To view all the wineries in the Yamhill-Carlton area (vice just those located within the official AVA), please see our Yamhill-Carlton Region page. Yamhill-Carlton is a horseshoe-shaped American Viticultural Area (AVA) a little over an hour southwest of Portland—twelve miles from Newberg and 8 miles from McMinnville, Oregon. In a world of distinct wine regions, this is one of the most distinct of all. The best way to find out about it is to seek out winemaker Ken Wright, who authored the petition for the AVA. You’ll find him at Ken Wright Cellars in Carlton, Oregon. Or, you can find him like I did, presiding over the Yamhill-Carlton tasting at Vitaly Paley’s Imperial restaurant, in downtown Portland, Oregon. The pairing is not accidental. The two have collaborated on dozens of winemaker dinners over the years, both winemaker and chef having a common communion with their products and the land on which they’re grown. There were over thirty producers in the room but when asked about the AVA, they all said, “Talk to Ken.” “No other plant expresses what a place is made of like Pinot Noir,” says Wright. “No other tree or vegetable, and I don’t think any other grape…” Wright explains this is the oldest soil in the valley—some 50 million years compared to the 20 or 30 million years of other viticultural areas. The Red Hills of Dundee is Jory soil; volcanic, basalt rock. Willakenzie is glacial sediment, and both of these covered the marine, sea floor soil of the Yamhill-Carlton until a tectonic shift pushed the horseshoe shaped AVA up to the surface. Well, it’s kinda like that, distilled down from the winegrower’s waxing poetic about this bit of lore. (The technical term for this condition is “dirt dork.”) In this AVA, everything happens between 200 and 1000 feet, an area covering only 8500 acres. Above or below those lines are unsuitable for Vitis vinifera, the variety used to make wine. Another distinction is the proximity to Oregon’s “rain shadow—” they’re in the heart of it, so Yamhill-Carlton is drier than other parts of the valley. Rain forms on the coastal side of the mountains to the west, but the mountains block most of it. What storms do make it over the mountains don’t touch the ground for a few miles further east, leapfrogging the AVA. But it’s that marine soil, “the mother rock,” as Wright describes it, that gives Yamhill-Carlton it’s unique characteristics. Other AVAs are driven by fruit, but a Yamhill-Carlton wine exhibits spice in the nose—anise, rose, clove, tobacco, vanilla… On the palate you’ll find blue and black fruit flavors. The wines exhibit plenty of structure but lower acidity than other Willamette Valley neighbors, so the wines as a whole exhibit very little in the way of red fruits. A bonus: Yamhill-Carlton wines tend to be “ready” a little sooner (not to say they don’t age well because they certainly do). The truth is in the tasting, of course, and perhaps to really get this AVA, it’s best to try them next to another one. This truly is a special place and the Yamhill-Carlton producers to a man/woman take the expression of that place very seriously. It’s a very subtle but still profound experience of the term “terroir” and what it’s all about. And it tastes great.