In downtown Portland, a city well revered for its craft beer scene, wine is starting to make an appearance within the urban landscape. Only minutes away from the Willamette Valley wine region, Portland is ideally situated as a jumping off point for exploring the acclaimed wine country. Yet despite the close proximity, more and more wineries are moving their operations into the city.
Emerging Urban Wineries
Wineries such as Fausse Piste, Enso, and Clay Pigeon have all begun urban operations within Portland and other small producers, such as Division Winemaking Company, Helioterra, Jackalope and Vincent, have begun operating within the newly established SE Wine Collective, a shared winemaking facility that operates much like an incubator kitchen for winemakers, providing space and equipment for budding wineries.
The SE Collective opened in 2012 and is currently occupied by ten small production wineries. Some, such as Bow and Arrow, began their time at the Collective and eventually moved to larger facilities. Others have made it their home, such as founding Collective winery Division, enjoying the tight knit winemaking community the Collective offers as well as the opportunity to showcase their wines in the Collective’s attached wine bar.
The Collective operates much like Portland’s prevalent breweries in which a number of wines produced in-house are poured by the glass. Patrons are also able to order food to enjoy and monthly winemaker dinners are held at the facility, set amongst the winery’s large collection of barrels and tanks. In addition to the food and wine served, the Collective also offers a wine club, with two levels of membership, each featuring wines made in-house. There is also a wine on tap program that, in an effort to eliminate waste, allows patrons to purchase wine in a reusable growler for a flat rate fee.
When asked why many wineries would chose to open in Portland rather than in any of Oregon’s acclaimed wine regions, the SE Collective’s Tasting Bar Extraordinaire Josh Chang identifies the proximity to the consumer base as the main draw. While many Portland natives make the trek down to wine country several times a year, by locating their winery within the downtown area, these urban wineries eliminate the hour drive, allowing for more frequent visits. Chang explained how this proximity allows for an increased interaction between consumers and winemakers, which often times leads to not just an increase in sales, but a more personal connection to be formed between the customer and winery.
The decision to open an urban winery may also be a practical one, Chang furthered. Many smaller producers who do not own their own vineyards or estates live in the city, so locating their winemaking facilities close to home makes constant checkup visits much more accessible. The urban setting of these wineries also place them close by a number of local restaurants, allowing for a mutually beneficial relationship to form not so different than what a number of local breweries maintain. And finally, many of these smaller wineries are run by folks currently working other jobs so the urban setting makes bouncing between jobs much more manageable.
Portland Wine Culture
Oddly enough, while Portland seems to pride itself on featuring entirely local products, this local obsession does not appear to extend to wine. Some of the top restaurants in town have gorgeously crafted wine lists that seem to forget they are located only minutes from one of the best wine regions in the world. Beef sourced from a local cattle ranch, lettuce grown at a nearby produce farm, but European wine shipped thousands of miles just doesn't seem to mesh with the “eat local” mantra these restaurants advocate.
Perhaps now that so many local wineries have begun bringing their operations, and wine, to the people, it will remind Portland natives of the number of amazing local producers and they will begin demanding to see more wines from these local treasures featured on wine lists citywide.