CARLTON, Ore. — In the heart of Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area is an intriguing incubator that brings together startup winemakers looking to hone their craft and matches them with Willamette Valley wine aficionados seeking an experience to please multiple palates.
The Carlton Winemakers Studio provides new and expert winemakers with space, equipment, collaboration opportunities and the ability to connect with customers over an array of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and more in a charming tasting room.
This unique, eco-friendly winemaking co-op was launched in 2002 by winemaker Eric Hamacher, his famous winemaking wife — Luisa Ponzi — and partners Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin, owners of Lazy River Vineyard.
Built to LEED standards, the beautiful studio with its gravity-flow production equipment was acquired in 2021 by Portland-based Hampton Lumber.
“Starting and running the Studio for 20 years may well be one of the most important things that I have done in my career,” Hamacher says. “It opened eyes to what was possible if you work together and see opportunity in shared goals.
“And by showing environmentally thoughtful and beautiful design, we had a rather large soapbox for the very idea of building green,” Hamacher adds.
Carlton Winemakers Studio alumni reaches 47 brands
Along the way, the studio has been home to 47 vintners. Some moved to their own properties. This winter, 15 brands used The Carlton Winemakers Studio as their home base.
Anthony King, winemaker for Ratio:Wines, also serves as The Carlton Winemakers Studio general manager. He spent eight years at Lemelson Vineyards prior to moving into the studio.
“The collaborative nature of the studio seemed like a logical next step for me,” says King, who also consults for other small brands. “I couldn’t see doing it with a better team than we have now.”
That team regularly rotates the wines they feature in the tasting room, which can range from a $22 Pinot Gris to a cult Pinot Noir priced at $175.
Harry Thalhime, a wine lover in Richmond, Va., received a one-year club membership in 2015 from a friend. He’s been a happy customer ever since.
“The studio staff members are exceptional people to deal with, and I’ve never had a wine from them that was not awesome,” he said.
Tasting room manager Nick George joined the studio after earning a degree in business and hospitality and working harvest at several well-known vineyards in the Willamette Valley. He and Whitney Govert, director of hospitality and wine clubs, often tailor tastings to what the customer is looking for during their visit.
“No two tastings are exactly alike at the studio.” George says.
Govert, who is celebrating her seventh year at the studio, was drawn to the job because of the opportunity work alongside the winemakers.
“That seems more and more rare for tasting room teams to interact daily with the winemakers they are featuring,” she says. “It’s one of the best parts of being part of the Studio team.”
Charlie Garrell, owner of Oregon Wine Guides, first visited the winemakers studio in 2008. He often brings his clients to Carlton because of the unique culture created at the studio.
“Most brands were young in the industry, usually sourcing fruit, and on a relatively “shoestring” budget,” he said. “Today, the average winemaker at the studio has over 20 years in the industry; the brands are well financed, and most of the wines made here are top tier. I believe something extra special happens by the different winemakers sharing thoughts, experiences and comparing tasting notes and techniques.”
Some clients have been making wine at the studio for several years, but only Hamacher and Andrew Rich have been here from the start — 2002.
“The fact that all the winemakers are seasoned pros who know how to work collaboratively and who can roll with the punches means things tend to go very smoothly,” Rich says. “Over the years, there have been many upgrades to the physical plant and to equipment, but I think the most consequential changes have been the hiring of Anthony King and current facilities manager Mel Liebeck. They’ve been responsible for ensuring that the studio operates at high standards.”
In 2020, customers Francine Goitz and David Willis of Bend, Ore., joined The CWS wine club after hearing about its unique options and experiencing the Pinot Noirs by Andrew Rich.
“Once we sat down and had a full tasting of many of their winemakers’ works, we knew we would be members — always,” said Goitz, adding that they appreciate “the wide variety of phenomenal wines.”
A recent studio tour included a well-crafted Grüner Veltliner by Wynne Nedry-Peterson, whose brands include Ribbon Ridge Winery and Ridgecrest. She shares ownership of those with her father Harry. In 1982, Harry planted the first vines at Ridgecrest Vineyards in what is now the Ribbon Ridge American Viticultural Area. Wynne grew up on that property, home to 40 acres of sustainably dry-farmed vines.
“My favorite part of working at the studio, which is also the most compelling and beneficial part of the setup, is the ability to work with and be surrounded by so many other fabulous and talented winemakers,” she says. “We are all a big family, able to share advice, tips, tricks and whatever else might be useful. It’s fun to have a collective winemaking mind to bounce things off of and have others taste the wines.”
Here are a few of the beautifully crafted wines poured earlier this year at The Carlton Winemakers Studio:
Ribbon Ridge Winery 2021 Ridgecrest Estate Grüner Veltliner, $24: Wynne Peterson-Nedry presents snappy and fresh with hints of tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. Star fruit, juicy white peaches, lemon-lime citrusy notes, white pepper and lemon verbena entwine with mouth-watering acidity to make for an exhilarating palate and bright finish.
Ratio:Wines 2017 Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton, $38: The wildly effusive aromas of tree fruits and lemon tarragon developed by Anthony King lead the way in a captivating manner. Reminiscent of a fine Chablis, it’s sleek with crisp apples, citrus herb notes, a thread of minerality and barrel spice sitting perfectly in the background. Racy acidity keeps it finely balanced.
Ratio:Wines 2018 Retina Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40: This gem opens with an expressive aroma of red fruits. Youthful while fully flavored as it broadens on the palate with raspberries, subtle herbs, red cherries, a touch of salinity, nice underlying oak (15 months in 20% new, and seasoned French Taransaud barrels.) The wine finishes with pretty savory notes.
Hamacher Wines 2016 Signature Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $60: Floral notes rise from the glass with this silky Pinot Noir from Eric Hamacher. The well-defined palate showcases rich Bing cherries, spice-dusted wild berries, forest floor elements and subtle oak nuances. It is beautifully textured with a finish that’s nervy and long-lasting. ($60)
Andrew Rich Wines 2018 Sojeau Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills $60: The tantalizing earth-driven nose developed by Andrew Rich leads to a layered and balanced palate of black cherries, anise, black raspberries, and a nice herbaceousness. Well-managed oak adds a touch of spice. This is pure and elegant with fine depth and a lingering finale.
Studio wineries also include 00 Wines, Asilda Wines, Aubaine Wine, Dusky Goose Winery, Guillén Family Wines, Lavinea, Lazy River, Lucid Wild Wines, Megan Anne Cellars, North Valley Vineyards, Project M Wines and Wahle Vineyards & Cellars.
For a broader perspective of the studio’s wines, call (503) 852-6100 for an appointment. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but reservations are no longer required.
• The Carlton Winemakers Studio, 801 N. Scott St., Carlton, OR, 97111, WinemakersStudio.com.
Chris Janos says
Sommelier Landis, Thanks for your update re: the Carlton/Yamhill Valley ‘Renaissance’; for me, the spirit of the Oregon wine adventure starts in Carlton. Your past research of PNW Muscat offerings and ‘medal’ successes of PNW wines has been exciting reading. Cheer, CJ
Thanks Chris, I appreciate your thoughtful note. There are many amazing wines from talented grapegrowers and winemakers among the wine regions across the Great Northwest!