CARLTON, Ore. – Prescience continues to lead Adam Campbell and his family onto another successful chapter in the history of Elk Cove Vineyards and the Oregon wine industry, launching a new tasting room in downtown Carlton.
Great Northwest Wine has learned that the Campbells will announce today that its Pike Road Wines tasting room will open to the public Saturday, July 23. The new “sister brand” for Elk Cove Vineyards hit the market in 20 states this spring, led by a delicious 2014 Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley priced at a stunningly inexpensive $19.
“I’m one of the few winemakers around who is a graduate of Yamhill-Carlton High School, so it’s really nice to have a foothold here in Carlton,” Campbell told Great Northwest Wine on Monday as he worked on tasting room preparations.
It will take time for wine lovers to learn Elk Cove Vineyards and Campbell are behind the Pike Road wines, but it will be easy for tourists to find those wines on Main Street in the wine capital of Oregon. They will be poured across Pine Street from the state’s most famous producer, Ken Wright Cellars.
“I had a meeting with Ken this morning because we’re both with the Yamhill-Carlton Winegrowers Association, and he raised a glass and welcomed us to the neighborhood,” Campbell said. “There’s this entrepreneurial spirit in Carlton, and a lot of the great things that have happened in downtown Carlton have been because of Ken. He’s the best advocate you could have.”
Campbells join Ken Wright in downtown Carlton
It’s no coincidence the Campbell family and Ken Wright are two of the most successful winemakers and grape growers in this corner of the country. Elk Cove Vineyards was selected by Wine Press Northwest magazine as its Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year in 2007. Two years earlier, Ken Wright received the award.
Adam and his parents, Pat and Joe, and sister Anna have amassed 350 acres of vineyards across six sites during the history of Elk Cove Vineyards, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014.
Those award-winning plantings, combined with the versatile network of stellar vineyards, long-term agreements and beautifully ripe vintages such as 2014 paved the path for Pike Road, Campbell said.
“We’ve been working with Dick Shea for more than 10 years and some other really good growers from the Yamhill-Carlton area,” Campbell said. “Fruit for Pike Road is taken from our Mount Richmond property and other vineyards we have hand-shake contracts with, so we hope to keep growing.”
An integral marketing tool across the country for the Campbells, in addition to the legacy of their 130-acre Mount Richmond Vineyard, is that these Pike Road wines carry the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area on the label rather than the generic “Oregon.” That should make the Pinot Noir a remarkably attractive bargain on the East Coast.
“We started Pike Road in the national market and only focused on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, which are Oregon’s flagship wines,” Campbell said. “That makes it easy to tell the story, Now with this brick-and-mortar spot, we’ll be making some blends, a Yamhill-Carlton AVA wine, a rosé, a Chardonnay and some single-vineyard wines.”
Pike Road production debuts at 20,000 cases
It’s been 20 years since the Campbells were near road traffic. For a decade, they owned a building in downtown Dundee next door to Argyle Winery along bustling Highway 99.
That passion for planting continues at Elk Cove with 30 more acres going in this year. Those young vines seem destined for Pike Road Wines, at least in the short term.
“Our starting point is about 20,000 cases,” Campbell said. “We didn’t start small, but then again, we’ve got a great network of distributors throughout the country who are getting Pike Road into nice wine shops and a lot of restaurants by the glass. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Campbell and his longtime assistant, Heather Perkin, have grown Elk Cove Vineyards from 30,000 cases in 2007 to 45,000 cases.
“Now, we’re doing it with 100 percent estate fruit,” he said. “We’ll probably stay around that figure.”
The consistent quality, size of production and viticulture practices have made Elk Cove wines an easy sell for Shirley Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing, since 2000.
“Anytime you have a winery our size, it’s silly to think that only one person should get the credit,” Campbell said. “It takes a lot of hands to make that wine.”
Pike Road replaces EIEIO in historic bank
Last year, vintner Jay McDonald of EIEIO and Co., vacated the Carlton State Bank and Savings Building, constructed in 1910 and the town’s first structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two decades ago, McDonald turned it into The Tasting Room, helping to develop Carlton into a destination for wine tourists. Among the space’s charms are the bank vault and a grassy courtyard immediately to the west.
“We’ve done a bunch of renovation, and we installed a new bar outside, so we’re ready for summer,” Campbell said.
On warm weekends, the Campbells plan to pour Pike Road wines inside and outside, and this bank building will be open seven days a week from noon to 6 p.m.
Adding to the Pike Road experience will be the chance to purchase wines from the vault, which will include bottlings from Adam Campbell’s library as well as items he’s won at auctions such as ¡Salud!
“Jay’s been a good friend over the years, and we sell him grapes from our Windhill Vineyard,” Campbell said. “He’s been here, I think, since 1994, so I knew about the building and about his plans.”
McDonald doesn’t plan to go far from downtown Carlton, either. He’s building a facility just west of town along Meadow Lake Road, not far from acclaimed Gran Moraine and Resonance vineyards.
“We started on this Pike Road project 2½ years ago with the idea that initially it would be a sister winery and we’d sell in other markets around the U.S.” Campbell said. “When this building came up, when knew it was the right move. It was a perfect fit.”
The Campbells entered into a five-year lease for the building.
Pike Road drive to Elk Cove takes 15 minutes
Pike Road enjoyed a soft opening last weekend, which gave the Campbells a glimpse into the potential synergy between the urban wine scene and the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room. They are just a 15-minute drive apart.
“We think we’ll really see a lot of cross-benefit to having both open,” Campbell said. “We love getting people up to Elk Cove for the beautiful views, the vineyard and that tasting experience, so it’s easy to invite them up to the mountain from Carlton. We want the two brands to complement each other.”
On a glorious summer day, the Pike Road courtyard will be a way to keep wine tourists in downtown Carlton.
“We’ll have some events that will include food, and we’ll have prepared food with small bites for seating outside, but we’d really like to encourage people to bring food from these awesome downtown restaurants,” Campbell said. “We want to create an experience for people back there in the courtyard and work closely with all the restaurants on events.”
Ripeness of fruit rather than wood is the key to the Pike Road concept.
“There’s not a lot of new oak to the Elk Cove wines, between 25 to 30 percent,” Campbell said. “For the Pike Road wines, they see well-maintained French barrels, none of them new, for 10 to 11 months, which makes the wines fruit-forward and approachable.”
And the closure for the entire spectrum of Pike Road wines will be twist-off cap.
“It’s an amazing closure,” Campbell said. “We’ve been working with them for Elk Cove whites, and I’d like to use them for all the reds, but we’re waiting for the consumer acceptance to catch on.”
The commercial embrace for Elk Cove Vineyards spans 48 states, and the Campbells took a strategic approach to their launch of Pike Road Wines.
“We have a really good, established market for Elk Cove, so we picked the 20 states we already work really well with for Pike Road,” he said. “We don’t want people to trade one for the other. We want to give people the opportunity to buy both Elk Cove or Pike Road – or go with Pike Road by the glass and Elk Cove on the wine list.”
And someday soon, when the time is right, look for Pike Road to earn the right to follow Elk Cove Vineyards into some of its 12 foreign markets.