At King Estate near Eugene, Oregon, cooperation with nature leads to unique outcomes. Birds of prey restored to health at Cascade Raptor Center and feral cats captured in Eugene, then vaccinated and neutered, are prized here.
That’s because the predators effectively control ground squirrels, voles, and other small animals that live to ravage vines and food crops. In addition, the estate protects 150 acres of rare oak woodlands and riparian habitat along a stream that feeds the Siuslaw River.
Several endemic endangered species get special protection, too. And their own bees boost pollination while producing 200 pounds of honey each year.
Clearly, owners of the largest biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. take organic seriously. But the visitor won’t see the bigger picture, or the complexity behind the scenes, unless she digs. A visit is all about delight, whether focused on fine wines or not.
Beyond the entry gate, long rows of perfectly pruned grape vines line the road. We pass an orchard in bloom, humming hives, big greenhouses, and wooly sheep busy shearing weeds between the vines. Parking at the top of the hill, we discover a formal landscape that sets off the hard-working farm from the winery and restaurant.
Views take in wild lands, home to foxes, bobcats, coyotes, black bears, and cougars. The four-acre solar array in the meadow is a clue to the philosophy of co-founder Ed King Jr. The idea for a winery here came from his son, Ed King III, and today, the farm stands as an example of his goal of working with nature to create great wines and fresh local ingredients.
“If you go out and pick it now and then cook it—that’s the best,” King says.
Inside, the bar and restaurant create an oasis of refinement with lush Persian carpets beneath a high ceiling. The hostess seats us on comfortable chairs at a table near the grand stone fireplace. Our hands unfold crisp white napkins as menus arrive.
The server delivers butter and a variety of sourdough breads, made in a three-day process by pastry chef and baker Shane Tracey. From the selection of starters and charcuterie, created from local meats by Tim Bass, we opt for sharing raw oysters from Netarts Bay.
Foods that are not produced on-site are sourced nearby from certified organic producers. Chef Sean Winder insists on using as many estate-grown products as is practical.
“Being out here in the country preserves the purity of the experience,” he says. “This place never settles for complacency and never takes the easy way.”
The fine-dining farm to table restaurant focuses on pairing award-winning pinots with fresh, local foods in season. After lunch, we meet master gardener Jessie Russell who, since 2006, has overseen 26 acres of gardens on the 1033-acre property. “I do the A to F, and H to Z—everything but grapes,” she says.
Recent hire Charlie Theis, Ed King III’s nephew, joins Russell in his new role as gardener/forager and is responsible for growing vegetables. “Soil interests me much more than water pumps and light bulbs,” says Theis, who sold his medical marijuana farm and is committed now to bringing high-tech, climate-controlled production to the estate’s biodynamic greenhouses.
“This place never settles for complacency and never takes the easy way.”
Stewardship of soil maximizes efficient production in a world getting smaller, says Theis. “I believe in the leverage of nature as the ultimate technology—for instance using beneficial nematodes and insects, especially in the closed ecosystem of the greenhouse. We can liberate ourselves from sprays simply by introducing the plants where beneficials breed.”
The result of science, stewardship, and attention to detail is on display when our meal arrives. Lightly cooked, wild-caught salmon is served on a parsnip puree with roasted Brussels sprouts.
My companions enjoy roast chicken with smashed potatoes, and a pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries. The butternut squash dumplings, steak, burger and lamb on the menu are all tempting, too. A number of vegetable sides and desserts would satisfy the most finicky. We bypass fancy coffee drinks to sip simple, fresh-brewed coffee.
On my next visit, I plan to try the roasted beets with quince apple sauce, goat cheese, hazelnut vinaigrette and gathered greens. The “gathered greens” is intriguing. Turns out Chef Winder has long walked the hills seeking out seasonal wild greens and mushrooms.
Theis plans to expand on that, “My soul demands the outdoors and a deep connection with nature,” he says. Wild salads will be on the menu this season, as well as early and late root vegetables, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens from his greenhouses.
Russell’s orchards and large berry patches produce, among many local pleasures, Shinko pears with raspberries—a favorite summer dessert. Fall brings apples for sauce and crisp cold cider.
The winter season is very quiet with few visitors and curtailed service. That’s the time for doing the support chores to make it all work. Around Mother’s Day in mid-May, things heat up as people drive out to celebrate. And the action is in full swing all summer and through the feasting of late November.
King Estate features free escorted winery tours every day; you’ll want walking shoes to explore the grounds. Restaurant reservations are encouraged by calling 541-685-5189.