Is there a better example of wine country in the Pacific Northwest than Oregon's tiny town of Carlton?
Seven years ago, Alsace-born chef Gilbert Henry and his wife sold their downtown Portland restaurant to create fine dining on Main Street within two blocks of a grain silo emblazoned by the town's logo.
Just around the corner, laughing children splash about in the community pool as their parents watch from under the shade of trees in Upper Park.
"People have asked me about coming to Port Townsend (Wash.) and Seaside (Ore.), but we've got a house here that's half a mile from the restaurant," Henry said. "I walk to work and know everybody and say 'Hi' to everybody. And there is some new blood in town now, which is helping."
Famed Pinot Noir producer Scott Paul Wines shares its block with that silo. And kitty-corner on Main Street is The Tasting Room, a retail bottle shop that doubles as Jay McDonald's storefront for
EIEIO & Co. The most expensive bottles are displayed in a walk-in safe because 100 years before, this was Carlton Savings Bank.
There's plenty invested in this town, and everyone seems to be in it for the long haul.
Locomotives stopped in Carlton for several decades on runs between Portland and the Oregon Coast -- thanks to the initial efforts of Wilson Carl. The train depot was shuttered for decades until famed winemaker Ken Wright purchased the building. Two years later, in 2003, he'd transformed it into a public tasting center for his new Tyrus Evan label, his world-renowned Pinot Noirs and some neighboring wineries.
Down the block are City Hall and the police station, not that there seems to be a need for peacekeepers in Carlton.
All that is within eyesight of Main Street, which doubles for three blocks as Highway 47, the two-lane road that slowly makes its way through Carlton without need for a traffic signal. Venture off Main Street one block to the north, south, east or west and there's more in store.
The trip calls for a thought-cleansing drive out in the country, which urban dwellers may well view as therapeutic. And upon arrival, there's the luxury of leaving the key fob for your vehicle next to your pillow for the weekend.
That's because Main Street and Carlton, population 2,015, can provide nearly all the necessities -- delicious food, wines crafted by some of the Northwest's biggest talents, lodging, live music and even a local watering hole.
"Things have worked out so incredibly well for me," said Julie Davis, who last year took over and invigorated The Horse Radish, a restaurant, cheese shop and wine bar. "I get to work with my family and in a town like this where local businesses are so supportive of each other. And it's been fun to get to know the people that work the tasting rooms, make the connections and make friends. I can tell you the smiles and laughter are genuine."
One doesn't need to enjoy wine to appreciate Carlton, though. There is a chocolatier, a handful of spots providing fresh-brewed coffee, a maker of artisan jam and shops devoted to local artists. All are interspersed among the tasting rooms of Main Street and along the side streets.
To get a quick feel for the pulse of Carlton, go the corner of Kutch and Main. That's where winemakers, growers and wine tourists swing into The Filling Station Deli and Common Grounds Espresso for their breakfast and/or coffee.
Remember to bring a thirst for adventure. The closest thing to a franchise in Carlton might be the John L. Scott real estate office.
Four of Oregon's top winemakers - Joe Dobbes, Laurent Montalieu, Lynn Penner-Ash and Ken Wright - have a presence here, which explains why a growing number of wineries from Southern Oregon joined the scene with tasting rooms in Carlton.
More than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms are clustered within a block north or south of Main Street and along a four-block stretch of Highway 47, which is slowed to 20 mph.
Those who really want to stretch their legs can do so by walking five blocks north of Main Street to visit Cana's Feast Winery and The Carlton Winemakers Studio.
Texan cardiologist Madaiah Revana owns two wineries - one for Bordeaux varieties in Napa Valley and this house for Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Lynn Penner-Ash crafts these stylish wines, and while a retail space and winery will open in the Dundee Hills, management said it has no plans to close this tasting salon, which pours daily.
116 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, alexanawinery.com.
Barking Frog Winery
Ron Helbig interned with the skilled Laurent Montalieu. In 2005, Helbig went off on his own and quickly adopted glass corks. The name is, in part, a reference to his legal battle with a California game warden after gigging for frogs. The award-winning wines include Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and warm-climate reds from Eastern Washington. The Syrah dessert wine is remarkable, and the tasting room sits below the balcony of the long-forgotten movie theater.
128 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, barkingfrogwinery.com
Cana's Feast Winery
There's an early sense of Tuscany, starting with the bocce ball court and continuing with Patrick Taylor's wines. His sources for Italian and Bordeaux varieties include famed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain in Washington, but he also makes Pinot Noir from acclaimed Meredith Mitchell Vineyard in nearby McMinnville. Among the products is a fascinating expression of Chinato, a dessert-style vermouth made with Nebbiolo off Coyote Canyon Vineyard in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills.
750 W. Lincoln St.,
Carlton, OR, 97111, canasfeastwinery.com
Dave Grooters and Nick Peirano served in the Army together. Grooters made his fortune in the software industry, while Peirano helped bring Oregon fame at Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinnville. They remained friends, and Grooters went from vineyard manager for Ken Wright to planting his own vines. In 2007, he launched Carlton Cellars.
This also serves as the tasting room for four other wineries -- Angel Vine, J Albin, Ghost Hill and Youngberg Hill. An expansive lawn and patio make Carlton Cellars a prime spot for a picnic, too.
130 W. Monroe St., Carlton, OR, 97111, carltoncellars.com
Cliff Creek Cellars
The Garvin family has farmed the Rogue Valley for more than a century, and although wine grapes are a relatively new crop for them, they wisely hired Joe Dobbes to be their winemaker from the start. They use only estate fruit, specializing in Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.
258 N. Kutch St., Carlton, OR, 97111, cliffcreek.com.
Here's another satellite tasting room for a Southern Oregon winery. The wines are grown and made near Medford, and the focus is on Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier. They also have adopted glass cork as their closure.
118 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, folincellars.com
Owner/winemaker Lonnie Krawl is based in Boise, Idaho, but he began making wine in 2008 from his estate Julon Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills with guidance from his friends at Coeur de Terre Vineyards.
258 North Kutch Street, Suite A, Carlton, OR, 97111, mouvancewinery.com.
Scott Paul Wines
In a former life, folks on the East Coast knew him as the radio disc jockey Shadow Stevens. That life introduced Scott Wright to the world of wine. When he and his wife Martha partnered with Kettle Chips founder Cameron Healy in 2003, they invested heavily in Carlton. They bought two historic buildings. One used to be a creamery and the other was home to Madsen Grain Co. In addition to making Oregon Pinot Noir, they also import wines from Burgundy.
128 S. Pine St., Carlton, OR, 97111, scottpaul.com.
Seven of Hearts
Byron Dooley gave up a software career in California for the life of one who makes acclaimed Pinot Noir from his own Luminous Hills Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. Since 2008, he's shared the tasting room with a branch of his wife's Honest Chocolates business.
217 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, sevenofheartswine.com.
The folks at Cuvee Restaurant lease space next door to the Dingers to use for tasting, which is called "The LULU Room." Their estate Dalla Terra Vineyard is in the Chehalem Mountains.
214 B W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, terravinawines.com.
In Carlton, this Grants Pass winery showcases its Zinfandel and many of the other 20 varieties grown on its estate. A courtyard beyond the tasting room plays host to a summer concert series ranging from bluegrass to jazz to the young reggae band Sol Seed.
250 N. Kutch St., Carlton, OR, 97111, troonvineyard.com
A bottling from renowned Shea Vineyard highlights Matt Driscoll's lineup of small-lot Pinot Noir. His wines are made at Illahe Vineyards, Wine Press Northwest's 2011 Oregon Winery to Watch.
128 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, wildairecellars.com
J. Wrigley Vineyards/Noble Pig
Two families with new plantings in McMinnville joined forces and built a diminutive "tasting cottage" for their young, Pinot Noir-focused wineries.
407 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, wrigleywines.com, noblepigwine.com.
Ken Wright Cellars
Perhaps no winemaker is more passionate in the pursuit of Pinot Noir than our 2005 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year. And Ken Wright doesn't seem to be slowing down, creating 10 vineyard-designate wines from the 2010 vintage - the 25th of his career. The winery is open to the public only during the weekends of Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, but KWC wines are poured at the Tyrus Evan Tasting Room, which is open seven days a week.
236 N Kutch St.,Carlton, OR 97111, kenwrightcellars.com.
What started as an experiment in 2003 has evolved into an acclaimed project named for Cody Tyrus Wright and Carson Evan Wright - sons of Ken Wright. The focus here is Bordeaux and Rhone varieties from storied vineyards in Oregon and Washington. Meanwhile, Cody Wright has forged out on his own with the Purple Hands label.
120 N Pine St, Carlton, OR 97111, tyrusevanwine.com
The Carlton Winemakers Studio
Stylish and LEED-certified, CWS ranks among the most fascinating wine operations in the Northwest, serving as a co-op, incubator and model for others since 2002. It was launched by Eric Hamacher - husband of Luisa Ponzi - and now managed by Ellen Brittan. She and her husband, Robert Brittan, recently moved to the Willamette Valley following his storied career at Stag's Leap Winery in Napa Valley. He and Hamacher make their own wines and share space with the likes of Andrew Rich, a renter here from the start.
Customers are charged by the ton of fruit they bring in to process, and there are predetermined tonnage limits. Alumni include Penner-Ash, Scott Paul and Soter.
While there are more than a dozen labels, no more than eight are poured in the tasting gallery. Several, including Dukes and Trout Lily, are made by rising star Kelly Kidneigh. Outside seating comes with tableside service. It's an experience not to be missed.
801 N. Scott St., Carlton, OR, 97111, winemakersstudio.com.
Little did Gilbert Henry know back in the summer of 2004 that he didn't pick Carlton. Rather, Carlton picked him.
"We did some market research, and Ken Wright was the first person my wife talked to," Henry recalled. "It turns out he sent some spies out to my restaurant (Winterborne) in Portland. One of them came in and said, 'We want to make sure about you. And yep, your food is good.' "
Now, when Wright brings guests to Carlton, he takes them to Cuvee. The theme is quite French, incorporating seafood, nearby ingredients and local wines. He's only open for dinner and just Wednesday through Saturday. It's a schedule that allows him to ride his bike, sometimes competitively, along country roads and vineyards.
214 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, cuveedining.com.
The Horse Radish
Julie Davis and her family transformed it into a hub of food, wine and fun soon after taking it over April 1, 2010.
"It was a good April Fools joke, and then the next day was my birthday," Davis said with a chuckle. "I just turned 30, so it was my 30th birthday present to myself!"
Davis moved from Bend, but as a Linfield College grad, she knew the area and quickly began recruiting her family.
Her husband, Sean, assistant winemaker at David Hill in Forest Grove, is one of the few family members not involved in The Horse Radish. Her brother, Ryan, has taken over the Northwest-centric wine list, runs the wine shop and features a dozen wines by the glass, which are changed out each Friday.
Their mother, Jennifer, lords over the West Coast cheese case and makes a mean Marionberry pie. And sister Andie's sandwich with Carlton Farms smoked ham, Swiss cheese and fig jam ranks among the top lunches to be had in Northwest wine country.
There's patio seating in the back, and on the weekend nights, live bands from Portland and Salem bring a professional sound.
"They tell me they love playing out here because it's more laid back and because people are actually listening to their music," Davis said. "In Portland, these bands might end up as just background noise because the audience talks right over the music."
Spend a weekend in Carlton and find yourself hitting the HR more than once.
211 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, thehorseradish.com.
Cielo Blu Italian Grill
The historic brick walls give this restaurant a feel as if it has been open for decades, but the Cravens launched it in 2007. Hearty fare, large portions, big tables and a family atmosphere make this a pleasant alternative to the big Italian chains you'd find near the city shopping mall. Local wines are displayed. Pasta dishes feature approachable sauces, and lovers of eggplant or veal will have choices. Adding to the enjoyment is half of the tables offer a view into the kitchen, giving a sense of the hustle and bustle of servers and cooks.
119 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, cieloblurestaurant.com
The Filling Station Deli
Those who don't stay at a B&B can still find a delicious way to start your day with breakfast, thanks to Ken Meeks and Bobbi Hartwell's retrofit of a gas station five years ago. They proudly serve Portland-based Stumptown coffee. They offer wifi and seating inside or on the deck to enjoy your fare spread across tabletops over wine barrels. In the morning, consider their Breakfast Burrito or Bagel & Lox. Their assortment of made-to-order sandwiches - especially the Highway 47 and the Belly Dancer -- will tempt you to return for a sit-down lunch inside or take-out for picnics. Local wine also is available for purchase. Open six days a week 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Closed on Wednesday.
305 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, fillingstationdeli.com.
The Pied Piper Pub
It's Carlton's version of Lumpy's Tavern in nearby Dundee, the spot where locals go to shoot pool, watch football on Sundays and get away from the touristas. Winemakers call ahead for the tasty, made-to-order burgers during crush. It's cash only, which explains the ATM near the front door.
325 Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111, 503-852-5560.
Common Grounds Espresso
This cute drive-through, about the size of a Tuff Shed, serves up a remarkable Mexican mocha that's nice on the spice and light on the sweet. They pride themselves on using beans roasted daily by Longbottom Coffee and Tea in Hillsboro, Ore., which supports certified free trade. Those who walk up and order have the opportunity to sit outside under an umbrella. It shares a parking lot with The Filling Station Deli.
305 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111.
Carlton Coffee Co.
Located inside the building that houses Cielo Blu, this is not a particularly convenient or easily spotted coffee outpost. And even though Italian restaurant's dinner guests can see the stand for this small operation, those craving a doppio with dessert will go disappointed. Carlton Coffee Co., shuts down the stand at 3 p.m.
119 W. Main St., Carlton, OR, 97111.
The Tasting Room
The Tasting Room in Carlton offers hard-to-find labels and collectible Pinot Noir, including owner Jay McDonald's EIEIO brand. There are special in-store pourings by visiting wineries, and he owns the domain pinot-noir.com.
Walk in the Park
Perhaps the best time to get the full Carlton experience is during the weekend of Walk in the Park. The town's Wennerberg Park comes alive as wineries, restaurants, artists and musicians - highlighted by the eclectic March Fourth Marching Band -- gather for a festival that raises money for community groups and civic programs.
For more information, go to carltonswalkinthepark.com.
Honest Chocolates features delectable goodies, and Dana Dooley sells them for less than one might expect for handmade chocolate, which are made on the premises. This is one of three retail locations, but she shares this storefront with her husband Byron, owner/winemaker for Seven of Hearts/Luminous Hills Winery.
217 W. Main St., Carlton, OR 97111, honestchocolates.com.
Republic of Jam
It would seem that wine lovers and teetotalers could reach a bi-partisan agreement on one topic - a love of jams and preserves. Republic of Jam and its lip-smacking work with more than a dozen different fruits from local growers will satisfy both camps.
211 W. Main St., Carlton, OR 97111, republicofjam.com
Karen Brock Studios
There are two commercial art galleries on Main Street -- Karen Brock Studios and Melton Gallery & Studio. Brock uses apparel as her canvas by purchasing used or discarded fabrics then ships those items and her patterns to Southeast Asia, where she works closely with the same family of textile workers.
Find her new items through her Facebook page.
One of Carlton's youngest businesses is Violet Rose, a gift shop owned by twin sisters who carry candles, jewelry and other local art.
Find them on Facebook.
Maybe the lone missing ingredient in downtown Carlton is hotel accommodations, and there's no sign of any coming down the road because of the aging water system. That poses a bit of an obstacle for Yanks reluctant to stay at a boutique inn or bed & breakfast. Those who appreciate the pampered attention wine-country innkeepers provide will want to stay downtown to drink in what Carlton has to offer without worrying about driving.
Stay in the Carlton Lofts and you may have some weekend nighttime entertainment because the rooms are on the second floor overlooking the sidewalks of Main Street. These are three well-appointed studios owned/operated as vacation rentals through Ken Wright Cellars' website, however the keys are handed over to guests at Tyrus Evan.
The Carlton Inn B&B
Perhaps the ideal lodging for Carlton's Walk in the Park is The Carlton Inn B&B, built in 1915 by lumber mill owners.
Go to thecarltoninn.com.
R.R. Thompson House
Three blocks north of Ken Wright Cellars is R.R. Thompson House, a five-suite B&B built in the 1930s. Some rooms feature a jet tub. Gluten-free breakfasts are available by request.
Go to rrthompsonhouse.com.
The Carlton Cottages, within a stone's throw of The Carlton Inn, offer a great alternative for caravanning couples. It features a pair of 2,000 square foot bungalows remodeled in 2005 to sleep between two and six people.
Learn more at carltoncottages.com.
Abbey Road Farm
Abbey Road Farm requires a five-minute drive west of Carlton and combines a beautiful pastoral setting, a view of famed Guadalupe Vineyard and comfortable lodging in their signature silo suites. Breakfast brings Judi Stuart's delectable goat cheese.
Go to abbeyroadfarm.com.
Farther south on Abbey Road, Brookside Inn offers a choice of nine suites and features occasional winemaker dinners.
For more information go to brooksideinn-oregon.com.
Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area
This portal serves both towns in the appellation, offering remarkable materials to educate and guide your touring. It has topography maps, wine touring maps, a list of wineries, restaurants, lodging and events.
Go to yahmillcarlton.org
The city of Carlton's government site is at ci.carlton.or.us and there's also carltonbusinessassociation.com.
The Yamhill Valley Visitors Association refers to the region as "Oregon's Stomping Ground" and operates a helpful site at yamhillvalley.org.
Willamette Valley Wineries, which gathers up the region's six sub-appellations, including the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, runs willamettewines.com.
The Oregon Wine Board site can help you find worthy stops before and after Carlton at oregonwine.org.
Eric Degerman is Wine Press Northwest's managing editor.
This story was originally published September 15, 2011 5:54 PM.