Enlighten Your Palate at The Carlton Winemakers Studio

3:50 pm Oregon, Tasting Notes

In the heart of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in Willamette Valley lies an intriguing incubator that brings together startup winemakers looking to hone their craft, and Willamette Valley wine aficionados looking for a wine-tasting experience to please multiple palates. The Carlton Winemaker Studio offers support to new and expert winemakers with space, equipment, collaboration opportunities, and the ability to connect with curious customers over dozens of Pinots, Chardonnays, and more, in a charming tasting room.

This unique, eco-friendly winemaking facility was founded in 2002 by Winemaker Eric Hamacher and his wife, Ponzi Vineyards Winemaker Luisa Ponzi, along with Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin. Built to LEED standards, in accordance with the U.S. Government’s Green Building Codes, the beautiful Studio with its gravity flow production equipment is now owned by Portland-based Hampton Lumber (purchased the facility in August 2021).

Founder and winemaker Eric Hamacher believes that “starting and running the Studio for 20 years may well be one of the most important things that I have done in my career. It opened folks’ eyes to what was possible if you work together and see opportunity in shared goals,” says Hamacher, “and by showing environmentally thoughtful and beautiful design we had a rather large soapbox (winery)—we opened a lot of eyes to the very idea of building green.” Eric is pleased that the new owners continue to bring in his wines.

Through the years, 47 vintners have utilized the space at this highly functional studio, some of whom now have their own properties.  Fifteen vintners currently call the Winemaker Studio their homebase for crafting wine.

When Charlie Garrell, Owner of Oregon Wine Guides and frequent Studio visitor, first visited in 2008 when “most brands were young in the industry, usually sourcing fruit, and on a relatively “shoestring” budget,” he said. “Today the average winemaker at the Studio has over 20 years in the industry, the brands are well financed and most of the wines made here are top tier. I believe something extra special happens by the different winemakers sharing thoughts, experiences and comparing tasting notes and techniques.”


The Studio’s General Manager and winemaker Anthony King started at the Studio in early 2015 after more than eight years at nearby Lemelson Vineyards.  Interested in accelerating his learning curve, Anthony said “the collaborative nature of the Studio seemed like a logical next step.” He has been an invaluable part of the Studio ever since. King takes on additional work consulting with other small brands, as well as making wine for his own brand, Ratio Wines. “Working with the Studio team to continue to improve the experience of both the visitors in the tasting room and the winemakers in the cellar has been one of life’s great challenges; I couldn’t see doing it with a better team than we have now” he says.

Tasting Room Manager Nick George joined the Studio after earning a degree in Business and Hospitality and working harvest at multiple well known vineyards within the Willamette Valley. George, who runs the tasting room along with Director of Hospitality and Wine Clubs Whitney Govert, shares that “no two tasting are exactly alike at the Studio.” He and Govert can tailor tastings to what the customer is looking for during their visit.  The wines to be poured in any given week are always changing, and there is a broad price range of wines to be tasted, from a $22 Pinot Gris to a $175 Pinot Noir. “It is a tasting experience unlike any other,” he declares . 

Govert, who is celebrating her 7th year at the Studio this year, was initially drawn to the ability to work alongside the winemakers at the Studio. “That seems more and more rare for tasting room teams to interact daily with the winemakers they are featuring. It’s one of the best parts of being part of the Studio team,” she said.

Rounding out the Studio team are Production Manager/Facilities Manager Mel Liebeck, and Office Manager/Bookkeeper Debbie Strauss, who have been with Studio for 5 and 7 years respectively.

Richmond Virginia resident Harry Thalhimer, a Studio wine club member since 2015, first encountered the Studio when a friend gifted him a one-year membership. He’s never looked back. Thalhimer says that “the Studio staff members are exceptional people to deal with, and I’ve never had a wine from them that was not awesome.”


Some of the Studio’s clients have been making wine here for several years, including Andrew Rich who has been here since the opening of the studio in 2002. Although one might think it could be frustrating working in a shared facility, Rich says “the fact that all the winemakers are seasoned pros who know how to work collaboratively and who can roll with the punches means things tend to go very smoothly. And he adds “Over the years there have been many upgrades to the physical plant and to equipment, but I think the most consequential changes have been the hiring of the current GM, Anthony King, and of the current facilities manager, Mel Liebeck. They’ve been responsible for ensuring that the Studio operates at its current high standards, in a way that’s responsive to the owners and the wineries.” Most of Andrew Rich Wines’ existence has been spent at the Studio. “Over time the wines have evolved and, I think, improved. Without a doubt some of that is due to the exchange of information that takes place at a shared facility like the Studio,” says Rich.

Francine Goitz and David Willis of Bend, Oregon, joined the Studio wine club in 2020, after hearing about amazing wines being made here, and tasting Rich’s pinot noirs. “Once we sat down and had a full tasting of many (though not all!) of their winemakers’ works, we knew we would be members, always” said Goitz, who says they appreciate “the wide variety of phenomenal wines we can enjoy, thanks to the hospitality and approachability of the tasting room team and winemakers.”

During the Studio tour, arranged by Consultant and Media Relations expert Carl Giavanti, we tasted a well-crafted Gruner Veltliner crafted by Wynne Peterson-Nedry, Winemaker at Ribbon Ridge Winery, whose brands include Ribbon Ridge and Ridgecrest. Wynne co-owns the winery with her father Harry Peterson-Nedry.  A Willamette Valley icon,  Harry planted the first vines at Ridgecrest Vineyards (in what is now the Ribbon Ridge AVA) 41 years ago in 1982 and remains the sole owner of Ridgecrest Vineyards. The vineyards are planted to 40 sustainably dry farmed acres of wine grapes.

Wynne shares that her “favorite part of working at the Studio, which is also the most compelling and beneficial part of the setup, is the ability to work with and be surrounded by so many other fabulous and talented winemakers. We are all a big family, able to share advice, tips, tricks, and whatever else might be useful. It’s fun to have a collective winemaking mind to bounce things off of, have others taste the wines, and everyone creates a great sounding board for problems.” In addition to utilizing French barrels, Wynne owns a concrete egg used for a special portion of her white wines, and a couple 4.5 ton wooden open-top fermenters used  for her best Pinot Noir. “I like the way both of these materials interact with the wine during fermentation, and I am able to make a unique product not only based on the phenomenal fruit my dad grows, but also because of my own winemaking process and vessels,” she adds.

Winemaker Isabelle Meunier has been making wine at the Studio since 2014.  Isabelle came to the Studio after crafting wines in Burgundy, New Zealand, and France. She and business partner Greg Ralston co-founded their single vineyard wine brand, Lavinea.  Isabelle says that “the camaraderie amongst the winemakers makes it a unique and interesting place to work. There are a lot of talented people under the one roof which provides us with moments to share knowledge, a few laughs, and the opportunity to share ideas and a few bottles of wine. There is a great level of professionalism among the winemakers there that I greatly respect. When asked about her barrel program, Isabelle shares that she uses Burgundian barrels exclusively. As grain tightness has improved consistency she “prefers tight and extra tight oak profiles to suit the long elevage in barrel, while preserving freshness.”  When asked about a standout vintage, she notes that “I have a couple of favorite vintages in the recent years, in particular the 2017’s, which overall was perfectly balanced in my view.  I also really loved this past vintage in 2022.  It had been a while since we’ve had a delayed spring, and subsequent long and late ripening, well into October. The late fall weather was wonderful, the flavor development was complex while preserving great acid balance. I am truly excited by these young wines and look forward to seeing them through completion.”

Winemakers at the Studio most commonly take an “Alternate Proprietor” approach where the winemakers use the property as leased space and pay a la carte for labor from Studio staff if they need a helping hand. Others can choose the “Custom Crush” approach to winemaking and receive varying levels of assistance with winemaking decisions whether they work directly with the Studio Production Winemaker or through a custom crush agreement with one of the tenant winemakers.

“Winemakers are not responsible for building maintenance and upkeep, which would typically take up to 20% to 40% of a winemaker’s time if the building belonged to them” says General Manager Anthony King.


Here are a few fine examples of many beautifully crafted wines at the Studio:

Ribbon Ridge Winery 2021 Ridgecrest Estate Gruner Veltliner (Winemaker Wynne Peterson-Nedry):  Snappy and fresh with hints of tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. Star fruit, juicy white peaches, lemon-lime citrusy notes, white pepper, and lemon verbena entwine with mouth-watering acidity, exhilarating the palate through the bright finish. ($24)

Ratio Wines 2018 Retina Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (Winemaker Anthony King):  This gem opens with an expressive aroma of red fruits.  Youthful while fully flavored as it broadens on the palate with raspberries, subtle herbs, red cherries, a touch of salinity, and nice underlying oak (from 15 months in 20% new, and seasoned French Taransaud barrels).  The wine finishes with pretty savory notes.  ($40) 

Ratio Wines 2017 Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay, Yamhill-Carlton (Winemaker Anthony King): The wildly expressive aroma with tree fruits and lemon tarragon leading the way, is captivating.  Reminiscent of a fine Chablis, it’s sleek with crisp apples, citrus herb notes, a thread of minerality,  barrel spice sitting perfectly in the background, and racy acidity keeps it finely balance through the long finish. ($38) 

Hamacher Wines 2016 Signature Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (Winemaker Eric Hamacher):  Floral notes rise from the glass with this silky Pinot Noir.  The well-defined palate showcases rich Bing cherries, spice-dusted wild berries, forest floor elements, and subtle oak nuances from French barrel aging.  It is beautifully textured, and the finish is nervy and long-lasting.  ($60)

Andrew Rich Wines 2018 Sojeau Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills (Winemaker Andrew Rich):  A tantalizing earth-driven nose rises from the glass.  Multilayered and ideally balanced on the palate as black cherries,  anise, black raspberries, and a nice herbaceous accent unfold seamlessly with well managed oak adding a touch of spice. Pure and elegant with fine depth and a lingering finale. ($60)

Studio wineries in addition to those previously mentioned include 00 Wines, Aubaine, Lazy River, Lavinea, Asilda, Dusky Goose, Project M, Megan Anne Cellars, Wahle, North Valley Vineyards, Lucid Wild, and Guillen.   Visitors can taste and purchase wines, and also join the Studio wine club, in which wines are shipped twice per year. Both tastings and wine club shipments can be customized to suit the customers’ needs. 


For further information, visit the Studio’s website www.winemakersstudio.com. For a broader perspective of the many impressive wines made here, call (503) 852-6100 to set up an appointment or visit their facility at 801 N. Scott Street in Carlton, Oregon. The Studio is open daily from 11 am to 4 pm, and reservations are not required.

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