Wine is about friends. Why else would it come in a bottle too big to finish alone — and in glasses made as much for clinking as for drinking? How right it is, then, that the Carlton Cellars story begins with a lifelong friendship. In 1979 Dave Grooters made the trek from his native Pennsylvania out to the wild west to see his old army buddy Nick. No ordinary Nick, though. This was Nick Peirano, the man behind one of Oregon’s most respected restaurants, Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville. Nick introduced Dave to a few of his good friends — like David Adelsheim, Dick Erath, Myron Redford, Dick Ponzi, and David Lett (aka “Papa Pinot”) — some of the great Oregon wine pioneers. During the 80’s, Dave visited Nick and his new friends every chance he got, and it was always an occasion for a party: “Every time I’d visit Nick, there’d be these great winemakers, there’d be dancing on the counters, there’d be food and wine and frolicking, and I thought this is how Oregon was all the time.“ Soon, Dave began to daydream about getting involved in the Willamette Valley wine world himself. In 1995 he got his chance. Having sold his software company, Fastech, Dave came out to Carlton to volunteer with wine legend Ken Wright during crush. The following year, Ken asked Dave to be his vineyard manager for Canary Hill. (If you’re lucky enough to have a bottle of Ken Wright Cellars’ Canary Hill ’96 or ’97, look for Dave’s name on the back label.) So began a couple of years of flying back and forth between Pennsylvania and the vineyards of Oregon — a crazy commute which would have its own fateful influence.
Sometimes wine is about more than just friends.
On one of these flights Dave found himself sitting next to the lovely and delightful Robin Russell. Dave turned on the charm while they shared stories and listened in to the air traffic control channel on their United 757. But according to Robin, it was an enchanting weekend visit to Oregon wine country from her home in L.A. that really sparked the romance: a barrel tasting, an Oregon coast visit to the soon-to-be-famous Roads End, dinner at Nick’s, and a stay at a picturesque Yamhill county bed and breakfast. In time both Robin and Dave were living the bi-coastal life between Pennsylvania – where they cared for Robin’s elderly parents – and the West Coast, in L.A. and Oregon wine country. Planes continued to be a theme: married in 1999, their wedding cake was in the shape of a 757.
Friendship takes root in fertile soil.
Soon they decided it was high time to roll up their sleeves and make their own wine. Carlton Cellars’ first release was the 2001 Roads End Oregon Pinot Noir. This excellent small-batch wine quickly became a sought-after favorite among those in the know. In 2003 Dave planted the first block of Pinot Noir at our Estate Vineyard, just east of Carlton. Yet it wasn’t until the following year that Dave and Robin moved out to Oregon for real, along with Robin’s sister Brooke. It was a trek of Oregon Trail proportions, with the dog Lady Day and five cats in tow! Five vintages and many acres of new vines later, in 2007, Dave and Robin opened their very own Carlton Cellars winery facility and tasting room in the heart of Carlton. That year their hard work in the vineyard came to fruition with the release of their estate wine, Cape Lookout Oregon Pinot Noir. And now, with more varieties coming of age in the vineyard, and more wines being planned — this is just the beginning. Stay current with our new developments as they happen — events, special offers, new releases — by visiting us in person and online, and by signing up for our lively and informative newsletter, the Message in a Bottle.