Wine Adventure: Portland, Oregon
Maybe the best preparation one could do before visiting Portland, Oregon is to do no preparation at all. If you can, even try avoiding a Netflix binge of the hilarious Portlandia. For a city that prides itself on being weird, open, and accepting of all comers, it is best to go to Portland with as few expectations as possible, an open heart, and an open mind. For wine, I knew that Oregon was a land famous for Pinot Noir. A little bit of Googling and some rough math showed me that Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes make up over two thirds of the grapes grown in Oregon. The downside being, Pinot Noir is probably my least favorite wine in the world. It just seems lacking, even compared to other lighter or medium bodied grapes. But, as I was in the heart of Pinot country, I thought it best to take in a few wineries, taste some wine, and see what Portland, and indeed Oregon had to offer. Mind and heart open.
My first stop was at Enso Urban Winery. Urban winery! Why is this not a thing? Or at least, why is it not absolutely massive, and in every wine region in the world. A winery in the heart of the city, where the people who drink wine are. Pair it with a warm industrial feel that adds credit to both the art and craft of what is going on just a few steps behind you. Of course the first wine I tasted was a Pinot Noir, but I was floored. A Pinot Noir blended with a bit of Chardonnay, to give it that extra dimension that is so often sorely missing. Something that comes only from a craftsman, a person who pays attention to every little detail and recognizes opportunity. This only begins to tell the story, as the Mourvedre of two vintages brought a stark lesson in just how much difference a year can make. Their Cabernet Franc, while not for everybody, absolutely rocks, literally! The taste of a warm, dirt, gravel road lingers long in the memory and transports you to the vineyards as you mentally travel down the road and to their door.
Within Enso winery is Ram Cellars. Enso assistant winemaker Rodger Marks does it his way, with his vision, his creations, and cements his own place in the Portland wine scene. Ram Cellars is but a babe in the scene, and selection is limited, but under the wings and roof of Enso, Rodger is in the perfect incubator for his talents.
Over at eponymous Jan Marc Wine Cellars, chef and winemaker Jan Marc turns the winery into something of a community hub. The wines are made for neighbors, friends, and visitors, who are invited to enjoy a warm atmosphere. Good food, great wine, and some interesting wine innovations that make this little winery such a pleasure to visit, and difficult to leave without a bottle of two. It is a rare, and endearing thing that a winery is not just a neighborhood gem, but right at the heart of it.
Urban wineries show us that wine does not have to be stuffy, stuck out in the country, and inaccessible for city folk. Tasting wine is fun, exploring new wine is an adventure, and these urban wineries bring that punk rock attitude to the masses, despite their small size. Their mission to challenge the status quo show or create something different leads to new and exciting innovations or directions in wine. Whether it is the wine innovations of new bottle topping methods at Enso (plastic wraps) and Jan Marc (glass corks) or TeSoAria bringing the famed Bulls Blood Hungarian style blends to this side of the world, alongside vines that have been nearly forgotten.
To explore and adventure into the wine culture of Portland is to expand your mind, your palette, and your heart. The people are friendly, they want to share their wine, they want to share their experiences, and they want to shine a light into wine avenues you may never have explored before. Never before have I drink so many different varieties, blends, and been introduced to a continuous run of new wine experiences. Portland is different, and their winemakers embrace that spirit to its utmost. As soon as you open up and let that happen, you can make your own wine adventure on the streets of the city. All you have to do is embrace that spirit of different, leave your bias at the door, and expand yourself beyond the Pinot.