BRENT STONE, COO & WINEMAKER

"A vow of authenticity"
By Lisa Gmur, CSW

King Estate’s winemaker, Brent Stone, was born in Idaho but spent the majority of his formative years in Utah and Colorado. “The Rocky Mountains and high desert of the Intermountain West are uniquely beautiful and full of open spaces. It was a great environment to grow up in,” says Stone. “My father is a small business owner and financial advisor. My mother is a health care worker. Both still work today. My mother is one of the many brave health care workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight. Obviously proud of them both,” he adds.

Brent Stone, COO & Winemaker

COVID-19 has hit King Estate hard, like most of us in the on-premise sector of the hospitality industry. Like us, and many of our suppliers, King Estate is dependent on folks drinking wine in restaurants, hotels, airports and other on-premise establishments. We are all hopeful that at some point, folks will return to restaurants in droves to enjoy wines and reboot our business.

In the meantime, there is still wine to be made. “I think the number of wines we make in any given year is a unique and interesting part of the job. We have a very robust wine club that focuses on unique small lot offerings. As a result, we’ll source 20+ grape varieties and make 50+ wines in some years.
This includes wines from some of Oregon’s most coveted Pinot Noir vineyards. It can be a lot to manage but amounts to a very rich winemaking experience. I feel fortunate to be a part of it,” says Stone. And of course, this involves a lot of tasting. “We taste our wines daily at King Estate. We typically have over 400+ small lots in-house. As such, we sample daily so we can cover all lots in the winery over the course of a month,” he adds.

King Estate is the Pacific Northwest
Winery of the Year 2021!

The King Estate Tasting Room in Eugene, Oregon

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One of the wines Stone is really excited about is King Estate’s Inscription Pinot Noir. It’s an On-Premise Only wine that’s all about authenticity. It’s a 100% Pinot Noir, 100% Willamette Valley and 100% Oregonian in style.

For those who don’t know, King Estate has been at the forefront of sustainability and environmental responsibility.” I think the most important thing about King Estate is the emphasis we place on responsible business practices. The King family always considers environmental and community goals when making decisions which I think is important. And this trickles down and becomes part of company culture where all of us as employees incorporate those same values into everything we do.” And something else you may not know about this winery. “King Estate is the largest certified Biodynamic vineyard in North America. Really neat to see how it impacts our operation – from grape growing to winemaking and more. Touches every corner of the property.”

Inscription Pinot Noir by King Estate
Mother Nature also plays a firm roll in this winery’s existence. “We seem to get more variability year-to-year with regard to growing conditions compared to many other wine regions. Forces you to be nimble as a winemaker. You can’t have a recipe-driven approach to making wine, but rather have to adapt to what nature gives you each year. I really enjoy this aspect of making wine in Oregon.”

When it comes to the best time is to release their wines? Well, it all depends on the grape. “We try to get Rosé into the market fairly quickly as most customers expect a bright, fresh wine. Conversely, we hold wines like Cabernet Sauvignon in barrel for 18-30 months to ensure tannins are soft and approachable. In the end, we try to maximize quality and make sure that that the wine is in line with our customers’ expectations for that particular varietal,” says Stone.

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Not surprisingly Stone is partial to one grape varietal. “Pinot Noir,” he says, “Oregon’s flagship varietal; known for making complex, food-friendly wines.” Pinot Noir is also Stone’s favorite grape to play with. “Influenced by terroir and winemaking more than any other grape variety in my opinion. Block by block, vineyard by vineyard – the uniqueness of each site makes its mark on the finished wine.” And his favorite food pairing with Pinot Noir; “Chinook Salmon,” he says, “though it’s hard to beat a great cheeseburger.”

And then there is the million-dollar question; what kind of closure is best. “From a pure technical standpoint, it’s hard to beat the consistency of Stelvin,” says Stone, “no risk of TCA and controlled oxygen ingress over time. Although I’m also still an advocate of the tradition and quality that cork conveys,” adding, “we use both at King Estate.”

Stone is pretty passionate about another wine trend. “I think wine on tap has been great for our industry. It’s an excellent option for BTG placements as the wine stays fresh longer and provides consistency for the account and customer. It’s also a very sustainable alternative to traditional wine packaging. King Estate was an early adopter of wine kegs for these reasons,” adds Stone.

King Estate Shining Under Cloudy Skies
If you’re wondering how Stone got into the winemaking industry? Well, it wasn’t his first choice. “In the 1980s, I wanted nothing more than to be quarterback for the Chicago Bears. As I got to be a teenager, I realized there isn’t a great market in the NFL for 5’10” skinny kids that can’t throw the ball. I started to really enjoy science around that time so most of my career aspirations gradually started to point in that direction.”

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Making wine, however, was not the first science career Stone enjoyed. “I was in the ice cream industry early in my career and quite enjoyed it. However, the more I looked at the wine industry the more attractive it became. I always had a love for science, but also a deep appreciation for farming and the production process in general. Winemaking allows you to be a part of all those things. You’re connected to the process from bud to bottle which is a unique and exciting aspect of our industry.”

There was one very big perk to the ice cream industry. “I met my lovely wife Barbara while working in the ice cream industry many years ago,” Stone says.

“We worked for the same producer here in Oregon. I finally got the courage to ask her out one day it went from there,” adds Stone. His wife also left ice cream for another beverage. “She works in beer now so we both like to geek out on fermentation. We go wine or beer tasting and talk about what we like – producers, varietals, styles, etc. It’s awesome to have your passion be your profession and also share that with your spouse.” No arguing with that. “I have three great step kids. Michael – 22, Katelyn – 19, and Kristina – 17.

(L to R) Meliton Martinez; Vineyard Manager, Brent Stone, & Raymond Nuclo; Director of Viticulture

They are all getting older now and it’s great to see them grow into adults. I think they are all doing it more gracefully than I did.” The family also has a few furry kids. “We have a guinea pig named Mercy and a yellow lab named Otto.” The family is also pretty happy with where they live and Stone particularly likes it for his hobbies. “I enjoy golfing and fishing. Thankfully the Northwest is a great place for both. The Oregon Coast is such a beautiful place and can be quite peaceful. We are fortunate that it is so close for us.”

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