Pinot Noir, ‘McCrone’, Ken Wright
The McCrone is located in the Yamhill Carlton AVA and was planted in 1991 to its current size of 7.7 acres. The vineyard sits on ancient marine sediment at 400ft that is southwest facing.
In the autumn of 1979, shortly after Don and Carol McCrone moved to Seattle and Don joined the political science faculty of the University of Washington, the couple made a trip to McMinnville to visit Oregon wine country for the first time. They had dinner at Nick’s Italian Café and watched the local hot-rodders “drag the gut” on Third Street. They instantly fell in love with the rolling hillsides and agricultural lands, the small-town ambience and, of course, the wines that were just becoming known on the international stage. It was that year that David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards pinot noir wine, from the 1975 vintage, placed second at a French Wine Olympiad, putting Oregon wines on the map. The McCrones returned every year, meeting winemakers like Ken Wright and Myron Redford in the ‘80s, and Don began to have the idea of looking for a vineyard property that would serve as a retirement home and income for the couple after their sons grew up. He looked for five years, always with the provisions in mind that the land absolutely had to be a premium location for growing grapes, and that he had to have a sense of who his market for the grapes might be before he invested. There was one thing of which he was certain: “I was going to grow Pinot Noir,” he said. “It was my favorite wine by far.”
The property they found was a 9.8-acre hazelnut farm with a house in the hilly, agricultural lands between Yamhill and Carlton, with a sweeping, expansive, south-facing view. A former working hazelnut orchard, the property was overgrown and in disrepair, and tree blight had begun to take hold. Saving all but a few hazelnut trees and Carole’s prized pear tree, McCrone cleared the property – “We had the biggest bonfire the county has ever seen,” he laughed, recalling the final act of cleaning up all of those hazelnut trees.
In their place went, first, a small test plot of 438 Dijon 115 clone grape vines, direct-rooted, because grafted stock was harder to come by in those days when everybody was suddenly planting vineyards in the Willamette Valley. They purchased a tractor and a spray pack, and Don and Carole used those vines to experiment with making homemade wine, and with learning more about vineyard management.
By 1993, they were ready to sink everything into the vineyard. They got their hands on 3,000 grafted Pinot Noir roots, and 1,500 of Chardonnay, planting them on the gently sloping south face of the property. The fruit was all sold to Ken Wright once it reached maturity, and in 1997, when the McCrones were ready to complete the vineyard, Ken asked them to graft over the Chardonnay with even more Pinot Noir, because it was so good. He has been the sole winemaker to source McCrone fruit since the vineyard’s inception in 1995. The McCrones now have 7.5 acres of the former hazelnut orchard under cultivation, producing about 700 cases of wine every year that shows deep, dense colors and powerful qualities of dark fruits.