LifeGrid Magazine
By Karla Erovick
When Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen bought 200 acres of land in 1971 to plant in grapes, they had no idea what was possible. They brought a love of French wines and vision for producing wine in Oregon’s rich soil, that was similar in climate to Burgundy. It was a gamble to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since “the experts” deemed Oregon’s climate to be unsuitable for wine.
The land that was chosen was a former orchard that they hoped would be good for growing grapes and producing wine. We now know these rich, red, Jory soils produce distinct wines and have become a sought-after location for wineries and vineyards.
The entire Knudsen family including Cal and Julia Lee’s four children (Page, Colin, David, Cal) were involved in planting the first 30 acres of vineyards. This made Knudsen the largest vineyard in the Willamette Valley. In 1975, they added another 30 acres of vineyards, making them the largest vineyard in Oregon. For the family, this created a strong connection to the land and vineyards that continues to this day.
Cal Knudsen formed a partnership with Dick Erath in 1975 to make Knudsen Erath wines. Their winery was the first located in the Dundee Hills. In 1987, a shared love of sparkling wine led Knudsen Vineyards to enter into a long-term arrangement of selling grapes to the start-up, Argyle Winery, to make into sparkling and still wines. The fact that Argyle’s winemaker, Rollin Soles was a fan of sparkling wine, probably helped in the decision. To this day, Argyle has won more awards for their wine than any other winery in Oregon and they are one of Oregon’s largest producers of sparkling wine.
In 2009, Cal Knudsen passed, leaving the vineyards into his children’s very capable hands. Having grown up in the vineyards there was no doubt that they chose take an active role in managing vineyard operations. They consider themselves to be stewards of the land, held in trust for future generations of Knudsen’s to continue growing grapes and producing wine. Each has pursued a career in their chosen fields and brings expertise in marketing, finance, and operations to the business of running a vineyard.
One of their biggest decisions was to return to the family’s wine-making roots. They choose a wine-maker they trusted, Nate Klosterman from Argyle, to translate their grapes into a distinct wine that reflected the character of the grapes, the soil, and sustainable farming practices. Their first wines were produced in 2012 and released in 2014.
The Knudsen’s have always had a commitment to sustainable farming practices believing that they are merely stewards of the land, to nurture and protect it for future generations, hopefully of Knudsen’s. They have become both LIVE Certified (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon Safe Certified to this end.
Today they have 130 acres of vines on the property with the oldest vines of Pinot Noir planted in 1974. These vines are old and gnarled with thick trunks that still produce delicious wine. If the vineyards are nourished they produce high-quality grapes that can be made into balanced, beautiful wine. Much of the magic happens in the vineyard with experienced vineyard managers that know how to bring out the best in the grapes. If they have done their job, the winemaker can bring out the nuances and flavors of this vintage of grape, to become a distinct wine. Based on the response that Knudsen Vineyards wine has been receiving in wine ratings they are doing things right.
Knudsen Vineyards produces a limited amount of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir every year, which often sells out. Their wines reflect ripe fruit flavors, earthy, spicy, old vine characteristics.
Their current releases include:
2014 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir- $55
2014 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay – $45
2015 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay – $45