By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Ken Wright makes Wine Spectator cover

Submitted photo##Ken Wright is featured on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine. The Carlton winemaker is also an active community leader.
Submitted photo##Ken Wright is featured on the cover of Wine Spectator magazine. The Carlton winemaker is also an active community leader.

So it’s a singularly gratifying sight locally to see Ken Wright, one of Oregon’s pre-eminent winemakers, beaming broadly in front of his Carlton winery for the Spectator’s May 31 cover photo.

If anyone on the local wine scene deserves this level of recognition, of course, it would be Wright. He has not only consistently crafted spectacular pinot noir, as well as other premium varietals, over the past 30 years. He has also emerged as a prominent, innovative community leader.

Wright was at the forefront of Oregon’s second wave of winegrowers and winemakers. And they were able to avoid some fundamental missteps endured and ultimately overcome by their predecessors.

By the mid-1980s, Oregon’s cumulative learning curve was beginning to build momentum. Wright chose that time to leave California with a 60-barrel nest egg of California cabernet and merlot, which wasn’t even technically legal for him to sell in Oregon.

He was able to parlay those barrels into the modest beginnings of Panther Creek Cellars. Within just a few years, he had brought to market a pinot noir considered among the very best the state had to offer.

Wright had a support system in his fledgling endeavor that he acknowledges proved invaluable during those initial years, and well beyond.

Rollin Soles, longtime general manager and head winemaker at Argyle Winery and now owner of ROCO Wines, and Allan Holstein, who manages Argyle’s vineyard operation and serves as a consultant to numerous Yamhill Valley growers, enjoy a friendship dating from their college days

Personal issues stemming from his divorce from his first wife, Corby Stonebraker Soles, forced Wright to sell Panther Creek to Ron and Linda Kaplan. Ownership of the facility recently passed to Elizabeth Chambers of Silvan Ridge in Eugene, who has dubbed it Elizabeth Chambers Cellar.

The Panther Creek name has been acquired by a New York investment group, which holds a substantial interest in Wine by Joe.

Though it is not always easy to keep track of these evolutionary processes, it is evident that the tie to Ken Wright’s reputation as one of Oregon’s finest viticulturists continues to benefit these brands,

Meantime, Wright met and married Karen Stecker, who has proved a key supporter and helpmate. Together, they created Ken Wright Cellars in a rustic old barn in the heart of Carlton.

They have since proceeded to put the Oregon wine world on notice with their Abbot Claim, Guadalupe, McCrone and Shea designated individual vineyard bottlings, all classic examples of the art.

Furthermore, the couple have actively involved themselves in Carlton’s volunteer activities, including, among other things, annual sponsorship at their winery of the city’s signature annal event, Flavors of Carlton.

Their ongoing support of ¡Salud!, the vineyard workers health program also merits mention here. So does their leading role in the celebrated Yamhelas Westsider Trail project.

In recognition of their ongoing contributions both to the Oregon wine industry and the betterment of the Yamhill Valley community at large, the Oregon Wine Press named Ken and Karen Wright the Oregon wine industry’s Persons of the Year in 2012. Now that recognition has gone national and even international, with a 10-page spread in Wine Spectator on his life and accomplishments.



Well deserved recognition of both his craft and his commitment to his community. Congratulations Ken.

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