It’s a beautiful spring Wednesday afternoon in downtown Portlandia. What to do? What to do?
Warm, radiant sunshine beckons. Cloudless (OK, nearly cloudless) azure skies. What to do?
It’s a perfect day for wine tasting in Oregon’s wine country. If we head out now, we can be there in an hour; but we would find most, if not all of the favorites closed or closing. If only we could get there sooner…
Perhaps we can.
We walk over to Pioneer Square, catch the TriMet No. 4 Division/Fessenden clean energy bus, and head east across the Hawthorne Bridge. In ten minutes, we are there—Portlandia wine country!
A quick visit to PdxUrbanWineries.com will confirm what a short TriMet ride to Southeast proves in person. Oregon wine lovers love their Willamette Valley wineries and the bucolic countryside. But more Oregon wine country can be found right here in Portland.
In fact, Portland is home to at least 13 urban wineries, and that number continues to grow. Eleven of these operations have banded together to form the PDX Urban Wineries Association and are listed on the aforementioned website. The associated vintners include Bow & Arrow, Clay Pigeon, ENSO, Jan-Marc, Seven Bridges, Viola, and the venerable Hip Chicks Do Wine, which opened in 2001 in Southeast. Pinot noir is a staple among these wineries, of course, but there remains hardly a varietal left untouched. Syrah? You bet. Unique red and white varietals and blends abound, including pinot blanc, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel, to name just a few.
The No. 4 bus arrives at the intersection of Division and Southeast 35th Place. We have arrived at our first stop, the Southeast Wine Collective. One of the associated urban wineries, the Collective, is the passion and playground of Tom and Kate Monroe, who opened their urbane urban winery in August 2012. Today, the Collective is home to numerous winemakers and wine labels, including Vincent Wine Company, Jackalope Wine Cellars, Jasper Sisco, 5Q, Helioterra Wines, Ore Winery, Willful Wines, Fullerton Wines, and Division Winemaking Company—the Monroe’s own label.
Upon arriving at the Collective, the third leg (actually, four) of the Monroe triumvirate arrives at the door to greet our party. Butch Cassidy “Cass” Monroe is the couple’s seven-year-old black Labrador, part of the couple’s wine-making journey from the very beginning. The trio traveled from their beginnings in San Francisco, across the sea to Loire, France, where they studied winemaking, and back again to the West Coast. The odyssey finally carried them north to Portland’s Division-Clinton neighborhood, where they established the Collective. Cass is as affable a business partner and greeter as you’ll find anywhere. And his import to the enterprise is unquestionable.
“I remember it clearly the day we got off the plane with him in France,” recalls Tom.
How many family pets do you know that have their own blog—Black Dog Blog—or their own label—Red Collar wines—that include their serious-about-wine image right on the label? Cass does.
Once greeted with a sniff and a snort, we find a happy marriage of the winemaking craft and gustation, both food and wine, inside the Collective. The same building houses the winemaking operations. Barrels are racked and stacked, aging wines. Large tanks fermenting and processing the annual harvest adorn the back of the facility. In addition to more barrels, the building has a comfortable and tasteful wine bar and bistro. Earthly delights await!
On this pleasant Wednesday, we find a special tasting underway in the cellar production facility, where on other nights there may be a movie playing or other special attraction. We make a right into the Tasting Bar, settling into the comfy environs and a cushy banquette. There, we can enjoy the fruits of the Monroes’ labor and that of other Collective winemakers.
There are flights of Collective wines to taste. The wine tap program offers artisan wines by the glass…or growler, at reduced cost, thanks to the lack of bottling required. And there are more flights and wines by the glass and bottle from the Collective wineries, PacNorthwest vintners, and domestic U.S. and international wines. The most intriguing, perhaps, is the “Surprise” flight, four wines selected by the tasting bar staff to create a revolving-door, ever-changing wine flight for the fearless quaffer.
Food-wise, there are les Snacks and les Petits Plates, whimsical names for serious foodie foods. The Deviled Egg Flight was the first to catch our eye. But the gougère, a freshly baked-to-order choux pastry of perfect warm cheesy goodness to accompany a wine flight, is a must-have. Mozart’s “nipples of Venus” had nothing on these heavenly bodies.
We can find every aspect of a major Dundee Hills winery operation at the Collective. Wine club fan? Got it. Supper club fan? Here, too. Special tastings and guest winemakers? All the bases are covered.
Kate Monroe is the “Where’s Waldo?” of wine. Born in Bahrain to an English father and a Malagasy mother, Kate has lived in Switzerland, France, England, and the U.S. She fashioned a career with event planning firms and wineries before joining forces personally and enterprisingly with Tom Monroe in San Francisco.
“Kate definitely makes all of these programs hum the way they should,” says Tom. “But we have brain storming sessions, a weekly meeting, and at the end, everybody throws out an idea. We try to come up with different things, new ways to bring focus to the wines.”
Tom Monroe has always had an affinity for Oregon wines. The couple met over wine (Tom “stole” a glass of wine from Kate at a party on a boat in San Francisco Bay) and on their first date brought a bottle of Domaine Drouhin pinot noir. At their wedding at a Sonoma winery, they served—you guessed it—that same Oregon wine at their reception. Later, as Tom studied for an MBA program, he wrote a business plan for a Portland, Oregon urban winery operation. You know the rest of the story.
“The urban winery concept was based around what we had seen from the local brewpubs and breweries here,” Tom explains. “I still think of it more as a community winery. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Cass ambles over to see what we’re eating, and to ensure the floor is clean. If this is a dog’s life, it’s a quality dog’s life. Welcome to the urban, er, community winery!
Sated, full, and warm from the Collective’s offerings, our wine tour continues kitty-corner from the Collective, where we find Will and Danyelle Prouty’s Division Wines. Denizens of the Division-Clinton ‘hood, Will and Danyelle want to share their passion for wine where they live. Opened in April 2011, they wanted “to be part of creating the type of connected community and experience that we believe makes neighborhoods healthier and people happier.”
The first and third Wednesday of each month, Division Wines connects with its community by holding wine tastings that Will crafts from small-production, responsibly farmed, and largely direct-import-to-Portland wineries from around the globe. The aim is to introduce Portlanders to wines off the beaten path.
The couple has worked in the restaurant industry for a long time. Will has spent 30 years as a bartender, the last 15 of those overseeing the well-rounded, far-reaching wine program at Southpark Seafood, a restaurant in Southwest.
“As a bartender, I’ve watched people grow up right before me,” says Prouty. “I’ve had wives come in alone after coming in for years with their husbands. It’s like watching a movie of people’s lives. But even though it’s ‘just a bar’ or just a ‘wine shop,’ it’s a way to connect with people in real ways. In natural ways.”
The same is true at Division Wines. There, some recent tastings showcased Italian wines, including winemakers Nicola Argamante of Podere Ruggeri Corsini in Langhe and Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti in Barolo; a lovely flight of southern Rhone wines; and, because it is spring after all, rosé tasting. In each case, the wines are specially selected by Will and gracefully poured by Danyelle. Selected cheeses, bread, crackers, olives, and charcuterie accent the tastings.
The tastings are a blend of neighborhood regulars, folks from farther out of the metro area who have become fans of Will’s wine sense, and newcomers wandering in to see what the buzz is about.
“People who are part of the neighborhood, people that know each other, there’s a connection,” says Prouty. “That’s powerful stuff. Technology tends to isolate people to some degree. I think it’s important that we retain real connections.
“People that live and work here become part of the fabric of the community. They talk to each other, interact, solve problems. It cures some of the divisiveness that we see so much of in modern society. We can help keep track of each other, help each other. It’s the way it used to be. It’s the town square dynamic.”
You don’t find that in your everyday glass of wine.
Prouty practices what he preaches. He bought the first bottle of wine Tom and Kate Monroe sold at the Southeast Wine Collective. And he admires what is going on across the street there, as Tom similarly admires the Proutys’ store. Prouty is convinced the “urban wine country” developing in Portland will continue to grow, with residual benefits.
“There’s a real advantage of sustainability: not having to have hundreds of people jump in the car and commute to the country,” he says. “The estate winemaking that takes place in the country is really special and we want to sustain that. But I’m a fan of the urban wineries. They enhance the sense of community. It’s a way to enhance Portland as a travel destination.
“And you don’t have to drive back an hour or more after drinking all day.”
We head back to the bus stop to board the No. 4 that returns downtown via that short ten-minute ride. We peer out the bus’s large square windows, considering the ochre sunset over the west hills. Another lovely day in Oregon wine country—right at home in Portland.
Southeast Wine Collective is located at 2425 SE 35th Place.
Division Wines is located at 3564 SE Division Street.
UPDATE: Last month we featured Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines in the article “Bourgogne Quest.” As we go to press this month, news of a fire at the Scott Paul production and wine storage facility is breaking. We at PDX Magazine send our condolences to Scott Wright and the Scott Paul Wines team. We hope for the best and a speedy recovery.