Portland has a new thing to call local, and it’s wine. Vintners are moving their operations from Oregon’s wine country in the Willamette Valley to the city, pairing on-site facilities with tasting rooms that offer a window into winemaking. At least 10 urban wineries have opened within city limits in recent years, making up what might be called one of the country’s first urban wine trails.
Among the best producers are Bow & Arrow
(bowandarrowwines.com) and the Division Winemaking Co. (divisionwinemakingcompany.com), both resident producers at the Southeast Wine Collective (2425 SE 35th Place; 503-208-2061; sewinecollective.com).
Visitors can sample flights of wines made inside the collective from grapes grown in the Pacific Northwest, getting a taste of the region’s terroir — flavorful characteristics that geography and climate create in a wine. The bar’s back wall is made from curving old oak wine barrels, and roll-up glass garage doors lead through to the production room, where, depending on the time of year, customers can witness the harvest crush, watch wines being bottled or take a class in blending.
“For us as younger winemakers, we cherish the valley, but our audience doesn’t necessarily have the time to get down there,” said Kate Monroe, 31, a co-founder with her husband, Tom, 34, of the Southeast Wine Collective. It opened last September. “In order for wine to be an everyday part of their lives, we have to bring it to them a little bit.”
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Urban winemaking is not unique to Portland — Santa Barbara, Calif., and Seattle also have such wineries. But in Portland, a city where the lines often blur between it and “Portlandia,” its comically twee IFC TV counterpart, the seriousness of this craft endeavor seems fitting. Since getting the wine out and available to consumers is an early hurdle to becoming a successful winery, among other obstacles like buying expensive equipment, the collective is set up to be an incubator to help small producers.
“It’s an outlet for people to be able to find these wines,” Kate Monroe said. “For me, as a consumer, it’s ‘try before buy,’ right?”
Like many of their urban winemaking peers, Sasha Davies, 39, and Michael Claypool, 41, of Clay Pigeon Winery (815 SE Oak St.; 503-206-8117; claypigeonwinery.com) began making wine out of their garage.
“We licensed our garage, and in 2011, we made one barrel of syrah and one barrel of pinot noir,” Davies said.
Since Clay Pigeon started production in an industrial stretch of southeast Portland in 2012, output has increased tenfold; the year’s red wines will be released this fall. The attached Cyril’s Wine Bar and tasting room serves seasonal fare like farro and lentil salads to set off its wines. Knowledgeable, friendly staff members are on hand to make recommendations.
A few blocks away — an easy walk or bike ride — the ENSO Urban Winery and Tasting Lounge (1416 SE Stark St.; 503-683-3676; ensowinery.com) opens right onto the street. On a recent summer evening, a lively crowd spilled out, chatting and sipping from Ryan Sharp’s extensive lineup of wines, which includes pinot blanc, zinfandel, a mourvèdre reserve and several blends. For fun, Sharp recently released a bagged Portland Sangria, a blend of dry rosé, berries and spices; its summertime introduction was celebrated with an electronic music dance party in ENSO’s barrel room.
Every place offers a peek into production. At Sauvage at Fausse Piste (537 SE Ash St.; 971-258-5829; sauvagepdx.com), an intimate restaurant and winemaking operation that was opened last summer by Jesse Skiles, a 29-year-old chef and winemaker, customers at the elegant, salvaged-wood bar can peer through a glass door into the winery (tours by appointment) while sipping a well-balanced flight described as “We make these here.” (Fausse Piste specializes in Rhone varietals.) And Skiles’ beautiful small plates are a revelation: smoked, braised chicken wings with a crunchy celery-root slaw and bacon-wrapped baby octopus. Small plates are priced between $5 and $10; entrees are around $20.
Most of the wineries are members of PDX Urban Wineries, a local association that has been working to create a culture in which people bike, bus, cab and walk between wineries that are mainly clustered in the southeast section of the city — very Portland.
The latest sign of success: Bow & Arrow is leaving the Southeast Wine Collective to open its own place, less than 5 miles away. The new winery, said Dana Frank, 35, its co-owner, will have a 5,000-square-foot cellar — an urban wine cave, if you will — built to specifications set by her 41-year-old husband, Scott, the winemaker.
“The live ecology that lives underground contributes so much to how a wine ages, and we really wanted that,” Dana Frank said. Portland terroir? All bets say it could be a hit.