WillaKenzie Estate in Yamhill was founded in 1991 by Bernard Lacroute, a long-time executive in various high-tech enterprises, and his former wife Ronni, who remains involved in the business. They purchased a 420-acre former cattle ranch and named it WillaKenzie after the soils and rivers in the area. A native of France, Bernard grew up in a small village in Burgundy before studying physics and electrical engineering in preparation for a career in technology. Today the estate makes a sizable portfolio of Pinot Noirs from various vineyards, Gamay Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. The winemaker is Thibaud Mandet, also a native of France.
Willamette Valley AVA was established in 1983, and it is the oldest appellation in Oregon. Oregon’s modern wine industry began in the Willamette Valley in the 1960s when artists, vagabond winemakers, and U.C. Davis oenology graduates looking for new territory started their own, small, off-the-grid wineries. The appellation is the state’s largest, and it extends 175 miles from Columbia River on the Washington/Oregon border to just south of Eugene, near central Oregon. The Willamette River runs through the area, helping to give the appellation a mild year-round climate. There are six smaller sub-appellations within this AVA, but altogether the Willamette Valley has the largest concentration of wineries in Oregon, as well as the majority of the state’s most famous producers. Pinot Noir is king here, followed by Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. To most admirers of Oregon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley offers the most distinctive wine choices in the state.