Friday, May 10, 2013

Back to the Roots in the Bourgogne: WillaKenzie Estate Wines in Oregon - Winemaker Thibaud Mandet Presented WillaKenzie Wines at Open Kitchen, USA

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Thibaud Mandet, Winemaker of the WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon

Thibaud Mandet, the winemaker of the WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon, was in town (Washington DC region) and presented his wines at Open Kitchen in Falls Church.

See also:
A German Riesling Dinner at Open Kitchen in Washington DC, USA

WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon – Back to the Roots in the Bourgogne

“Passion for Pinot with a Sense of Place is what defines WillaKenzie Estate, a small family owned winery dedicated to producing Oregon wines with the highest possible expression of Willamette Valley terroir” explained Thibaud Mandet. “WillaKenzie’s Oregon Pinot Noir, Oregon Pinot Gris, Oregon Pinot Blanc as well as small amounts of Oregon Pinot Meunier, Oregon Gamay Noir and Oregon Chardonnay are all produced from fruit grown sustainably on our Willamette Valley Estate and reflect our French heritage.”

Picture: The WillaKenzie Estate

Total production is about 20.000 cases. All wines are made from estate-grown grapes. Bernard Lacroute and Ronni Lacroute are the co-owners of WillaKenzie Estate. They met as graduate students at the University of Michigan. After many years of living on the East Coast and in California, they purchased what they felt to be an ideal Pinot site in 1991: a beautiful 420-acre ranch in Yamhill County, Oregon. They have since divorced, but sharing a passion for Pinot, they continue their collaborative business partnership.

Pictures: Thibaud Mandet, Winemaker of the WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon, presenting his Wines

Bernard Lacroute grew up in the Bourgogne in France. He graduated with Master’s degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering from the French school system. From there, he went off to study Plasma Physics at the University of Michigan, where he met Ronni. After a successful career building computers, then computer companies, Bernard decided to close the loop and return to his roots. WillaKenzie Estate is his dream to make Bourgogne wines in America.


Amity Vineyards is in the Willamette Valley, were about two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes. Oregon’s major wine regions are the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. Some regions straddle the border between Oregon and the States of Washington and Idaho.

Picture: Oregon's wine regions

Wine was made in Oregon in the 19th century already, when Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes and started bottling wine. Oregon's wine industry was suppressed during Prohibition. It wasn’t until1961, when Richard Sommer set up shop in southern Oregon and planted Riesling, that the modern Oregon wine industry was borne. Other pioneers include David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and Bill Sokol-Blosser. Then the French also came with Domaine Drouhin bringing European sophistication to Oregon. In the past 40 years, Oregon has become one of the country’s top three wine States, with 350 wineries producing an average of 5,000 cases each a year. Most of it is Pinot Noir, but there’s also Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and modest amounts of Riesling and Merlot.

Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. Oregon's biggest producer ships only 125,000 cases per year and most produce under 35,000 cases. The State features many small wineries which produce less than 5,000 cases per year. In contrast, E & J Gallo Winery, the US’ largest winery, produces about 70 million cases annually. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market.

Thibaud Mandet

Born in Auvergne, France, Thibaud Mandet completed his graduate diploma from the Faculté d'Oenologie de Bordeaux, then earned his postgraduate degree in bubbly wine making from Reims in Champagne. So, he learned how to make red wine and sparkling wine, then worked in Corsica and Texas, before landing at WillaKenzie Estate in 2000.

Pictures: Thibaud Mandet, Winemaker of the WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon, presenting his Wines


As winemaker at WillaKenzie Estate, Thibaud Mandet shares WillaKenzie's commitment to top quality in the vineyard and the winery and gentle nurturing of the wines to achieve the best expression of the Willakenzie terroir.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Thibaud Mandet, Winemaker of the WillaKenzie Estate in Oregon

Thibaud Mandet: “We combine the best traditional French methods with American innovation to craft wines that are complex, refined, and unique — wines that express the distinctive terroirs of WillaKenzie Estate and our Jory Hills Vineyard located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Our wines are also a reflection of Oregon’s cool grape-growing climate, with elegance, ageability, and balance as their hallmarks. With every WillaKenzie wine, we focus on bringing forth intense flavors, robust structure, and round supple tannins. All of our wines are produced in limited quantities with sustainability in mind, bringing you an honest reflection of our Willamette Valley, Oregon estate.”

Open Kitchen

Open Kitchen is owned by Hue-Chan and John Karels. "Our Mission" Hue-Chan says "is to create a unique culinary gathering space that celebrates the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure and community. Open Kitchen is…

A full-service bistro that honors the farm-to-table spirit with seasonally, ingredient-driven menu of handmade, comfort food, using fresh, local and sustainable products as much as possible.

An intimate, fully-equipped, commercial kitchen facility and dining space offering custom-designed, interactive, and engaging private events for business and social gatherings, life celebrations, and chef-instructed, design-your-own cooking classes.

Pictures: Hue-Chan Karels and Annette Schiller. wine tours by ombiasy. In 2013, two wine tours by ombiasy are coming up:  to Germany (in August) and to Bordeaux (in September): (1) Germany Wine and Culture Tour August 2013 and (2) Bordeaux Wine Tour September 2013

A gourmet market and wine boutique that reflects our philosophy that there is a magical relationship between wines, foods, and human connections. An evolving concept that includes Open Kitchen’s newly launched Wine Club featuring weekly wine tastings, seasonal wine dinners, wine reward program, and wine shop with gourmet snacks and nibbles.

Amid the noise and haste of modern living, Open Kitchen aspirse to provide guests with a culinary retreat for gracious living…a place to relax, unwind and share in the joy of food, wine, and community."

Pictures: Open Kitchen

As its name suggests, the space is pretty much open, with the meal preparation going on in front of your eyes, especially if you snag a counter seat.

The decor of Open Kitchen is modern. When you enter the place, you see the "open kitchen" with the Chef and his team at work. The kitchen is surrounded by a large wooden bar. You have the option to sit at the bar, the dining bistro area, which includes pub style butcher block tables or the fully covered patio.

The Wines Thibaud Poured

Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris

Thibaud Mandet: “At WillaKenzie Estate Winery, we make our Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc white wines in the Alsatian style: lush, rich, and mouth-filling. Our ultimate goal is to produce Oregon white wines that fully express the characteristics of the fruit. For this reason, all of our white wines – with the exception of our Late Harvest Pinot Gris – are made entirely in stainless steel tanks, with no malolactic fermentation and no barrel aging. With the exception of our Late-Harvest Pinot Gris dessert wine, all of our Willamette Valley estate white wines are bottled with screwcap closures.”

Pinot Blanc 2011

Dominant notes of fresh squeezed lemon and tropical fruits give way to fragrant wisteria, jasmine, and rose petal on the nose. This bright and racy Pinot Blanc delivers lemon curd, granny smith apples, kiwi, and juicy blood oranges to the palate. A long finish brings the whole experience together with just a touch of stone fruit and minerals. US$ 27. 800 cases.

Pinot Gris 2011

Creamy pale-gold in color, with estery aromas of fresh pear blossom and juicy green apple. Tropical notes from the nose become bright Meyer lemon, pink grapefruit, cranberry, and orange peel on the palate. The entry is rich and clean building to a slightly tangy, lingering finish. US$ 27.

Pinot Noir

Thibaud Mandet: “The WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Noirs are 100% Estate Grown here at our Willamette Valley winery and all are aged in French oak barrels in our underground cellar for at least one year. WillaKenzie wines typically spend another year in the bottle before release. Our goal is to produce Oregon Pinot Noirs that are complex, fragrant, and full-bodied, but with soft and silky tannins. Their styles range from very fruity, feminine, and elegant, to powerful wines with great intensity and structure. WillaKenzie Pinot Noir will improve in your cellar, with many capable of aging for 8 to 10 years and some even longer. We take special pride in our vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs. Their different flavors reflect the diversity of their vineyard locations and clonal selections. Like a family, they have much in common, yet each is distinct.”

Aliette Pinot Noir 2009

Situated on a single, gently sloping southeast-facing hill that ranges in elevation from 570 to 610 feet. The ground has a deep layer of Willakenzie soil on top of harder-to-penetrate sandstone. As a result, the vines have spread their roots deeply and rarely need irrigation. Bernard named this vineyard after his mother, Aliette.

Exceptional bouquet of dried violets, lavender, strawberry and hints of cedar. Balanced, supple and very expressive on the palate, it manages to be light and graceful yet powerful at the same time. Red currant, black cherry, raspberry, tea leaves and earth give this medium-bodied wine layers of complexity that linger on the palate. US$ 54.

Kiana Pinot Noir 2009

This vineyard is named after WillaKenzie Estate Owners Ronni and Bernard Lacroute’s granddaughter Kiana, which is Hawaiian for ‘goddess’. It is situated on a moderately sloped hill at 480 to 570 feet on a well-drained site with a south row orientation.

Intense aromas of strawberry, pie cherry and red currants. On the palate, soft tannins and vibrant acidity lead into flavors of juicy cherry and red raspberry. This elegant wine seamlessly transitions between young red fruit, delicate hints of violet and a touch of toastiness. US$ 54.

Emery Pinot Noir 2009

Named for WillaKenzie Estate Owner Bernard Lacroute’s grandfather Emery, the vineyard is situated on a south-facing bench ranging in elevation from 580 to 720 feet. This site’s layer of topsoil is deeper than in the rest of the estate, resulting in more vigorous vines.

Hints of candied violets, allspice and earth on the nose. This wine is rich, full-bodied and balanced with ample amounts of dark fruit and spice. The round mouthfeel is enlivened by juicy acidity and firmly structured tannins. Intense black fruit and spice linger on the finish. US$ 54.

Pierre Leon Pinot Noir 2009

Pierre Léon was named after WillaKenzie Estate Owner Bernard Lacroute’s father to reflect the more masculine side of the wine. Pierre Léon was one of the two vineyard designated wines that were made from the time the winery opened. Today, WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Noir Pierre Léon is made from grapes coming from several vineyard sites on the Estate. The primary clones used for Pinot Noir Pierre Léon are Dijon 113 and 115, but also some Dijon 114, 777 and some Wädensvil. Pinot Noir Pierre Léon continues to be a more masculine style of wine, with a firm structure and silky tannins.

Complex aromas of blackberry and red plum follow lively notes of black pepper, clove and forest floor. Red cherries and currants dominate the fruit components in the mouth while flavors of pepper and tobacco also emerge in harmony with the aromas. The texture is rich on entry and glides all the way to an impressively long, lush finish. US$ 49.

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