When wine enthusiasts hear “variety,” their minds venture straight to grapes. When they hear Oregon, visions of Pinot Noir dance in their heads. The state excels with this varietal. No surprise, Oregon is starting to excel at its Burgundian companion, Chardonnay, as well.
During a recent trip to Portland, my focus was wine and its varieties, but not grapes. (Although I definitely had my fair share of them in a glass during my visit.) Instead, I was interested in the wine business. In two short days, I got a taste of the variety that is the Portland area wine landscape.
My exploration of the area started with a visit to Portland Wine Storage (PWS). As the name implies, PWS offers private cellar rooms and wine storage vaults and loads of services related to them. But that’s not all. As I’ve quickly learned in my recent dive into the wine industry, you have to do a lot to make a living in the business. PWS offers wine and storage accessories. (I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the wine check bag they sell for shipping wine as luggage on planes.) By request, they are also now in the wine cellar moving business. In addition, they started making their own wine, and a recent purchase of a building next door promises the possibilities of a cool event space.
A drive not too far outside the city took me to Flâneur Wines, a fairly new and well-financed winery with its own vineyards. Flâneur offers appointment-only tastings now, but renovations to a local historic grain elevator promises a versatile and hip tasting and event space. The plans are impressive and will add to the already bustling wine town of Carlton, which dubs itself “the wine capital of Oregon.”
The second day started in nearby Newberg with a barrel tasting at Crowley Wines led by owner and winemaker Tyson Crowley. The wines are made at a shared gravity flow facility, so tastings are appointment-only, although people can take a gamble and stop by the August Cellars tasting room, the “lead” winery of the facility, and see if a Crowley wine is available to taste.
Through Crowley, I learned about the Deep Roots Coalition, a group that promotes “sustainable and terroir-driven viticulture without irrigation.” Many countries, particularly in what the wine industry would describe as “old world,” such as France, don’t allow irrigation in the vineyard. “New world” countries, such as the United States, have fewer restrictions on such practices, although that’s not to say there aren’t a ton of regulations involved in U.S. wine production. But new world countries have much more room to try different production approaches than old world countries, often bound not just by regulations, but also tradition. Oregon’s wine industry focuses a lot on organic, sustainable, and natural processes. Combine that with the level of quality achieved, and that’s probably the reason there seems to be a lot of respect for the state’s wine industry from its Burgundian counterparts.
Next was a stop at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, a long-established and high profile winery founded by Lynn Penner-Ash—who the winery bills as “the first woman winemaker of note in Oregon.” She no longer owns the winery, but still makes the wine there and at other places. The winery offered the bucolic views many think of when they envision visiting wine country. Even an overcast day didn’t spoil my gourmet picnic and wine tasting on the patio.
My final stop was an urban winery and custom crush facility. The SE Wine Collective may not have bucolic views, but it provides accessibility amidst the cool Southeast Portland Richmond neighborhood, which combines a “sizzling culinary corridor” with a “leafy neighborhood.” It also offers a wine bar where owner Kate Norris lets chef Althea Grey Potter have free reign, and diners are rewarded for it.
My two-day Portland area adventure provided a glimpse of the variety offered by the Oregon wine industry. It was an appetizer portion that filled me up more than expected, yet left me wanting more. True to English poet William Cowper’s words—“Variety’s the very spice of life that gives it all its flavour.” And the Oregon wine industry has flavor!