Walnut Ridge Vineyard

Alisha and Aaron from Walnut Ridge Vineyard

It’s heartwarming how some of my stories have come about over the years. I am incredibly fortunate to have so many beautiful stories to share. Just last week, I poured a blind wine during the podcast, an opportunity that took me back to the time I first tasted the wine back in January 2020. Today’s story will stay with me for years to come!

Looking back, the story with Walnut Ridge Vineyard began when I heard Stephen Hagen speak on March 31, 2022. One of the reasons I was intrigued was because Drew Voit delved deep into one of his wines coming from Antiquum. It took me a while to finally visit Antiquum around this time last year, but once I did, I was hooked!

Around the same time, the winemaker was leaving Antiquum, which left me a little sad. On January 7 of this year, I wrote about Antiquum, saying:

“I tried to find out what Andrew’s new project is, but I wasn’t successful yet. If, by any chance, you know, please tap that ‘reply’ button and let me know.”

Well, would you believe it? Dru Allen from Compris used the ‘reply’ button and said, “Andrew started Fallbright Solutions. It’s a winery/vineyard consulting service.” Thank you, Dru!

Not long after that, I gained a new subscriber to the newsletter. Can you guess who it was? Yup, it was Andrew Smith!

Fast forward to July 8th this year. Out of the blue, I received an email from Andrew asking if I was interested in visiting Walnut Ridge Vineyard just outside of Junction City. Talk about being honored; it made my day! The only downside was that summer was packed to the brim. I asked if September 9th would work, even though it was a bit of a wait. He said sure, and we were set!

But before we got to my visit in September, there was another event towards the end of July called IPNC, and there was a pre-IPNC event at Hazelfern called the ‘Chardy Party.’ There was fantastic fried chicken, Chardonnay, perfect weather, and wonderful people.

Before dinner, everyone was mingling, drinking wine, and having a great time. There was a couple I didn’t recognize, and when I introduced myself, the wife, Alisha, looked at me somewhat oddly and said, ‘I think we are hosting you at the vineyard in September.’ Come to find out, it was indeed Alisha and Aaron from Walnut Ridge!

We got to talking, and I never would have thought our paths would have crossed like that. In the back-and-forth emails with Andrew, he mentioned food and dietary restrictions. I was grateful for all the hospitality, but during my chat with Alisha and Aaron, I said, ‘Please don’t go overboard for me with food. It’s only me. I treasure sitting down and getting to know the people over food.’

September 9th finally arrived. The sky was a crisp blue, and the sun was in full gear. Some wineries in the Valley were already picking fruit for Sparkling wine. Hints of harvest were in the air!

Getting out of the car, my senses were a little overwhelmed by the vineyard, the tasting room, and the sounds of birds all over the place at Walnut Ridge Vineyard. Walking into the tasting room, I ran into Alisha. She went to get Aaron and Andrew. Once they came out, it was a trip out into the Walnut Ridge vineyard.

As we walked up the hill, I commented about the birds. Aaron quickly told me it was birds of prey coming from speakers all over the vineyard. He wants to get a bird cannon, but Alisha doesn’t like the thought of cannons going off now and then. She thinks it’s enough to fire a shotgun into the vineyard occasionally.

I am trying to remember how we got into Aaron telling me a story of his first time with a shotgun. I think it was his grandpa who allowed Aaron to fire a shotgun when he was too small to get his arm around the butt of the gun. Aaron ended up putting his arm over the top of the gun, and when his grandpa said it was okay to pull both triggers, he did! Needless to say, Aaron landed flat on his patootski with zero interest in guns for a very long time after that.

I want to back up a little in case you are unaware of the farming techniques Antiquum employs. Stephen has coined the term ‘Grazing-Based Viticulture.’ The use of animals in the vineyard is outstanding and mind-blowing, and you can taste the difference between the blocks where the animals fertilize the vineyard more than other parts. Andrew comes from this background, and he mentioned how Alisha and Aaron are putting the care of the vineyard first in his emails to me.

Why is this important? Well, when Aaron was trying to get Andrew to work for him, there were a couple of crucial points Aaron mentioned. He mentioned that agriculture came before the winery, and the life of the soil was more important than the soil types. These topics are essential to Aaron, which is why Andrew and Aaron work side by side, looking after the vineyard.

Once we got to the top of the hill and had a good laugh about Aaron’s shotgun story, we were also at the top corner of the vineyard. The view was spectacular! This particular corner also gets some shade. Aaron pulled out his phone to show me a sunset from this spot a few days ago. If I were to live on this property, that would become my new back deck where I do everything! The Emma Pinot Noir comes from this part of the vineyard and is a Walnut Ridge Vineyard club member favorite!

The view from the Emma Block at Walnut Ridge Vineyard is spectacular!

A view from the Emma Block at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

The previous owners mixed all the blocks and didn’t have a great system to distinguish the different sections in the vineyard. Andrew told me how he was working with the vineyard crew to separate all the different clones into specific picking bins. He didn’t want to mix any of it. He wanted to document and hear what the vineyard was giving him before trying to blend different clones throughout the Walnut Ridge Vineyard.

Another view of the vineyard from Walnut Ridge Vineyard

Through the documentation process, Andrew came across a clone he had never heard of: the UCD #10 Pinot Clone. Even after countless amounts of research, the origin remains unknown. There is a bottle dedicated to just this clone, and it is called Mystere. Spoiler alert, it’s yummy!

Grapes hanging off the vine at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

As we walked more through the Walnut Ridge Vineyard, Andrew mentioned that there was a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the vineyard as well. When we got to that row, I walked over and picked a grape to taste. I had never tasted a Cabernet grape before. Crunching down on the grape gave me more understanding of why Cabernet is bigger and bolder with more tannins. The skin is tough. Getting to the actual juice was way more complex than a Pinot Noir grape. I also grabbed a Riesling grape, just because – a lot of firsts! It was what you would expect from a Riesling.

Some more grapes at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

After tasting the scrumptious Riesling grape from the vine, it was time to taste some wine. I was excited at this point, along with a bit of worry that Alisha was going to serve a lavish amount of food. I was incredibly grateful to see a plate with a little bit of cheese. Phew! It’s not that I don’t appreciate it when wineries go all out with food, but I don’t want it to get in the way of getting to know the people and their wines.

Sitting down for a tasting at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

Over the past month, I came across two quotes from Tim Atkin that resonated with me. They hit home to me while sitting at a table, in the vineyard, or the cellar tasting wines with a winemaker.

‘Wines are like people in that sense. Some are loud and bombastic, others speak in an evanescent whisper, and the best of them, at least to me, are those that have a quiet, yet clearly audible, self-confidence.’

‘Tasting can be a sociable activity, but at its core, it’s a dialogue with the wine, not with another person. A dialogue that, paradoxically perhaps, is best conducted without words.’

Tim Atkin

I mention these two quotes because, sitting down at the table with Alisha, Aaron, and Andrew from Walnut Ridge Vineyard, I knew it was going to be challenging to listen to what the wine was telling me, make notes, and socialize at the same time. Maybe I overthink things also. Is this why I have a book titled, ‘Am I Overthinking This?’ If you are a long-time reader, you know my notes could be better. I didn’t know this when I sat down, but I was incredibly fortunate to take these bottles home, where I could sit and listen to what they had to tell me. Shall we dive in?

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard La Petite Fete Pinot Noir
In this glass of 2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard La Petite Fete, you’ll find a little party happening indeed. With a blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Gamay Noir, this wine reveals a lovely, medium-dark red color that beckons you in. As you take in the aromas, a subtle hint of spice dances on the nose. The wine offers a smooth, silky entry, which evolves into a velvety mid-palate, creating a delightful textural experience.

But what truly sets this wine apart is the finish. It’s where the magic unfolds. On the finish, your senses come alive with a captivating blend of spice and clove. This delightful surprise gives you an extra pep in your step and leaves a memorable impression. A sip of this Pinot Noir is like an invitation to a little celebration in your glass.

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir
This 2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir offers a subtle aroma on the nose, with just a hint of spice that piques your interest. As you take your first sip, bright cherry notes grace the entry and mid-palate, creating a lively and youthful character. The wine then transitions into a calm and harmonious phase. On the mid-palate, you can sense its youthfulness, with a gentle touch of tannin appearing towards the back end. It leads you to the finish, where you’ll find a delightful interplay of flavors and sensations.

The wine presents with great potential, boasting excellent acidity, suggesting it has the qualities of an age-worthy gem. With each sip, it tells a story that’s just beginning, and you’re invited to be part of its exciting journey.

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Vielles Vignes Pinot Noir
In the glass, the 2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Vielles Vignes Pinot Noir reveals a beautiful, medium-dark red hue. While the nose initially remains discreet, the wine’s entry is a delightful surprise.

At first sip, you might be taken aback, but in a good way. The subtle, sultry entrance gradually unfolds into an explosive mid-palate, showcasing the true power and vigor of these old vines, which were planted back in 1996. It’s as if they’re delivering a knockout punch, reminiscent of the famous Mike Tyson quote, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit.’

The one-two jab in the mid-palate introduces an array of deep, dark fruits, a treasure trove of flavors. The finish leaves you with a lasting impression that’s both intense and intriguing. It’s an experience that makes you hope you never run into Mike Tyson in a dark alley, just like you hope to never forget the remarkable taste of this wine.

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Mystere Pinot Noir
Don’t tell Drew Voit, but I’m planning to present this wine to him as a blind tasting on the podcast. Why, you ask? Well, this wine hails from a clone known as UCD #10, and its origins remain a well-kept mystery. When Drew first heard about this enigmatic creation, he couldn’t resist, and thus, this wine came into existence. It’s not my usual practice to showcase a blind wine crafted by a winemaker, but this one is a rare exception that demands a closer look.

This wine presents itself with a captivatingly dark color that sparks the imagination. The nose is immediately intriguing, with an array of mostly dark red fruits, complemented by just a hint of brighter red fruit, like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.

The entry onto the palate is smooth and elegant, akin to embarking on a graceful journey down a lazy river. As the wine evolves into the mid-palate, its enigmatic character continues to unfold.

On the finish, a delightful amount of grainy tannins appears, indicating that this wine is an ideal companion for a sumptuous meal. It also whispers a promise that its true potential will be fully revealed in the years to come.

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Belle Amie Pinot Noir
The 2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Belle Amie Pinot Noir showcases a pleasing depth of color. While it may not be the darkest, it certainly isn’t light. The wine’s visual allure sets the stage for what’s to come.

Upon the first approach, you’re welcomed by dark, alluring aromas that beckon you in, promising a rich and layered experience. As you savor the wine, you’ll notice a gentle presence of tannins on the finish. These tannins linger gracefully, extending the enjoyment of each sip.

Intertwined with the tannins are subtle hints of spice and an array of ‘everything nice,’ offering a harmonious balance of flavors.

2022 Walnut Ridge Vineyard Emma Pinot Noir
Emma holds a special place in the hearts of Walnut Ridge enthusiasts, and it’s not hard to see why. Perched at the vineyard’s pinnacle, overlooking the picturesque valley, Emma embodies the essence of a wine that everyone clamors to savor. Comprising grapes from various blocks, this wine basks in the glorious afternoon sun, capturing the beauty of the sunsets that poets attempt to describe.

This Pinot Noir presents itself with a medium-dark red hue that sets the stage for what’s to come. On the nose, it may leave you searching for words, as its aromas remain elusive.

Upon the first sip, the entry is subtle and approachable, like a gentle invitation. But as you journey through the mid-palate, all the fruits burst forth tenfold, creating a symphony of flavors that is truly extraordinary.

The finish follows suit, continuing the explosive flavor journey, which then gently settles down, revealing a touch of tannin and acidity. This hints at the incredible age-worthy potential that Emma possesses. Just like those timeless sunsets, Emma promises an experience that lingers long after the last sip.

Bottles of wine from the tasting at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

It was quite a treat to savor these wines from Walnut Ridge Vineyard over the course of a few days! To try and pick one wine as a favorite is next to impossible. I enjoyed all of them! My top two wines would be the Mystere and the Emma. The uniqueness of the Mystere is magical and the Emma showed strong multiple days into the tasting.

It was also special sitting across the table from Alisha and Aaron from Walnut Ridge Vineyard. I noticed at the Chardy Party how much they enjoyed being around each other, and I observed the same during the tasting. If I didn’t know any better, it was like they were a happily married couple deeply in love. I never would have guessed with having two kids. The oldest is 15 (yes, we talked about having 15-year-olds). It warms my heart to see people so genuinely happy with one another. So, I asked, ‘It seems like the two of you can’t keep your hands off one another, and I noticed this at Hazelfern as well. What do you think the secret is keeping the magic alive after so many years and working together day in and day out at the property?’

When Aaron’s face turned beet red, I felt awful. I apologized and said, ‘I’m sorry, you don’t need to answer that question. It’s too personal.’ Aaron chuckled and said, ‘It’s okay,’ and proceeded to share that it’s all about making time for one another and respecting each other.

After we finished the tasting, I had to capture a picture of Alisha and Aaron from Walnut Ridge Vineyard, along with some others!

Alisha and Aaron from Walnut Ridge Vineyard
The setting for an outside tasting at Walnut Ridge Vineyard
Fireplace inside the tasting room at Walnut Ridge Vineyard
Another picture of the tasting room at Walnut Ridge Vineyard

I genuinely hope you can visit Alisha and Aaron at Walnut Ridge Vineyard! They are a fantastic couple, and I adored their wines. When you visit Walnut Ridge Vineyard, please tell them ‘hi’ for me and let them know, ‘A.J. sent me!'”

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