Wine Trip to Portland
“Wait, seriously?” I consciously chose to bounce on the balls of my feet to demonstrate my excitement instead of flapping my arms (always a dangerous move when surrounded by wine bottles) and grinned at the guy behind the counter. I was at Vif, a coffee shop-wine bar combo in Seattle talking to another wine lover who had apparently worked at the same independent wine shop, Central Bottle, in Cambridge, MA as me!
Like dogs and their owners, wine seems to resemble their creators and one of the owners of Division, Kate Norris, wasn’t the exception. Like the French inspired wines Division is known for, Kate is friendly, approachable, dry, and layered. Their winery is clean and sparse with barrels of different sizes and shades of russet everywhere. On a table was a polite note informing visitors that the temperature needed to be kept on the cooler side for the health of the wine.
The most mind-blowing experience with Kate was tasting unfinished wines directly from barrels. Among others we tasted was a Nebbiolo (Division’s first wine) and a Chenin Blanc (Kate’s favorite grape). I eagerly listened to Kate explain that deciding how to age certain grapes is done intuitively and through experimentation. It’s an inspiration to meet winemakers with such thriving palates, such knowledge of different barrel types (Kate adores Austrian barrels), and total confidence and creativity when figuring out what type of aging the wine should undergo.
Their winery rubs elbows with the wine bar that Division also runs, Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant, and in fact they are only separated by a clear wall. It’s important to Division for customers to be able to see the non-invasive winemaking techniques used. Definitely check Oui! out if you’re in Portland! They carry natural wines from small producers with particular attention to the Northwest but also some from wine producers and regions that they feel are underappreciated. Oui! bustles with warmth and stellar food. You’ll also get to meet the most doe-eyed, gentle Black Lab on the planet named Butch Cassidy who is the resident dog expert on wine.
Over the next few days my boyfriend and I drove through Willamette Valley; I had read about the weather patterns and their effect on grapes but it was a different experience altogether to witness. Every morning the weather was cool and armed with gigantic gray, foreboding, but without fail, by noon everyday it would turn into a picturesque sunny, summer day!
Craft Wine Co. is about an hour from Portland and is nestled in a grove of wineries. Unlike Division, it’s in an unassuming building whose goal isn’t to necessarily to draw people in. Owner and winemaker Chad Stock did offer a wine-pro tip to vineyard hopping: do it, because a lot of these small wineries offer wines in their Tasting Rooms that you can’t find in stores.
Like Kate, Chad resembles his wines; both wine and man are intense, deep, and structured. He brings his love of analysis to Craft Wine Co. but specifically to the Minimus line. Minimus does grow Oregon’s bread and butter of their wines, like their delectable Pinot Noir with silky violet notes, but Chad brightens up like a lightning bug when speaking about their experimental blends. Basically, if your knees go weak with love after sipping a wine from the Minimus line you should buy as many as possible because Chad rarely produces the same thing twice!
While certainly enthusiastic about Oregon’s terroir (Craft Wine Co. sources their grapes from natural vineyards all across the State) Chad gives more credit for a wine’s complexity to the aging and blending process. Across the clean and cluttered winery were cement and stainless steel tanks, barrels of all kinds and….amphorae!
The moment I spotted it I got excited and waited until there was a pause in the conversation to dart over to the line of clay vessels that looked like pottery gone wild! I’d read about amphorae before but I’d never seen them in person. Thousands of years ago the Greeks and Romans used amphora vessels to age wine, and it’s a traditional technique that many regions of the world still use today, especially in the countries of Georgia, Greece, Italy, and Slovenia. Renowned northern Italian winemaker Elisabetta Foradori uses amphorae and inspired Oregonian winemaker Andrew Beckham to use them as well.
Andrew Beckham, ‘a Renaissance man’ according to Chad, constructs the amphorae for Craft Wine Co. It’s an involved process that takes about two months to create (3 weeks to build, 1 month to dry, and another two days for firing in the kin) but the result is superb! The clay imparts flavors of iron, dusty road, and wet bricks onto the wine. Chad has found Malbec, Grüner Veltliner, and Sauvignon Blanc age particularly well in amphorae. Every year Chad produces a Sauvignon Blanc called SMI that undergoes aging on its skin in amphorae for 6-7 months that is absolutely stunning!
So whenever you have the chance to go to Portland take it and only drink local. You. Won’t. Run. Out. Of. Wine.
For the love of West Coast Wine,
Come ask us all about Division and Minimus wine at the shop! We currently carry the following from the two wineries: 2017 Division 'Beton', 2017 Division 'Les Petits Fers,' and 2016 Division 'L'Isle Verte' Chenin Blanc. MAGnums of the 'Beton' and 'Les Petits Fers' are also for sale!