EUGENE, Ore. — The King family continues to take a thoughtful approach to the gradual evolution of their restaurant that surrounds the tasting gallery at King Estate Winery.
With the spring arrival of executive chef Matt Hobbs, the Kings of Pinot seem poised to move a culinary program rooted in organic farming to an unprecedented level of prominence.
“We will put King Estate Restaurant at the forefront of the food scene in Oregon as well as on a national platform,” Hobbs says. “This is such a unique place.”
With Hobbs in place, the Kings are gearing up to add a bistro at the base of their 1,033-acre Biodynamic estate along the Territorial Highway. The cuisine is an extension and a presentation of the work by the aptly named Erin Greene — the culinary gardens manager — and the winemaking of Brent Stone.
Last year, the editorial team of Great Northwest Wine named King Estate as the 2021 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. And the recent recruitment of Hobbs and Greene seems to indicate wine lovers should expect an elevated dining experience for years to come.
“I grew up on a homestead on Vashon Island, entirely connected to my landscape and eating from my landscape,” Greene says. “I love the Northwest so much. The farm culture and the wine-and-food culture we have in the Northwest is really something special.”
Hobbs, raised in Arizona, moved from Washington, D.C., to learn about Portland’s culinary scene. His mentors include those who have earned acclaim from the James Beard Foundation, appeared on The Food Network’s Iron Chef America series or received a star in the Michelin Guide. Hobbs was working in the Rose City when Portland chef/restaurateur Vitaly Paley — a James Beard Award winner in 2005 — told him of the opening at King Estate.
“I was introduced to the Kings through Vitaly,” Hobbs says. “I had just opened up a restaurant in Portland and was about 30 days in when Vitaly reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, here’s an opportunity you would be interested in, and I think you could pull it off.’
“When I first saw the photos of the property, I said, ‘Wow, I have to see what this is about!’ ” Hobbs adds. “There are the gorgeous views and a beautiful winery, but there’s more to it than that.”
Greene also was working in Portland when she saw a job posting in 2018.
“My husband and I were looking all over the country when this popped up,” Greene said. “ ‘I said, ‘This is incredible!’ It felt like the dream job that I imagined had suddenly appeared.”
- Pairing / recipe: King Estate Winery 2015 Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir with Beef Ribeye with Uni Butter, Pacific Dulse and Lobster Glace
- Pairing / recipe: King Estate Winery 2019 Steiner Block Estate Biodynamic Pinot Gris with Corn Agnolotti with Chanterelle Mushroom, Roasted Corn, Black Truffle and Citrus Brown Butter
Restaurant opens 15 years after launch of King Estate
King Estate is the shared vision of Ed King — who earned a MBA at the University of Oregon business school — and his late father, Ed King Jr. They launched King Estate in 1991 and opened their restaurant 15 years later. Of the 1,033 acres, 465 acres are in vines and 26 acres grow produce and fruit for the restaurant.
“All of our produce that’s here today in the restaurant is 40 minutes out of the ground,” Hobbs said. “My team is cooking the coolest food in the state — bar none.”
A crunch into a sweet Nantes carrot from one of Greene’s greenhouses is closer to biting into a piece of fruit than eating a vegetable. She gushes about squash blossoms, is a geek for chicory, refers to Italian peppers as “fancy” and raves about the “fantastic” fresh berries.
Seemingly every kernel of her story makes Greene a natural fit for this property that earned its Demeter certification for strict Biodynamics in 2016.
“My Mom was pregnant while roofing our cabin,” Greene says. “We had a big vegetable garden, a milking goat and honeybees. I grew up a quarter of a mile from the beach, surrounded by forest, and I won salmon derbies as a kid. I started my first business when I was 8 growing cut flowers for the Thriftway on Vashon. I was very driven.”
Biodynamic education makes Greene a natural
An interest in Biodynamic farming took Greene to Emerson College in England from 2007 to 2009. The school began in 1962, and its founder credited the father of the Biodynamic movement — the late Rudolf Steiner — with inspiration.
“Conventional agriculture is basically mining nutrients from the soil. Organics is recycling,” she says. “In Biodynamics, you are recycling and adding on. You are leaving the soil better.”
Upon her return, Greene spent four years at prized Monteillet Fromagerie in the Walla Walla Valley and learned about cheese while starting a side hustle selling vegetables to wine country chefs. Later, she worked at Riverdog Farm, a certified organic operation west of Sacramento. The 2022 growing season marks her fourth at King Estate, and she would like to see more women helping to steer the Biodynamic movement.
“I think Biodynamic farming benefits from feminine energy and feminine input,” Greene says.
When there is an excess or an opportunity to help, Greene or Hobbs will act. This summer, Greene donated 1,000 pounds of blueberries and 600 pounds of cucumbers to Food for Lane County. Soon after Hobbs arrived, he was planning his first menu for a Food for Lane County fundraiser and asked Ed King how much to budget.
“He told me, ‘Blow the doors off, man!’ ” Hobbs says. “That was cool to hear — so we did.”
It’s a 30-minute ride from Eugene along windy country roads. Hobbs will take his Indian Scout Bobber motorbike to work if he leaves his 1970 Camaro Z/28 at home. His left arm features artwork that symbolizes species of trees where he’s lived. On his right forearm are words he lives by — “Rooted in the craft of my industry, driven by principles of sustainability and inspired by modern cooking.”
List of mentors for Hobbs includes renowned chefs
Hobbs credits renowned chef Paul McCabe for much of his development, having spent seven years working for him in Phoenix and San Diego. There’s also been Lee Hillson, who has appeared on Iron Chef America, at Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Jean-Claud Plihon at the Michelin-starred Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, D.C., and Paley.
“I was lucky they saw something in me,” Hobbs said. “I would not be who I am or where I am without a few key gentlemen.”
The year after Blue Duck merited its Michelin star is when Hobbs landed in PDX. In the early days of the pandemic, he signed up for the graveyard shift at Zupan’s Markets to butcher meat “and keep those skills sharp.” Along the way, he launched PDX Hot Sauce Co. — which he continues to own — and was working for Christiann Koepke’s acclaimed food studio and her NORR Kitchen concept when he got the tip from Paley.
“The hot sauce was a hobby that blew up,” Hobbs says. “Within three weeks, I was in my apartment hand-labeling 4,000 bottles for orders.”
One of his projects is to collaborate with Stone’s team on special fermentations for the organic hot sauce and have bottles on tables for guests when Sunday brunch returns to King Estate Restaurant.
“I’ve never done anything but work in kitchens since I was 15, and I never wanted to do anything else,” says Hobbs, an avid reader of the works of George Orwell. “I went to college for a while and studied music theory, mathematics and architecture, but I like to work with my hands and help teach people. If I could be here 10 years and put out 50 super-quality cooks, that’s legacy — and it’s how you affect the industry.”
World track stars celebrate with King Estate wine
This summer, Eugene provided the stage for some of the planet’s top athletes as historic Hayward Field played host to the World Athletics Championships. It was the first time that the track and field community brought its finals to the U.S., and three world records fell. Those two weeks garnered some international attention for King Estate, the event’s VIP wine vendor, and prompted a number of attendees to see and taste the work of Stone, Hobbs and Greene.
“I think it’s really cool that all those people from around the world tried our wines,” Stone said. “We even got the Brut Cuvée into what they called ‘The Finish Line’ — the suite for the athletes after they run.”
Hobbs showcases Tower Club wines for Match Maker
Among the treats that come with dining at King Estate is the opportunity to experience a few of the library wines and Tower Club bottlings that are otherwise limited to members. For this Match Maker project, we sought two of those — the 2019 Steiner Block Estate Pinot Gris and the 2015 Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir. Both offer a taste of history — one from the estate and the other off one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards.
Hobbs paired the Pinot Gris with a dish that’s a remarkable example of his flair for vegetarian fare — Corn Agnolotti with Chanterelle Mushroom, Roasted Corn, Black Truffle and Citrus Brown Butter.
“The flavor of corn is maxed out, and I think the contrast works with the buttery notes,” Hobbs says. “The Pinot Gris obviously brings the acidity, so you are cutting the richness of the corn and the fat in the sauce.”
On the wine’s first sip, Bosc pear and Pink Lady apple take the early lead before they are joined by tropical tones of guava.
“I personally really like this wine,” Stone says. “We did a dinner with (wine critic) James Suckling, and they let us pick one wine. I picked this one because it’s fun and unique.”
As for the 2015 Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir, there’s a greeting of dark and dusty red fruit that’s accompanied by earthiness and savoriness. It evolves in the glass and complements what Hobbs’s team playfully refers to as “reef and beef” — Beef Ribeye with Uni Butter, Pacific Dulse and Lobster Glace. At the restaurant, the beef comes from the Northern Arizona community Hobbs stays connected to after he graduated from Prescott High in 2007.
“Copper State Ranch is one of the oldest cattle companies in the country, and my family has lived there since the 1860s,” Hobbs said. “We look at innovative ways to weave our stories into the story of King Estate, and Ed has allowed me to weave a little bit of mine into our menu here.”
- King Estate Winery, 80854 Territorial Highway, Eugene, OR 97405, KingEstate.com, (541) 685-5189