J Albin - From Motorhome to Mini
From Largest Oregon Winery to Smallest
by Jean Yates
If a winery was a car, John Albin used to drive a motorhome. John "J" Albin was Director of Viticulture and Winemaking at King Estate Winery for seven years, managing the entire grape growing and winemaking process at the largest winery in Oregon. He "drove" 465 acres of vineyard, 100,000+ cases of wine, and over 200 employees.
Now John drives a Mini car.
At J Abin, his family's below-the-radar winery, John makes his personal style of Pinot noir. The total business is 11 acres of vineyard, 500 cases of wine a year, and his two teenager sons as assistants. Hard to find but worth it, John's delectable old vine wines are exceptionally well priced.
J Albin's Laurel Vineyard
In 1981, when the Oregon wine industry was tiny and little known, the Albin family planted a vineyard. More than thirty years later, their Pinot noirs show the qualities of complexity and depth that can only be acquired by time. The old vine vineyard produces a very small amount of exceptionally good grapes. In some years, there are not even enough grapes to make wine.
The 31 year old Laurel Vineyard is planted to only Pinot Noir : Pommard, 113, 114 and Coury clones. The Pinot Noirs produced from this vineyard have aromas of cedar, tobacco, earth and dark cherry. These are long-lived wines with natural acidity, smooth silky tannins, with complex flavors of dark red fruit, smoked meat and oak spice. The grapes are allowed to ripen slowly over an extended season. There is something special about these wines.
At right Laurel Vineyard
From Beer to Wine,
and Seattle to Oregon
A degree from U.C. Davis's Fermentation Science Program earned in 1978 launched John Albin's career. In the '80s, the good fermentation related jobs were in beer making, and for a decade, John worked as a brewmeister at several Seattle based craft breweries . However, John's dream was to have a winery. Beer paid the bills, and the J Albin Winery became more than a dream with the purchase of a parcel of land suitable for a vineyard in Oregon.
The Albin's Laurel Vineyard was founded when John and his wife Lynn's beautiful site in the Chehalem Mountains (now the Chehalem Mountains AVA) was planted in Pinot Noir. They chose their location well, and Laurel Vineyard was soon joined by vineyards for prestigious wineries including Willakenzie and Beaux Freres. Today, the area is considered some of the best grape growing land in the Northwest.
The Albins lived in Seattle through the 1980's and commuted to their vineyard. They traveled down I-5 on weekends to tend the vineyard. At first, John sold all of his grapes to King Estate, saving a bit to make the first J. Albin wines.
Around 1990, selling grapes to King Estate led to managing a crew at crush time, to more seasonal jobs, and on to a full time position at King Estate. He rose to the top position in in winemaking.
For seven years John was King Estate's Director of Viticulture and Winemaking. He took the winery from large to the largest in the state, managing the 450 acre organic estate vineyard, working with dozens of contract vineyards, and overseeing all of the winemaking. He was responsible for all wine production at what is now Oregonís largest winery.
In 2008, he left King Estate and now consults, and runs his personal project, J Albin.