CENTRAL POINT, Ore. — Florida native B. Kiley Evans got his winemaking start in Southern Oregon, and three years after making wine in North Carolina, he’s back in the Rogue Valley to take the lead at Ledger David Cellars.
And this will be the second time he’s making wine for co-owners David Traul and wife Lena Varner. The relationship began in 2010 before Evans took a winemaking job at Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery in North Carolina to help care for his ailing father and dying grandmother.
“Before we left for North Carolina, we had dinner and talked about a bunch of things,” Evans recalled. “I wasn’t that involved, but I had made them a Tempranillo and Port in 2010, and I tried to help them get up to speed quickly. They were nice folks and were trying to do things the right way, and at end of the dinner, they told me, ‘We hope you enjoy your time in the Carolinas, but we’re thinking that maybe in two to four years, we’re going to need a full-time winemaker.’
“And here we are. Just like they thought we would be,” Evans added.
Evans, winemaker at acclaimed Abacela in Roseburg from 2002 to 2008, told Great Northwest Wine he expects to produce 2,500 cases from the 2014 — matching Ledger David’s production from last year.
“The plan is to increase production slowly over the next five years,” he said. “The plan is to not go over 7,500 cases.”
Ledger David production remains at Folin Cellars
Traul and Varner will continue to have Evans make their wines at Folin Cellars, but they expect the 2015 vintage to be handled at their new winery near Varner-Traul Vineyard. The 17-acre site in Talent grows Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Syrah and Tempranillo as well as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
“The vineyard is on the small side, but everything is planted on 6-foot row spacing by 4 feet,” Evans said. “That’s 1,850 plants per acre, which is planted very tightly for this region and with some varieties that most people don’t work with here. But when the plants mature, we’ll easily be at 4 tons per acre on the reds and 5 tons on the whites.”
Some of Southern Oregon’s top winemakers have been working on the Ledger David wines since their debut with the 2009 vintage. They began with Herb Quady, followed by Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co., Rob Folin and John Quinones, formerly of RoxyAnn. Award-winning wines they’ve produced for Ledger David include the 2011 Malbec, which earned a gold medal at the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine Awards, 2010 Orion’s Nebula Red Blend (gold, 2013 San Francisco Chronicle) and that 2010 Tempranillo (gold, 2014 Savor NW).
“We have a great respect for Kiley, who initially earned his reputation with the Tempranillo grape at Abacela,” Varner, who manages the vineyard, said in a news release. “Beyond Tempranillo, Kiley has continually demonstrated his prowess in producing excellent wines from a variety of wine grapes, including Rhône blends and Italian varietals.”
Florida steakhouse somm turns into Southern Oregon winemaker
Evans, who grew up in Pace, Fla., worked nights and weekends as a sommelier at Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, a Hilton property in Destin, Fla., while his wife, Karen, worked weekdays in the business world.
“We’d only see each other in the hallway and during the afternoons,” he said. “I knew that wasn’t going to work for us, but I wanted to stay in the wine industry and not be strictly in sales, so I looked into production. Farming is not foreign to me, because my family has been farming in the South for a long time — corn, soy beans, peanuts and pine trees.”
He applied to University of California-Davis, which he described as a long shot. Karen told him he had no chance, and his Southern Baptist family probably didn’t pray for divine intervention.
“They were accepting 35 students out of 7,000 applicants, so it wasn’t a high percentage,” Evans said with a chuckle. “I came home from work one night and asked Karen if she had checked the computer. I took my tux off, pulled it up and starting yelling and screaming. She knew at that moment we were packing up our backs and moving to California. It was a really interesting and wonderful time of our lives. We had no idea what it would turn into.”
That was 2000. Two years later, his good fortune continued upon graduation when Abacela owners Earl and Hilda Jones hired Evans to take over the day-to-day winemaking duties. His career on Lookingglass Road spanned the early stages of the Jones family’s quintessential wine to date — the 2005 Paramour, a bottle-age, Tempranillo-based blend that’s the most expensive Oregon wine that is not Pinot Noir.
“That was a spectacular vintage, the kind of year when we didn’t have a lot of heat spikes and I wouldn’t call it hot like 2003 or last year or this year,” Evans said. “It made for elegant profiles, and I believe the wine was really representative of the entire site and the vintage. I think we did nice job with it.”
6-year run at Abacela ends in summer 2008
His career at Abacela and Fault Line Vineyards ended just before the 2008 harvest, and he turned south to young Agate Ridge Vineyard near Grants Pass.
“We settled there when we first came to Oregon because it was an hour’s drive to Roseburg for me and 45 minutes to Medford for Karen, which is where she worked,” he said. “I was spending 10 hours commuting every week (to Abacela), and I was living the rat race, so that extra 30 to 40 minutes a day to spend at home really made a lot of sense.”
He spent three vintages at Agate Ridge before moving to Raffaldini — which trademarked itself as the “Chianti of Carolinas” — in 2011 to be closer to his ailing father in Alabama and dying grandmother in Florida.
“I would do it again,” Evans said. “I had an incredibly close relationship with my grandmother, who passed away in late 2012. My dad’s (skin cancer) issues are as resolved as much as they are going to be, and my mom is retired now.”
Evans considers Appassimento-style project for Ledger David
An introduction Evans is considering bringing to Ledger David is creating an Appassimento-style wine using estate Sangiovese. His initial effort with that process, which involves drying grapes, earned best of class at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a gold medal at the 2014 Grand Harvest Awards with the 2011 Montepulciano Riserva — a product of his first vintage for Raffaldini.
“The only person that I can think of in the Northwest who is doing an Appassimento-style is Gino Cuneo, and he does a really great job with it,” Evans said. “I know Sangiovese responds to the drying process really well, and Tempranillo does well, too. We’ll try a little bit, just as an experiment.”
His plan for Ledger David would be to start with no more than 500 pounds of fruit, rather than the 33 tons at Raffaldini.
“They have a room that’s exclusively for drying, and we got 23 tons out of that room,” Evans said. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was insane. When the room was filled, it would be 95 to 100 degrees and 95 percent humidity and we were running dehumidifiers — three big heaters and fans. When you opened the door, the air would hit you in the face to point we instituted a buddy system. You literally could not be in there for more than 15 or 20 seconds.”
Last week marked his first full week of work for Ledger David Cellars — named after the oldest son of Traul, a surgeon, and Varner.
“I’m more intimately involved in this business with a significantly higher level of responsibility than I’ve had as far as vineyard management, but it’s something I’m really looking forward to,” Evans said. “I’m as excited about this as anything I’ve ever done.”
His duties for Ledger David include the winery project, marketing, sales and helping to manage the off-premise Le Petit Tasting Room in Central Point, which is in a sweet spot between Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates and the famous Rogue Creamery. Evans said there have been preliminary discussions on the creation of his own brand, but that might be as many as five years down the road.
“Southern Oregon is so ready to explode right now, and I feel like I’m back home,” Evans said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
And Evans, a golfer who said he can play to a 12 handicap, also hopes to play one round at his “mecca” in the next few days. After all, it’s been a few years.
“My plan is to get to Bandon before harvest starts,” he said. “My favorite thing in January and February is get up at my normal time and and instead of going to work, go to Bandon. With the beautiful drive, it’s the most wonderful way to spend nine hours.”
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