by Karla Erovick
hen Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen bought 200 acres of land in 1971
to plant in grapes, they had no idea what was possible. They
brought a love of French wines and vision for producing wine in
Oregon’s rich soil, that was similar in climate to Burgundy. It was a
gamble to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in Oregon’s
Willamette Valley since “the experts” deemed Oregon’s climate to
be unsuitable for wine.
The land that was chosen was a former orchard that they hoped
would be good for growing grapes and producing wine. We now
know these rich, red, Jory soils produce distinct wines and have
become a sought-after location for wineries and vineyards.
The entire Knudsen family including Cal and Julia Lee’s four children
(Page, Colin, David, Cal) were involved in planting the first 30
acres of vineyards. This made Knudsen the largest vineyard in the
Willamette Valley. In 1975, they added another 30 acres of vine-
yards, making them the largest vineyard in Oregon. For the family,
this created a strong connection to the land and vineyards that
continues to this day.
Cal Knudsen formed a partnership with Dick Erath in 1975 to make
Knudsen Erath wines. Their winery was the first located in the
Dundee Hills. In 1987, a shared love of sparkling wine led Knud-
sen Vineyards to enter into a long-term arrangement of selling
grapes to the start-up, Argyle Winery, to make into sparkling and
still wines. The fact that Argyle’s winemaker, Rollin Soles was a fan
of sparkling wine, probably helped in the decision. To this day,
Argyle has won more awards for their wine than any other winery
in Oregon and they are one of Oregon’s largest producers of spar-
In 2009, Cal Knudsen passed, leaving the vineyards into his
children’s very capable hands. Having grown up in the vineyards
there was no doubt that they chose take an active role in managing
vineyard operations. They consider themselves to be stewards of the
land, to be held in trust for future generations of Knudsen’s to contin-
ue growing grapes and producing wine. Each has pursued a
career in their chosen fields and brings expertise in marketing,
finance, and operations to the business of running a vineyard.
One of their biggest decisions was to return to the family’s
wine-making roots. They choose a wine-maker they trusted, Nate
Klosterman from Argyle, to translate their grapes into a distinct wine
that reflected the character of the grapes, the soil, and sustainable
farming practices. Their first wines were produced in 2012 and
released in 2014.
The Knudsen’s have always had a commitment to sustainable farm-
ing practices believing that they are merely stewards of the land, to
nurture and protect it for future generations, hopefully of Knudsen’s.
They have become both LIVE Certified (Low Impact Viticulture and
Enology) and Salmon Safe Certified to this end.
Today they have 130 acres of vines on the property with the oldest
vines of Pinot Noir planted in 1974. These vines are old and
gnarled with thick trunks that still produce delicious wine. If the vine-
yards are nourished they produce high-quality grapes that can be
made into balanced, beautiful wine. Much of the magic happens in
the vineyard with experienced vineyard managers that know how
to bring out the best in the grapes. If they have done their job, the
winemaker can bring out the nuances and flavors of this vintage of
grape, to become a distinct wine. Based on the response that Knud-
sen Vineyards wine has been receiving in wine ratings they are
doing things right.
Knudsen Vineyards produces a limited amount of Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir every year, which often sells out. Their wines reflect ripe
fruit flavors, earthy, spicy, old vine characteristics.
Their current releases include:
2014 Knudsen Vineyards Pinot Noir- $55
2014 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay - $45
2015 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay - $45
Photos Courtesy of Knudsen Vineyards.