King Estate – culinary and eco-tourism in the greenest city in the U.S.

King Estate
King Estate. Photo Don Hankins

King Estate, known nationally for its signature white pinot gris wines, is located in Eugene Oregon, a region known for its environmentally green culture, outdoor lifestyle and world-class food and wine, making the area a great weekend destination.

According the latest National Geographic “Green Guide” and Entrepreneur magazine, Eugene is the greenest city in the U.S. based on factors such as environmental policy, energy use, air and water quality, green design and recycling.  By comparison, The Green Guide ranked Santa Rosa #5, Oakland #6, Berkeley #7 and San Francisco #18.  Eugene is a sophisticated university town with long-standing organic shops, eateries and outdoor markets, and accessible public transportation.

Eugene, about a two-hours’ drive south of Portland on Highway 5, is also prime for outdoor enthusiasts with over 100 miles of ‘bike-friendly’ streets, over 50 miles of hiking, walking and mountain biking trails through beautiful parks, and rivers for kayaking and inner-tubing.  It’s a runner’s town, with the University of Oregon hosting the latest NCAA track & field championships and the upcoming 2012 Olympic trials at Hayward Field.  Nike was virtually created at the University of Oregon by former university and Olympic track coach Bill Bowerman and alumnus and current Nike chairman, Phil Knight.

Best of all, the Pacific Northwest is one of the most prolific regions in the country for food and wine.  It is famous for its seafood such as Dungeness crab and king salmon, foraged foods such as chanterelles and truffles (check out Eugene’s annual Truffle Festival), and is the leading producer of the nation’s raspberries, cherries, apples, pears and hazelnuts.  Oregon’s signature pinot noir and pinot gris, among the world’s most food-friendly wines, are a natural accompaniment to this bounty.

King Estate is an embodiment of the best of Oregon’s sustainable and food & wine cultures.  King farms without synthetic chemicals on one of the largest contiguous organic vineyards in the country, certified by Oregon Tilth.  King’s sustainable practices include water conservation via dry-farming its 470 acres of vineyards while winery wastewater is recycled through treatment ponds.  Water quality for the nearby Siuslaw River habitat is ensured through King’s organic practices and is documented by Salmon Safe certification.  King Estate’s underground barrel cellar uses a passive heating and cooling system to conserve energy and planning for a large-scale solar platform is underway.

King Estate practices natural pest control using raptors such as hawks and owls which live in predator posts throughout the organic vineyards.  King partners with neighbor Cascades Raptor Center to rehabilitate birds of prey that have been injured or sickened by auto accidents, electrical lines, barbed wire or chemicals, or made orphans through human intervention.

The 300-seat Restaurant at King Estate, headed by Executive Chef Michael Landsberg, features the best of local, seasonal and freshly made ingredients, sourcing produce from their 30 acres of organic gardens and orchards, breads from their on-site bakery and salumi from their on-site charcuterie.  Their culinary program is so intensive and regional that the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park brings groups of students there 2-4 times a year to tour the organic gardens and vineyards, visit local vendors and learn about culinary sustainability and food and wine pairing.  King Estate’s public cooking classes during the year are always sold out.

The tasting room features flights of wine and if you go, you must taste the pinot gris.  Pinot gris aka pinot grigio is the second most popular white wine in America after chardonnay according to The Nielsen Company and King Estate’s pinot gris is the 2nd most popular restaurant wine in the category according to the latest Wine & Spirits magazine poll.  King Estate makes a range of value oriented pinot gris from their new Acrobat label, a light-bodied, crisp white in the $10-12 price range, the flagship King Estate Signature Pinot Gris in the $15-17 range, and the King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris ($20-25) which is made from 100% estate and 100% certified organic grapes.

The Signature Pinot Gris is a fruity and fresh wine compared to the Domaine Pinot Gris which has elegance and pedigree you can taste.  The 2009 Signature Pinot Gris is aromatic with lemon and lime, peach and honey scents with a purity of tropical flavors.  It’s a refreshing wine with richness and length.  The 2008 Domaine Pinot Gris has ripe apple and pear flavors with classic pinot gris spice and a hint of toast.  This full-bodied wine is well-balanced with elegant acidity and concentrated fruit that finishes long.

King Estate’s public tours consist of a 45-60 minute tour which focuses on their sustainable practices.  For those that are interested in a more intensive eco- or culinary visit, King Estate provides customized tours for groups of all sizes.  The winery is planning a host of more formal eco-tours in the coming months such as eco-camping on their vast 1,033 acre estate, raptor viewing, guided and self-guided nature walks through approximately 120 acres of wetlands that are in the process of restoration.

King Estate, 80854 Territorial Rd, Eugene, OR 97405.  Phone: 541-942-9874 .  Open daily from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.  Public tours last approximately 45 minutes and are held on the hour from 12 Noon until 5:00 pm.  The Restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.  The next cooking class is scheduled for Sunday, October 3rd.