By Vanessa Salvia

As we parked at Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon, for the Yamhill-Carlton AVA Spring Tasting on April 20, the first thing we saw were these cute alpacas.

Alpacas at Abbey Road Farm - Yamhill AVA Spring Tastings 2024
Alpacas at Abbey Road Farm.

We left our house at 8am in order to drive the almost 2 hours to get to Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon, in time for the VIP hour of 10am. We were thrilled to get an hour ahead of the crowds to visit the 45 wineries in the AVA who were pouring pinot noir, chardonnay, sparkling wine, and more, alongside a catered menu from Caballero’s Catering. There were two tasting sessions, a morning session from 11-1 with a the VIP hour starting at 10, and an afternoon session from 3-5 with the VIP hour at 2pm. Since we already knew we were going to the first Sip, Savor, Stroll in Eugene from 2-7 that afternoon, we had to settle on the morning session — Yes, that meant we had to suffer through tasting wine and eating delicious catered bites at 10am!

The event is a rare opportunity to take a deep dive into this Willamette Valley appellation and taste and get to know the many participating Yamhill-Carlton wineries. If you’re looking for a wine club to join or just want to buy a few bottles, a tasting event like this is a great way to “visit” many wineries at once. Many wineries are participating for the first time this year, including Amaterra Wines, Abbott Claim, Division Winemaking Co, Kristof Farms, and Sokol Blosser.

Abbey Road Farm is a working farm on 82 acres that makes its own wine, has a bed and breakfast, event venue, winery, and tasting room. The views were unmatched. Just look at that gorgeous header image above to see what I mean.

Abbey Road Farm Sign
Abbey Road Farm Sign

The Yamhill-Carlton AVA is known for pinot noir and chardonnay, which was what most of the wineries were offering, but there were other varieties as well. They hold tasting events each spring and summer, as well as Memorial Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend open houses.

Willakenzie Estate Winery
Willakenzie Estate Winery

Live Certified and Salmon Safe WillaKenzie Estate Winery poured 2021 WillaKenzie Estate Cuvee Chardonnay and 2021 Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir. The pinot offered tart cherry, raspberry, and baking spices, just like you expect from pinot noir.

We enjoyed speaking with the winemakers and the family-owned wineries to get to know some of them, especially some of the smaller ones that don’t have tasting rooms. A favorite of ours (bottles came home with us) was Pheasant Hill Winery, which is only an acre in size. We bought their 2018 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve, which was a jammy, round, and soft wine with the classic pinot noir flavors. The 2021 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve is recommended in the recent issue of Oregon Wine Press, which described it as “a sensory journey with savory fresh rosemary and eucalyptus aromas, followed by ripe red cherries. Succulent marionberries dance across the taste buds, accompanied by the essence of rosemary oil, contributing depth and complexity, enhancing the wine’s velvety character with each sip. Its pleasant body and lip-smacking finish deliver a memorable, satisfying tasting experience.”

We spoke with Joyful Noise Wine, a small winery that was featured in our “McMinnville Wine Weekend” article from fall 2024. And Nicholas Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author who regularly contributes to CNN and is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, was on hand to represent Kristof Farms and sign copies of his book, Tightrope. Kristoff was raised in the Yamhill Valley, and replaced the family’s cherry orchard with pinot noir vines and cider apples.

Nicholas Kristoff at Yamhill Carlton AVA Spring Tasting 2024
Nicholas Kristoff and wife Sherryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize–winning couple and authors of “Tightrope.”

While the name “Yamhill” sounds like an agricultural concept related to growing yams, it’s actually named for the Yamel tribe, which lived in this area for 8,000 years.

Wines of this caliber needed food to match, and Caballeros Catering certainly lived up to the challenge. Passed appetizers such as shrimp and grits and duck croquettes for the VIP hour gave way to a gorgeous pile of meet and cheese.

Caballeros Catering at the Yamhill Carlton AVa spring tasting 2024
Caballeros Catering nailed it.

Keep an eye out for the announcement of the next spring tasting. You’ll be sure to discover a new favorite winery like we did.

Participating Wineries