Crafting Pinot Noir Masterpieces in Willamette Valley with Eric & Alex Fullerton of Fullerton Wines

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Jun 20, 2023

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Crafting Pinot Noir Masterpieces in Willamette Valley with Eric & Alex Fullerton of Fullerton Wines

Last Updated on June 20, 2023 by nicole

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Crafting Pinot Noir Masterpieces in Willamette Valley with Eric & Alex Fullerton of Fullerton Wines 12

Eric Fullerton is the Owner and Associate Winemaker at Fullerton Wines. Born in California, his European upbringing ignited a passion for winemaking. A chance encounter in Germany introduced him to the world of wine, and he embarked on a journey of exploration and appreciation across Europe. Settling in Oregon 25 years ago, Eric was amazed by the quality of wines produced there. Today, he oversees cellar operations, nurtures the Ivy Slope Vineyard, and manages national sales efforts, all driven by his unwavering dedication to crafting exceptional wines.

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Crafting Pinot Noir Masterpieces in Willamette Valley with Eric & Alex Fullerton of Fullerton Wines 13

Alex Fullerton, Owner and Winemaker at Fullerton Wines, is a seasoned professional with a passion for winemaking. With a background in cellar work and a formal education in viticulture and enology, Alex combines practical expertise with scientific knowledge to create authentic, age-worthy wines that beautifully reflect the unique terroir of the Willamette Valley. His commitment to quality and love for the craft drive him to continuously push boundaries and deliver exceptional wine experiences

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Eric and Alex talk about the founding of Fullerton Wines and what brought them from Europe to Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley
  • Explore the Three Otters Rosé
  • Gain insights into the regions where the grapes for Fullerton Wines are sourced within the Willamette Valley
  • Eric and Alex share more about their 2018 Lux Chardonnay
  • Learn about the unique aspects of Oregon’s Chardonnay production that set it apart from other regions
  • Understand the methods employed by Fullerton Wines to ensure that all vineyards meet their specifications and standards
  • Eric and Alex’s insights into the historical evolution of the Willamette Valley as a prominent wine-producing region
  • Explore the changing distribution strategies of Fullerton Wines
  • Dive into the distinctive Pinot Noirs produced by Fullerton Wines from the 11 sub-appellations
  • Eric and Alex talk about the Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir from the McMinnville AVA
  • Learn about the sources of motivation for Eric and Alex and what excites them most about the next 10 years in the wine industry

In this episode with Eric and Alex Fullerton

Eric Fullerton and Alex Fullerton of Fullerton Wines take us on a captivating journey through their founding of Fullerton Wines in the beautiful Willamette Valley. With their claim to fame being a collection of single vineyard Pinot Noir wines from each of the 11 sub-appellation, we explore the fascinating stories behind their wines. We learn about their transition from Europe to Oregon, Alex’s motivations for pursuing economics and winemaking, and their family crest’s influence on their label designs. Additionally, we delve into the landscape of the Willamette Valley, uncover the secrets of their acclaimed 2018 Lux Chardonnay, and gain valuable insights into Oregon’s unique Chardonnay production.

In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon are joined by Eric Fullerton and Alex Fullerton, owners of Fullerton Wines. Eric Fullerton is the Associate Winemaker and Alex Fullerton is the Winemaker. The discussion also covers their meticulous vineyard selection process, the evolution of the Willamette Valley over time, and the changing distribution strategies of Fullerton Wines, including their focus on direct-to-consumer sales and the opening of a new tasting room. Finally, we embark on a mouthwatering exploration of their exceptional Pinot Noir offerings, beginning with the Momtazi Vineyard from the McMinnville AVA, and conclude with a glimpse into the future as Eric and Alex share their motivation and excitement for the next 10 years. Their passion and vision for Fullerton Wines leave us inspired and eager to experience more.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Drew Thomas Hendricks here. I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. On the show, I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s episode, it’s sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead, we help the wine and craft industry scale their business through Authentic content.

Go to today to learn more. Before I introduce our guests, wanna introduce Bianca Harmon. Bianca Harmon’s a DTC strategist at Barrels Ahead. How’s it going, Bianca?

[00:00:27] Bianca Harmon: Doing great, Drew, really excited for this episode today.

[00:00:30] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yes. We’ve got a special tasting before today’s episode. Gotta talk last week we interviewed Janell Dusi, founder of J Dusi Wines. Janell’s a fourth-generation Paso Robles wine grower. And if you haven’t listened to that episode, you gotta check it out and just really learn all the great stuff that’s happening in Paso. But today I’m super excited. We have a special tasting episode.

We’ve got Eric and Alex Fullerton on the show. Eric and Alex are the founders of Fullerton Wines in Willamette Valley and Fullerton Wines claims has a claim to fame as they’ve got 11. They’ve got a single vineyard Pinot Noir from each of the 11 sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley. Welcome to the show, Eric and Alex.

[00:01:11] Alex Fullerton: Thanks for having us.

[00:01:12] Eric Fullerton: Thank you.

[00:01:14] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Thanks for being on. So you guys, tell me about the founding of Fullerton Wines.

[00:01:20] Alex Fullerton: So there’s several different origin stories, but I think

[00:01:25] Drew Thomas Hendricks: What’s the most exciting one?

[00:01:26] Alex Fullerton: The best way to start I think is, is you dad, and then I’ll pick up after that.

[00:01:33] Eric Fullerton: Yeah, well, okay.

I’ll be really quick about it. You know I, I was born in California but ended up in Denmark cuz my mom was Danish and my dad had passed away when I was a kid. So I grew up over in Europe. And on a road trip with my Danish grandparents in 1969, I was introduced to winemaking in Germany where I met a refugee from the Second World War that my Danish family had helped survive Holocaust.

And she’d gone back to Germany after the war and married a winemaker and – on wine. And that sort of turned my life into wine blind tasting and traveling all over Europe. Eventually we, I met my wife from Sweden and we moved to Oregon 25 years ago where we were very surprised to find the quality of wine that was produced here.

Eventually, I invited.

[00:02:24] Drew Thomas Hendricks: What brought you to Oregon?

[00:02:26] Eric Fullerton: A company that was running was sold to Intel, and I was invited over to manage that division. So I was and you know, that’s part of the story. I wanted to buy a vineyard, but my wife really didn’t want to because I was traveling the whole time.

She grew up on a farm and she didn’t want to end up with a, the farm that she had to run while I was out traveling. Anyway when Alex was out of high school, I invited him over to Europe to meet some of the old winemakers that I had frequented when I was younger. And it turned out that most of them had handed them down to the next generation.

And especially one of them we visited. And I’ll let that over to then Alex, for that trip at that time.

[00:03:06] Alex Fullerton: I’ll be brief too, cuz I can take way too long telling the story sometimes. But we’re in Gevrey in Burgundy. And I remember we or my dad sees a number written on, on the door of the winery.

There’s a locked gate and, and kind of broken French. He’s like, no, no, don’t worry, we’ll come back tomorrow. You don’t need to leave dinner with your family. And a couple minutes later, this guy’s walking down the road and big smile on his face, opens the doors and starts by popping some bottles and he kinda sees our excitement.

And next thing we know, we’re in the barrel room tasting barrels and is pointing out like this is from this area just down the road where there’s shallow soil, which. Makes the wine a little more mineral driven and tighter and over here where there’s deeper soil, blah, blah, blah. And so I stood a little bit too close to that guy and caught the contagious bug known as the wine bug.

Nice. And fell in love with wine. Then in college after I lost my fake id, I figured out we could buy all the ingredients to brew beer, so got really into brewing beer, but always was more interested in wine. So I ended up getting a job at a winery as I was graduating with an econ degree.

Fell in love with the wine world and a few years later, my dad and I tricked my mom into starting a wine company. And here we are.

[00:04:36] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I was wanting to ask what drove you to econ and then towards the, eventually become a winemaker?

[00:04:43] Alex Fullerton: Econ was more, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so.

[00:04:47] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s a good foundation though.

[00:04:50] Alex Fullerton: Yeah.

[00:04:51] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You, that’s the one thing I did not have when I went to college. I went to college, purely philosophy in classical Greek. Left it, got a job in the wine industry, but had no idea how to run a business. So then I had to go back. So it’s good they got a little business beforehand.

[00:05:06] Alex Fullerton: Yeah.

[00:05:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: As we investigate your story and let the story unfold, let’s jump into some of this tasting. What, what do you have for us today?

[00:05:14] Alex Fullerton: I’m starting off with a little Three Otters Rosé, and this is our second label. So Fullerton’s a Scottish last name and on the old coat of arms or family crest from the 13th century are three little otter heads.

So to honor them and not put a family crest on the label, we made this label with some cute little Willamette River otters. Oh, nice. And how we make this actually comes from a little competition between my dad and I. So when we started the company in 2012, we couldn’t agree how we should make the rosé.

Almost did not make a rosé. So he, my dad wanted to do a mix of one day of soaking on the skins and three days of soaking. Yeah. And I wanted to just put the grapes in the press whole cluster. Impressed them giving a little lighter color, more floral crisp and his, he wanted a little more body and fruitier.

So made the two separate wines. Talked a lot of smack about each other’s. And in the end, the blend between the two wines was better than either one alone. So now we purposely do my style and his style and then blend them at the end.

[00:06:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’s interesting. So you’ve got a, you’ve got a little bit of a whole berry and then you’ve got a little bit of a bleeding off.

[00:06:34] Alex Fullerton: Yeah, and it’s more it’s like a bleeding off or sane, but it is grapes. Picked for rosé. We’ll put ’em in a tank and then drain and press the entire lot.

[00:06:45] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, okay. Okay. Now, how do you determine which, which grapes go into the rosé?

[00:06:50] Alex Fullerton: It’s vineyard sites that hold their acid well.

[00:06:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. There’s some great acidity.

[00:06:56] Alex Fullerton: Or ones that shut down a little early.

So there’s one spot in particular that has very shallow soil to where the grapes just kind of shut down before they’re fully ripe for red wine, and that makes really nice rosé.

[00:07:13] Eric Fullerton: And, and also the, we’ve evolved a grape mix on this product. So this one has 85% Pinot Gris. And 13% Pinot Noir, and 2% Viognier.

And on this, this one from 2021, the 85%, the Pinot Gris has between three and seven-day skin contact.

[00:07:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh.

[00:07:35] Bianca Harmon: Oh wow.

[00:07:37] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s gonna give a little bit of that orange quality. And now the Viognier, that’s something that’s kind of surprising. It’s very subtle. Be only 2%. But you did get that little bit of a high, high tone, honey on the nose.

I love it.

[00:07:50] Eric Fullerton: Exactly.

[00:07:51] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Now, is this a pretty consistent, is for the seepage or the makeup of this?

[00:07:55] Alex Fullerton: That does change a bit every year, but it is, but it’s probably at least 50% Pinot Gris at this point.

[00:08:06] Eric Fullerton: Yeah. And that, that’s the structure that will be continuing with I think cuz we’ve sort of over the first 10 years found the, the profile of the rosé that we like, how we like to make it.

[00:08:18] Bianca Harmon: It’s interesting. I don’t taste a lot of rosés that are made with Pinot Gris. A lot of, you know or not even thinking Syrah. I mean, it’s not, I don’t taste a lot, I don’t do a lot of rosés with Pinot Gris.

[00:08:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. It’s beautiful. How would you describe it to us?

[00:08:31] Eric Fullerton: And, and another thing that it does is that, when I moved back here 25 years ago, my main critique of the local rosés here in the Willamette Valley was that they felt like they were a byproduct of people trying to make a better red wine.

So they would, especially then they would come out as a fruit bomb in April and then die by Thanksgiving and part of the purpose that we wanted to do was to add more structure. But also to add some age worthiness to the, to the Pinot Gris and that to the rosé and the Pinot Gris is definitely with the skin contact achieved that.

So sometimes we do vertical tastings of several years of our rosés and people are really surprised how a five year old rosé with this style can taste.

[00:09:17] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Has a really nice dryness and grip to it.

[00:09:19] Bianca Harmon: Yeah, I like this a lot.

[00:09:21] Drew Thomas Hendricks: It’s got a real, more of a subtle, at least what I’m picking up is subtle barrier fruit, similar to like a Provence Rosé, like a Bandol Rosé, even though it’s not the right same grape varieties.

[00:09:31] Eric Fullerton: Exactly.

[00:09:32] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. Wonderful. Alex, how would you describe it? What in this vintage?

[00:09:37] Alex Fullerton: Even though it’s Pinot GRI more than Pinot Noir, it’s kind of that classic Pinot Rosé nose. So there’s a little bit of strawberry, like some citrus fruit, and maybe watermelon rind.

And through my dad’s style or the Pinot Gris, that’s soaked on the skins. You do get a bit of tannin and some mouthfeel and filling out the mid-palate.

[00:10:02] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Absolutely.

[00:10:03] Alex Fullerton: Overall, we’re going for freshness and drinkability, but with enough substance to pair with. A wide variety of food and to hang out in the bottle for a few years if people choose to do that.

[00:10:15] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, oh for sure. For sure. Now this opens up the chance to talk about like kind of the landscape of Willamette Valley. Give us a kind of a rundown of where your vineyards or where your contracts are. I know they span all the sub-regions, but this rosé, where would these grapes come from in the region?

[00:10:32] Alex Fullerton: This is a bit from all over, but mainly the southern part. Okay. Which is the less densely populated, so less densely planted, and less well-known area. And our Pinot Gris comes from all the way down south. So nice old mines, which half of the vineyard is still the original 1969 planting. And half of it is replanted.

Cause there is Folicur – a in the vineyard and the rosé comes mainly from the replanted part. A little bit of the old mine makes it in, and then the old mine we press into white wine. Then there’s Pinot Noir from the, one of the newest, I think it might be the newest, but I’ve lost track since we have so many new ones.

Sub-AVA called the Lower Long Tom, which is just south of where I’m sitting right now in our,

[00:11:27] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Where is that?

[00:11:29] Alex Fullerton: It’s northwest of Eugene, Oregon. And it’s a lovely little region. Generally is a little cooler. It’s warm in the day but tends to hang on to acid really well.

[00:11:41] Eric Fullerton: Are there, are there like 18 wineries there?

That sounds about right. Yeah.

[00:11:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. I think few people outside of Oregon really realize how big the Willamette Valley region is and why there’s such a need for these sub-AVAs. So you just go like, well I’m a valley Pinot. It, it covers a tremendous, tremendous geography.

[00:12:02] Eric Fullerton: It is mainly bellpine soil, right?

[00:12:04] Alex Fullerton: Yeah. And that is a marine sedimentary soil, but there is volcanic soil in this AVA as well. That’s in, that’s, those are our main two soil types so.

[00:12:16] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You can definitely smell a little minerality on that, that’s for sure. So moving on, so let’s move on to the Chardonnay. So we got. I gotta say I’m a huge fan of Oregon Chardonnays.

I’m pretty excited about this.

So do we have the 2018 Lux Chardonnay?

[00:12:33] Alex Fullerton: Yeah. And that is also named after our, after the family name Fullerton. So associated with the coat of arms is the saying, lux et tenebrae, which is Latin for light and darkness. So our reserve Pinot Noir is darkness or Tenebrae. And our kind of reserve or favorite barrels combined of Chardonnay are called light or lux.

And fermented mainly in. Larger format barrels. So a standard barrel is 2 2 28 liters. This is in five and 600 liters with a few standard-size barrels as well.

[00:13:17] Bianca Harmon: Yeah, and you have this to enjoy now through 2030

[00:13:22] Alex Fullerton: Yeah and Oregon Chardonnay really doesn’t hit its stride until about five years after the vintage date.

And then it does age quite well. It, it depends on your own personal preferences as well. I usually like it a little younger and fresher. And my dad likes it with a little more age on it.

[00:13:41] Bianca Harmon: There’s a lot of people that, like some age Chardonnay though. So

[00:13:45] Alex Fullerton: Very Burgundian in the nose.

[00:13:48] Eric Fullerton: So there’s, there’s a very interesting trend that I’ve noticed with most winemakers that I know.

Is that as they get more and more into making good wine, they prefer their, all their wines young.

[00:14:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You know that isn’t it that, I get that cuz you really, you can see how it evolves, but then suddenly the, especially with the winemaker, the way you see it right out, right into the bottle is kind of the last chance you had your, put your fingerprint on it. After that, it’s just, you set it. It’s like raising a child.

You’ve sent him off to college after that, it’s. It’s in somebody else’s hands. You can nurture it in the cellar, but

[00:14:23] Eric Fullerton: And they also tend to get a mind of their own.

[00:14:25] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Very true. Very true. And first, definitely, definitely a lot of parallels between aging wine and raising children. So this one is very youthful. Very youthful, but I mean you can, you can again, smell the structure on the, smell the structure and actually taste that.

Some of that nice acidity. There’s some tannin on there as well from what I’m tasting.

[00:14:46] Bianca Harmon: How long has it aged in oak?

[00:14:48] Alex Fullerton: 16 months.

[00:14:50] Bianca Harmon: 16.

[00:14:53] Alex Fullerton: And that it starts off, so we pick it mainly based on acidity, obviously flavor. Comes into consideration. And anyone who tells you they don’t look at bricks isn’t being honest, but it’s picked based on our acid preference as long as the flavor is there. So pretty early, fairly low sugar content, so not a lot of alcohol. So we need. Time to kind of soften up the austerity around the edges. So full malolactic to soften the acidity a bit. And then 16 months on lees to round out the edges.

[00:15:32] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. You know, I’m surprised it does not on the nose, it doesn’t really smell full malo.

[00:15:37] Bianca Harmon: Yeah, I was gonna say, I couldn’t believe that it was full malo tasting, smelling, and even tasting. I don’t think it tastes full malo to me, which I like.

[00:15:46] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Like as far as these Chardonnays, and I’m a big fan of Oregon Chardonnays, and I wish more more Chardonnay drinkers down by us in California would embrace it.

There’s no, there’s also not a lot to go around with just 295 cases, but what’s something you would like people to know more about kind of Oregon and its Chardonnay production?

[00:16:03] Alex Fullerton: So we’ve changed a lot in general how we go about producing chardonnay in Oregon. A big part that a lot of people talk about is access to newer clones that ripen earlier.

But I think more of it is learning when to pick it and how to make it. And so definitely don’t be afraid to pick early. If you’re walking around like you do in a Pinot Noir vineyard where you’re waiting for the berries to taste good before you harvest if the chardonnay grapes are tasting good, you.

To make this style, you probably should have picked several days ago. If not a week ago. So we’re kinda right on the heels of a lot of sparkling wine picks that are happening in some of the same vineyards we’re working with. And how to farm it to. So you don’t want to under crop your Chardonnay and then it’ll get super right.

But you really don’t want to hang too big of a crop either. And then depending on what the year is like, we do le we don’t expose the fruit to quite as much light. As we would for Pinot Noir, but we do want some light. So it’s, farming is all a balance and what you do or don’t do, and when you do it but there’s been a lot of collaboration between different winemakers on what they’re doing, what’s working and what’s not working. And in general,

[00:17:34] Eric Fullerton: Go ahead.

[00:17:34] Alex Fullerton: Just in general, larger format barrels. So the oak is less. Impactful and you get less total oxygen less surface areas of volume ratio.

[00:17:45] Eric Fullerton: Those are some very important things in the process of making this kind of Chardonnay that Alex just mentioned.

I think another thing that we can say about our heritage is that when we started out on this, we ended up planting a little vineyard, only a half an acre in our backyard. Which Alex farms together with his team. One of the, one of the conditions that I put up myself when we started looking at investing more money in this, was that Alex actually learned how to grow the vines himself.

And not just to buy everything and make the wines. So, part of it is really understanding how to grow it. To, but also manage the process. Some of the things that he’s talking about, the temperature of the time that you have it, how much oxygen when you go into malo, and things like that.

Bianca mentioned not being able to smell that had gone through a full malo. That’s partially driven by the process. That you do it in as well.

[00:18:42] Bianca Harmon: Yeah. That’s fantastic. I like that though.

[00:18:45] Alex Fullerton: Yeah.

[00:18:45] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You mentioned so you’ve got a half acre in your backyard and now, but Alex you’re also talking about farming and the important steps in the vineyard being spread out throughout being such a wide landscape.

How do you, how do you make sure that all the vineyards are to your specifications and are you out there, or are these contracts?

[00:19:03] Eric Fullerton: He drives 5,000 miles every harvest.

[00:19:08] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh my Lord.

[00:19:08] Bianca Harmon: Oh wow.

[00:19:09] Alex Fullerton: When it’s more the driving be throughout the year and checking in and the longer you work some with someone, the more you can trust them.

A lot of people that we work with, it’s, they know their vineyards like the back of their hands, but you always, you always get to have a say in an perspective whether

[00:19:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Trust the suppliers and kind of work hand in hand.

[00:19:34] Alex Fullerton: Yeah.

[00:19:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Over the last 10 years, I mean there’s a lot of expansion of sub-AVAs and stuff.

Give us a kind of a rundown of how the Willamette Valley evolved in your eyes since the first harvest in 2012 versus now you’re just wrapping up the 2023 harvest.

[00:19:49] Alex Fullerton: Well we came in right at the same time as a lot of other small producers entering the industry and there was probably like a little bit of a lull.

And now it seems like there’s quite a few more producers and big producers. Some Burgundians and Californian companies buying land up here as well. So there’s definitely even more of a spotlight on Oregon than there was when we got into the industry.

[00:20:18] Drew Thomas Hendricks: There’s definitely been that Burgundian consolidation with back in the day with Drew and purchasing their estate and Beaux Freres selling to, I forget the name of that Burgundy company.

[00:20:32] Alex Fullerton: And Resonance which is shadow.

Buying up some really nice vineyards up here and, and a lot of these companies are joining the Oregon wine industry. And here,

[00:20:45] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Are they coming and being part of it or are they just buying it things?

[00:20:48] Alex Fullerton: For the most part, yes. A lot of people are coming in and being part of it.

[00:20:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Eric, how would you say it’s evolved?

[00:20:56] Eric Fullerton: So Alex is connected with most of the growers and the producers and has a huge network where my focuses more on the financial part and the business part. And you know, we, we were not really abreast of the fact that we would see a consolidation in the whole distribution part.

Where from 2008 until sometime a few years ago about 70% of the distribution companies in the United States either went under or got consolidated. So we ended up with 30% of distribution. And as we started as a, out as a young winemaking company, the whole access to the market and distribution became cluttered.

Cause the pipe to the to the consumer got narrower. More, more wine had to get through it. And then having our own tasting room became a lot more important to drive our club than our direct-to-consumer business. So there’s been a lot of evolution in that. And then we had the pandemic and all these things that happened,

[00:22:03] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That didn’t help anything as far as distribution.

[00:22:06] Eric Fullerton: No, it didn’t help at all. And then so, so we’ve had a lot of interesting experiences. And it’s been very important to bring out a very high-quality product as Alex does. You know, with all the science and the technology it’s become easier for people to make a sort of acceptable wine.

So you really have to make sure that you make very good wine in order to be able to compete. In, in a continued commodity market as we have.

[00:22:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: How has your distribution evolved? Is it the pipes become tighter? I know you’re focusing more on direct-to-consumer, and I hear that you’ve starting a tasting room.

[00:22:43] Eric Fullerton: Yeah, we’ll starting in one more.

[00:22:46] Bianca Harmon: Don’t you have one currently?

[00:22:47] Eric Fullerton: Yes, exactly. So we, we started actually out in the, in the lower floor of our house, right in front of the half of the Chardonnay vineyard that we spoke about before called Ivy Slope. But then we drove way too much traffic for our neighbors and we had to moves.

We spent a lot of time looking around where we wanted a tasting room. And if we would go into wine country, we would really want a vineyard. Cause when we go out and taste wineries ourself, we don’t stop by the taste rooms along 99 or other places. We go up to the places that have vineyards and wineries.

So we ended up choosing a spot in Portland. In some, in a park called Slabtown, where we have been for five years. And it’s doing us very well. We’ve been able to grow our club to about 650 club members in there. And that’s been a big part of our sales. Now last year, at the end of last year, we took ownership of the winery that we’re in Corvallis.

And previous to that, we were just leasing it. Now we’re the owners, and Alex is actually apart from making our own wine, also doing the custom crush for a number of other labels in our winery as we have it today. But part of the vision behind taking ownership was also to establish a, a tasting room in Corvallis, which is more like in wine country, so that we can offer more square feet and more access to, to people to come and try all of the wines that we make.

So that’s the thing about opening a new taste room and managing that in the winery where Alex is sitting today. Distribution. You asked about that.

[00:24:32] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. What percentage is your direct-to-consumer versus sold?

[00:24:35] Eric Fullerton: We’re about 50-50 in dollars. And of course one third in, in volume direct, and two-thirds through distribution. Cause of the price difference that you get. And distribution mainly takes our second label. Some of the distribution takes the Fullerton label, but The Three Otter label is, The Three Otters label is the main driver through distribution. In the beginning, before the pandemic.

We we’re fairly aggressive on expanding. So at one stage, we were distributed into about 35 states and during the pandemic we reduced that to about 20. We’re increasing a little bit again, but we’re at 28 to 22, 25 states. And also, early on we would take on a lot of distributors that probably weren’t the right match for us.

[00:25:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s a big problem a lot of people face. They,

[00:25:28] Eric Fullerton: Yeah. That’s something you have to learn. You have to learn how to pick a distributor who really wants to develop your brand and is not there to try to milk you as if you were a big house that had a lot of marketing funds that you could keep on paying for your points of distribution, et cetera.

We’ve had to learn that the hard way. And as we came up to the pandemic, that was the right time to sort of get rid of all those that didn’t really fit us. And now we’ve been focusing on distributors that fit us much better. So equal kids play best.

[00:26:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Very good. I’m very excited for this, the Pinot Noir.

As we move into the Pinot Noirs, give us a rundown of these 11, well not these 11, but as we’re chasing through these Pinot Noirs, 11 sub-appellations with a distinctive pinot from each single vineyard.

[00:26:14] Eric Fullerton: Yeah. Well, we’re gonna start with the fur crisp, but I’ll let Alex talk about the different AVAs and how we match them together.

[00:26:23] Alex Fullerton: And Fir Crest is from one of the best-known sub-AVAs, which is Yamhill-Carlton AVA. And that is, we’ve kind of loosely defined them, a lot of them based on bedrock and not all of them, but Yamhill-Carlton AVA is almost exclusively marine sedimentary. There’s a little bit of basalt in a few areas, and actually, in this vineyard, it’s pretty close to where there’s some basalt.

And even though it’s all marine sediments, you can actually find some big basalt cobbles. That have rolled from presumably a higher elevation down into this vineyard.

[00:27:07] Bianca Harmon: Oh wow.

[00:27:08] Alex Fullerton: And I should add as well, this we had a really late harvest this year in juxtaposition to a lot of people down south who started pretty early.

[00:27:18] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Is it this year being the 2018 or this year being this year?

[00:27:21] Alex Fullerton: This 2022.

[00:27:22] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Okay.

[00:27:23] Alex Fullerton: This year. Yeah. And for, for Fir Crest Vineyard, we often do some extended maceration for about three weeks of sitting on the skins after it finishes fermentation. So we pressed off the 22 yesterday. Oh, wow. And it’s about to go into barrels here this afternoon and tasting.

Very nice.

[00:27:48] Eric Fullerton: How was the 18 summer?

[00:27:51] Alex Fullerton: 18 is, was nice and warm. Fairly early on average. But that’s having it be fairly early and warm, I think is becoming more is or is becoming very normal. So it’s historical average was early. I think it’s kind of new normal though. And pretty easy year.

This year was more of a nail biter cuz we were so late and worried about rains, which the rains did not come until after we had. Ripened and harvested everything.

[00:28:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: But crops were really down in 22, weren’t they? Didn’t you guys get hit by that hail or the frost? Right at

[00:28:31] Alex Fullerton: Frost. But we had such good weather at fruit set that a lot of stuff actually made up for it.

And some areas that weren’t hit by frost had record-high yields. Like never before seeing heights where we were.

[00:28:45] Bianca Harmon: Do you think it was caused of that heat wave that went through there or?

[00:28:49] Alex Fullerton: Yeah, I think just zero rain at bloom and kind of perfect temperatures. So if in a good situation about 50% of our flowers turned into grapes and we had about 50% of ’em turn into grapes.

Lots of water in the ground cuz there was a super wet spring. So the grapes got big, which that did help up, help make up for a lot of the low yields.

[00:29:16] Bianca Harmon: Yeah, cuz I was in Oregon in end of July, August, and it was like triple-degree temperatures. It was like 112 to 115 degrees.

[00:29:27] Alex Fullerton: And was that Southern Oregon or

[00:29:30] Bianca Harmon: All over?

So I went from the very beginning of Oregon to the very end of Oregon. No, but I, yeah, I was in Grants Pass and then I was in Willamette Valley and then I was in Portland.

[00:29:43] Alex Fullerton: And then we had the warmest, or one of the warmest Septembers ever in the warmest October ever.

[00:29:50] Bianca Harmon: Yeah. Which, so that’s was interesting to me that a lot of these organ wineries I’ve talked to, they’ve had a lot of late harvests right now with, even though they had such high heat temperatures too.

[00:30:02] Alex Fullerton: Yeah. And that was really when bloom finally came to the valley. Cause we had that frost, which just shut everything down. And then I think the buds, some of them were emerging, but all of them decided, Ooh, I’m gonna a little chilly out here. I’m gonna take my time and set everything back. A good month when we were actually looking like it was, it was gonna be an early start of the year.

[00:30:30] Eric Fullerton: If we go back to Drew’s question about the AVAs. For the sub-regions, you know, the Oregon, the Willamette Valley is really defined by the geology. And when I speak with a lot of people we end up talking about jokingly the thing about land before time. But you know, one-third of Oregon was basically underwater until about 300 million years ago. And then the tectonic plate started hitting the Atlantic plate lifting up making the coastal range and encircling the Willamette Valley as it looks today. But the Willamette Valley had lava flows all the way up from the Yellowstone hotspot. That had the – floods up from the continental divide and all those things that have created the whole scenery here. And, and that means that we have, you know, the Dundee Hills and the Eola-Amity Hills that are volcanoes that erupted while they were still underwater. You have Mount Pisgah, who’s a even older volcano that has a whole layer of a marine sediment on top of the volcanic soil, and then we have the Coast Range that this one is from the Yamhill-Carlton. And as we move, you go north you get into the Tualatin Hills and Laurelwood and then you can go down south where we’re gonna end up. The next wine which is the Momtazi Vineyard which is a vineyard that is in the mouth of the Van Duzer corridor which lets the winds in from the Pacific and is a, creates something.

I’ll let Alex talk about that when I’m done with this geology, ge thing here. But you know, they have 17 soils there that are all composed from different things that have happened over the years, and it’s a fully biodynamic farmed vineyard. Maybe that

[00:32:19] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Geo geographic breath in Oregon. I think few people realize the amount of varying soil types that are there.

So from a wine-drinking perspective, like what of your 11, like how many single vineyard Pinots do you produce?

[00:32:35] Alex Fullerton: 11 different single vineyard, 11 different ones.

[00:32:38] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So what, what would be the lightest to the darkest, like if someone was looking for like a delicate, really delicate style that’s

[00:32:46] Alex Fullerton: Probably with major exceptions can, tends to be a little lighter and a little correction.

The Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity are actually, the salt flows out of the Yellowstone hotspot. So they flowed about 350 miles across Oregon and then were would dry up and cool. So they came in at a point when there was still some seabed, some seabed that wasn’t lifted, but right is the last stuff was being lifted around 16 million years ago. And came outta the Yellowstone hotspot, which was at that time located kind of in the northeast corner of what would become Oregon.

[00:33:36] Eric Fullerton: And I would say we make a few more single vineyard Pinot Noirs. We have one that we call Brutus and one we call Claudias.

Which are just single-block single vineyard. So, the number is more like 13 to 14 single vineyard.

[00:33:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Wow. Wow. That’s in incre, that’s incredible. Is it hard to manage a portfolio of 13 single vineyards?

[00:33:57] Alex Fullerton: There are some challenges.

[00:34:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: These are very micro production. I mean, we’re looking at 200 cases, 300 cases.

You’re talking about a couple palates?

[00:34:06] Eric Fullerton: Yeah. Well, some of them are increasing. So our main, so the Fir Crest and the Momtazi are increasing towards the 400 case production. We have a few others that are increasing, which are both bought through distribution and direct-to-consumer. The ones that go to to club only, well the size of our club, we really need to be above a hundred cases.

[00:34:33] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. I mean, your club

[00:34:34] Eric Fullerton: Could be 200 cases.

[00:34:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. Your club could blow through this a lot.

[00:34:37] Eric Fullerton: Yes. Yeah.

[00:34:39] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Now as far as the style, I again I’m lacking adjectives here, but again it’s very Burgundian and it’s got just beautiful, just nice fruit. It doesn’t have, and I don’t wanna bash any lower regions, but as you go south into California, oftentimes you get a little hot more herbal quality to it that isn’t that, that I miss. Where I, that I don’t like as much as the going up into Oregon where it’s more of that kind of just really nice refined fruit structure with acidity.

[00:35:07] Alex Fullerton: And this vineyard in particular, even though it’s from Yamhill-Carlton, which can have a little less acid. Tend, tends to be fairly dark fruited. This vineyard gets some kind of coastal wind that hits it. Pretty early, so tends to cool down, slows down the ripening quite a bit, and maintains tons of acid.

[00:35:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So in contrast, or not in contrast, we’ve got the Momtazi Vineyard and this is from the McMinnville area.

[00:35:37] Alex Fullerton: Yeah. And just this is just like a 15-minute drive and if you were a bird you could get there quite a lot faster cuz you wouldn’t have to take the drive around the gravel roads to get to Fir Crest.

But this is almost all volcanic soil now. And even more influence from the coastal winds. So generally, really small berries with lots of acid and very thick skins.

[00:36:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: It’s primarily claw 1 13, 1 14, 1 15, and seven seven. Definitely drink a lot of the 7 7 7 clone for some reason. We we’re up in Santa Barbara quite a bit, and the Santa Barbara area has a ton of 7 77 clones.

[00:36:21] Alex Fullerton: And it’s just a very nice, well-rounded clone.

[00:36:24] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. So talk to me about this Momtazi. So it’s from the volcanic soils.

I mean the nose is a little bigger for sure, and the style it’s a little darker in. It’s in the glass as well.

[00:36:34] Alex Fullerton: And I would say this is maybe not the best example. In general of volcanic oil in Oregon because it tends to be a little softer. Less tannic generally. A little more acid thicker soil with higher clay content.

So holds, holds more water in the soil, which can slow down ripening a little bit, and maintain acid. But McMinnville AVA is kind of a hodgepodge of volcanic and sedimentary soils, but has a really unique thumbprint from its proximity to the coastal winds. Tends to be kind of structured, I’ll say it again, high acid, cuz that’s the hallmark of it.

And kinda earthy, maybe less overt fruit flavors. And can be a little herbaceous as well.

[00:37:23] Drew Thomas Hendricks: There is a little more, more herbal note to it. And I would say a rounder quality fruit and maybe a little less acid maybe than it’s typical for this. To me, it has a real nice broad round palate.

[00:37:33] Alex Fullerton: I think it’s just time in the barrel, cuz if I remember right, the pH of this is like below 3.4, which is quite low for red wine.

[00:37:43] Drew Thomas Hendricks: And how are these, how are these aged?

[00:37:45] Alex Fullerton: In regular-sized barrels? About between a quarter and a third new oak, all French oak and four 16 months total. And then bought, brought to tank for about a month and racked, settled and racked and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

[00:38:01] Eric Fullerton: There’s one thing to say about this, this specific area there in the mouth of the Van Duzer Corridor is that, and it was sort of mentioned a little bit, but it really impacts the wine by having the grapes get smaller and having thicker skins because of most of the taste in a Pinot is in the skin.

You get a more complex delicate wine out of it with some notes of the tobacco and mushroom and leather and even a little barnyard together with that herbaceousness that you get from it being denaturalized through the growth.

[00:38:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Delicious.

[00:38:36] Bianca Harmon: These are fabulous Pinots.

[00:38:38] Drew Thomas Hendricks: This is a treat. As we’re kind of coming towards the end of the podcast, I’m gonna ask you each the same question. 10 years into this venture, how do you stay motivated and what excites you most about the next 10 years? Eric first or Alex? You first?

[00:38:51] Alex Fullerton: No. I’ll let my dad go first.

[00:38:52] Eric Fullerton: A lot of people ask me this and, and the fact is that I could just retire and stop working.

Which I’ve tried about three times and it doesn’t work. I’m in this for the next generation, not really for me, but I’m having fun building something that together with my family. So we’re a family and business. And, and my motivation is that I want to build something that’s lasting.

Something that will continue at least the next generation and hopefully many more. But so that, you know, when I stop being active, I can see Alex and whoever he’s working with run a wine company that has a lot of exciting aspects to it and is not gonna just be a a day flew flyer, whatever you want to call it.

[00:39:34] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s very good. Building something for the future. How about you?

[00:39:37] Alex Fullerton: So how do we stay motivated is pretty easy. Start putting in work. I mean, the vineyard work starts in January. And then you’ve already invested the time and energy you need to do everything you can to keep that going. Farm the best. Make the best wine you can. Don’t make any mistakes. And then when you see it through to the bottle and you finally send the kids off to college, like you said, then you always get to check in on them. And that is hopefully a good time. Assuming everything else up until that point went the way you wanted them to go.

[00:40:11] Drew Thomas Hendricks: It’s gotta be so rewarding.

[00:40:13] Eric Fullerton: I would also add to, so Alex does dabble in a lot of other things than just our Pinot Noirs. We had the Chard, but he also makes a Pinot Gris that’s not a Rosé, and makes several natural wines, makes a Pet Nat. We have the Syrah. We have a dessert wine made out of Sauvignon Blanc which is called Gertrud.

And we haven’t made the label yet, but it’s homage to Alex’s mom’s mother, who’s 96 in Sweden, still going very strong. And then we have our first two vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon in barrel. I think the first one is gonna be bottled sometime this winter or, or spring or something like that.

So, we’re looking at a lot of other things in just the Pinot Noirs and that of course makes life very exciting.

[00:41:04] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So much opportunity is the Cabernet coming from Oregon as well?

[00:41:07] Alex Fullerton: From Oregon, but Walla Walla Valley.

[00:41:09] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, it’s the other side of the river.

[00:41:11] Alex Fullerton: Yeah. The southern bit of Walla Walla is in Oregon.

Some, some very well-known vineyards in that part.

[00:41:19] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’s, that’s gonna be fun.

[00:41:21] Alex Fullerton: Some delicious very opposite of the wine we’re used to making.

[00:41:25] Drew Thomas Hendricks: This is, this is fantastic. Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to bring up or give a shout-out to anyone?

[00:41:31] Alex Fullerton: I’ll shout it out to my mom, Suzanne.

[00:41:36] Eric Fullerton: I would’ve done the same because she’s the one that keeps us all honest and takes care of a lot of the whole financial part and some of the operational things with shipping, et cetera. And I would say this year when we hardly could hire anybody for the tasting room, she basically put everything on her back and helped us through the hiring difficulties and ran everything on her own.

So without her we would’ve probably not made it through the end of the pandemic.

[00:42:09] Bianca Harmon: That’s amazing.

[00:42:11] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s a great shout-out. That is a great shout-out.

[00:42:14] Bianca Harmon: These are great wines. Thank you guys.

[00:42:16] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So Alex and Eric, where can people find out about more about you and Fullerton Wines?

[00:42:21] Eric Fullerton:

And then visit us at our tasting room in Portland. And then soon in January come down to the winery and try out our wines there and probably get a barrel tasting or two from Alex and his crew.

[00:42:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, absolutely. Oh, that sounds fantastic. I might be up in a few months for the Oregon symposium.

[00:42:41] Alex Fullerton: Oh, nice.

[00:42:42] Eric Fullerton: Well, I think Alex is gonna be there.

[00:42:44] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Are you? I may see you. I haven’t and they actually committed yet, but I tend to go every year and it’s been a few years since I’ve been.

[00:42:49] Alex Fullerton: Well, if you do let me know.

[00:42:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Absolutely.

[00:42:52] Alex Fullerton: And we can pour you some more wine.

[00:42:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Awesome. Well, thank you.

[00:42:55] Bianca Harmon: Yeah. I wish I would’ve come by there when I was in Portland. Wasn’t thinking.

[00:42:58] Eric Fullerton: Next time.

[00:42:58] Alex Fullerton: You’ll have to come back.

[00:42:59] Eric Fullerton: Next time.

[00:43:00] Bianca Harmon: I will.

[00:43:00] Alex Fullerton: But plan it for cool temperatures.

[00:43:02] Bianca Harmon: Okay.

[00:43:02] Alex Fullerton: Maybe not as cool as they are right now. They might get little whispers of snow here this week.

[00:43:08] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, right. Oh geez, already. Wow. Oh guys, thank you so much. You have a great rest your day.

[00:43:12] Bianca Harmon: Thank you.

[00:43:12] Eric Fullerton: Well we thank you for having us. Thanks a lot.

[00:43:15] Alex Fullerton: Cheers.

[00:43:16] Eric Fullerton: Thank you.