To say we were surprised by what we found when we visited King Estate Winery at the southern end of the Willamette Valley would be a massive understatement. We suppose the name itself should have been a dead giveaway but as we drove from downtown Eugene via roads that took us through largely rural farmland, we were almost stopped in our tracks when we turned the last corner to see an enormous chateau sitting atop a hill surrounded by hundreds of acres of vines.
King Estate was founded in 1991 by Ed King Jr and his son Ed King III and has remained family owned and operated to this day. Originally from Kansas City, Ed Jr owned an aviation radio technology company and while his son Ed III was studying for his Master’s Degree at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ed Jr decided to sell the shares in his tech company and move the family to the area. Ed III was actually searching for organic hay sites for his horses when he came across the property that is now home to King Estate. While there were no vines when he purchased the land, his entrepreneurial spirit kicked in when he recognized its potential for a winery.
From day one, King Estate was always intended to be a large scale production with an aim to fulfill Ed III’s mission to put Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir into glasses across the country. The vines were planted in 1992 and construction on the main building also commenced that same year. It took 2 years to complete the original building and a decade later the Restaurant and Visitor Center were added on.
As we drove up the long driveway toward the top of the hill, we passed a flock of turkeys, plum trees and rows of lavender bushes before finally stopping at the door of the castle-like structure. Not only is the sheer size of the property breathtaking, its focus on sustainability is equally impressive. It takes a certain amount of commitment (not to mention serious financial investment) to take on this type of obligation and they’ve definitely set a high bar within the industry. Their vines have been certified organic since 2002 and they are now also certified Biodynamic making it one of the largest such vineyards in the country.
Today the winery produces 350,000 cases of wine annually and of the hundreds of acres that are now under vine, 314 acres are made up of Pinot Gris and 143 acres are Pinot Noir. Oregon is well known worldwide for their Pinot Noir so it’s somewhat rare to see a winery in the region make Pinot Gris their signature wine as King Estate has done. But the focus has definitely paid off as their Pinot Gris is consistently ranked among the best in the country by various wine publications.
Along with their organic and biodynamic vines, there are 40 acres of plants other than vines including 14 acres of orchards, vegetable, herb, and flower gardens, as well as 2 acres of lavender to help manage the bugs as no spraying of pesticides is allowed. Their compost pile produces 1,000 tons of compost each year and their 4 acres of solar panels are estimated to eliminate more than 38 million pounds of CO2 over the next 25 years. And if that’s not enough, their property has also become a designated Raptor (birds of prey) release center—we did say impressive (!).
There’s also much more than vines and plants on the property. A tour of the estate uncovered massive stainless steel fermenters housed in two enormous wings and an equally sizeable underground barrel room. Above the Barrel Room is a pear orchard with 16 trees to mimic the 16 columns in the room below and a trip to the top of the tower revealed some spectacular 360 degree views. There are 4 residences at King Estate including a house and 3 cottages.
The Estate makes all of their own cured meats and pates in the Charcuterie building, and bake all of their own breads and desserts in the Bakery building. But, the proverbial jewel in the crown of the Estate’s dedication to enhancing the wine experience through food, is the King Restaurant which opened in 2006 and serves lunch and dinner 7 days a week. The commitment to sustainability doesn’t end with the land around the winery. The restaurant itself uses a wine-on-tap system and their gourmet dishes feature vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers sourced from the estate’s organic gardens and orchards. Any of the fresh produce that is not used on site is donated to the FOOD for Lane County Organization in Eugene.
What is abundantly clear after visiting King Estate is that an enormous amount of thought has gone into the design and concept from the very beginning to ensure visitors are provided with an experience worthy of royalty. Our visit included a fantastic tour of the winery, a pre-dinner flight at the tasting bar, capped off with a spectacular meal paired brilliantly with their wine in the King Restaurant–all set amidst incredible views of the valley.