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Jonathan Ziemba
October 20, 2015 | Jonathan Ziemba

The Yamhill-Carlton AVA: A Primer

In conjunction with our November Flight Club release, featuring 3 wines we source from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, we are launching the first in a series of AVA Primers. These Blogs are designed to provide the reader with a bit of geographical and sensory information on each of the Willamette Valley, Oregon sub-appellations from which we derive fruit for our Raptor Ridge cuvees. We hope you enjoy this information and the wines that accompany them. We welcome your impressions, comments and feedback.


As the North Yamhill River descends from the mountains, it enters the fertile Yamhill-Carlton valley, whose contours are home to some 1200 acres of vineyards. One of the six established AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) of the North Willamette Valley, visitors to Yamhill-Carlton are struck by its miles of rolling hills, and the grand vista of the Coast Range behind them.  The rain-shadow of the mountains keeps these vineyards dry, while the nearby Van Duzer corridor cools the grapes at night with coastal air. While each vineyard is unique, Yamhill-Carlton wines typically provide black and blue fruits, marked by bramble and spice, and deliver rich non-fruit components as well, such as licorice and earth. These are frequently muscular and structured wines, benefiting from age, but are highly enjoyable in their youth. Raptor Ridge is proud to source grapes from some of the premier vineyards perched above the valley floor.                                                                        

Heading west from Carlton on the valley floor, Meadowlake Road gradually ascends into the Coast Range, where it tracks the Nestucca River through coniferous rainforest to the Pacific Ocean. The foothills here contain one of the larger vineyard designates in Yamhill-Carlton, the 210-acre Gran Moraine Vineyard. Planted in 2005 by Pacific Partners, in conjunction with CALPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System), Gran Moraine climbs from 180 to 420 feet, and is planted to both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Well-drained, ancient Willakenzie and Hazelair soils are aided by state-of-the-art vineyard management, and produce classically-styled red-fruited wines, with hints of bittersweet chocolate and baking spice. Since 2009 Raptor Ridge has sourced clones 114, 667 and Pommard from mid-slope blocks, as well as those at the top of the hill. The 2014 vintage provides ripe cherry and strawberry, and a rounded, broad mouthfeel. While this wine is showing surprisingly well young, it would benefit from bottle age. New to the Raptor Ridge family for the 2015 vintage is Gran Moraine Chardonnay, sourced from near the base of the hill. Currently resting in neutral French oak in the Raptor Ridge cellar, its anticipated release is Autumn 2016.                                                                                  

Across the valley from Gran Moraine vineyard, in the hills between Yamhill and Chehalem Creek, lie the two hills of the Shea Vineyard, planted in 1989. Raptor Ridge’s working history with this vineyard extends back to the earliest days of our winery, when, in 1996, Scott began sourcing ungrafted Pommard from Block 1. These days, Raptor Ridge draws its fruit from Block 11, near the base of the East Hill, planted with clones 114 and 777 on 4409 rootstock. Shea is a perennially warm site, and its wines display dense, powerful red and black fruit, with notes of cola and black tea. The structure of Shea usually permits long-term aging; we recently opened a bottle of 1997 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard that was still vibrantly alive! The 1997 Shea within a retrospective tasting of Raptor Ridge wines

Finally, further north, looking over the town of Yamhill, lies Goodrich Vineyard, the youngest of the three vineyards in the November 2015 Flight Club selection. Goodrich contains 21 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted in 2007, and has since 2010 supplied fruit for several of our cuvees, notably the Reserve bottling. We began a single-vineyard designate label in 2012, and for the 2013 vintage, sourced Pommard from the southern, middle block of the vineyard – within eyesight of another Raptor Ridge designate – Atticus Vineyard. Young vines on shallow soils provide early ripening grapes, and wines with strong notes of Italian plum and pepper. Smokey tones often emerge with time in the glass. The 2013 adds a surprisingly elegant high note of raspberry and bramble, and with generous time decanted, reveals red plum and tobacco.

Having worked with the fruit of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA since 1996, Raptor Ridge has grown from a fledgling winery of 800 cases to total production of 8 to 10 thousand in the two decades since. Expanding our production meant branching out and seeking fruit sources from additional AVAs, as well as purchasing our own Chehalem Mountains property, Tuscowallame Vineyard. Stay tuned for future primers on each of the Willamette Valley Sub-Appellations with which we work. If you are interested in following along with a flight of wines from each AVA, our Flight Club will feature a distinct AVA focus with each release, November 2015, March 2016, and May 2016. We’d love to have you on board! 

Explore more Raptor Ridge single-vineyard designate wines in our store


Attributed sources:

Yamhill Carlton Growers association -

Oregon Wine Board -

Oregon Pinot Camp -


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