OK, it may be politically incorrect to say this, but I love a tipple, and my throat becomes positively parched whenever I think of Portland, Oregon, that bountiful, boozy burg.
Accompanied by three like-minded friends, I recently paid a visit. Our mission was to explore the latest hot, alcohol-fueled trend: urban wineries. What a brilliant concept, I thought, as we made plans to sip pinot noirs and gris, sauvignon blancs and zinfandels without ever leaving city limits. With 14 wineries to choose from, we had work to do.
We took a taxi to the southeast sector of the city, a working-class district dotted with commercial and light-industrial spaces. There, in a former garage with a sandwich board out front, was ENSO Winery.
We passed through a funky lounge, whose furnishings suggested a thriftstore lineage, and sat at a bar glistening with rows of wine glasses. Farther back was a warehouse-style room with a concrete floor and stacked barrels, hoses and other wine-making paraphernalia. The whole space occupied perhaps 1,300 square feet.
The owner and winemaker, Ryan Sharp, poured us a Resonate #9, a blend of primarily Syrah with some Mourvédre and Primitivo grapes, that was soft and round in the mouth, with a hint of tartness. We were impressed.
"I'm a city boy," said Sharp, "so I started the winery here in 2011 and it is growing nicely. In 2013, I produced just shy of 2,500 cases."
During the taxi ride to our next stop, the cabbie, sporting a few days' stubble and a portly mid-section, beseeched us, "Why are you visiting wineries? Portland is Beervana. We have over 50 microbreweries, more than any city in the world. We got great beers here. You should try McMenamins' Terminator Stout or Bridgeport's
Kingpin Double Red Ale or Gigantic Brewing's Whole in the Head IPA."
We assured him that we agreed, and had enjoyed the beer-and-ale route on our last visit. Convinced we were making a mistake, he nevertheless delivered us to the SE Wine Collective, which was founded in 2012 and is shared by six wineries.
Passing through a patio, we entered a small lounge with glass walls looking on to the working winery.
It felt strange to be sipping wine next to rolling conveyer belts, vibrating grape crushers and hoses carrying juice to stainless steel vats.
Anne Hubatch, the owner and wine maker of Helioterra Wines, took a break from directing the busy crew. She echoed the philosophy of the urban wine makers when she said, "By not having to buy a vineyard in the Willamette Valley and by sharing the costs of this equipment and facility with others, it's possible for me, almost alone, to make really good wine."
She smiled and added, "The fact that I am seven minutes from my home is also fantastic."
We sipped a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which was nuanced and layered with notes of red current, jasmine and plum and an earthy aroma of sandalwood and sarsaparilla.
"Portland is a national food hub," Hubatch explained, "and a place where people come and congregate for craft food and beverages. Making wine right in the city makes sense."
Operating from a co-op also makes sense. Hubatch shares the costly equipment and rent, trades winemaking knowledge with her colleagues and participates in joint wine-paired dinners and tastings.
When our next cabbie, with red-veined nose and cheeks, heard our destination was Hip Chicks Do Wine, he launched a diatribe.
"Wine, schmine, if you really wanna get serious, try the hard stuff. We got some great distilleries in Portland."
Intrigued, I quizzed our driver and learned that a handful of innovative craft distilleries have recently sprung up that produce spirits ranging from gins to vodkas to absinthe with intriguing names like Krogstad Aquavit, Aviation Gin and Hoppin' Eights Aged Whiskey.
During the rest of the afternoon we stopped at several more urban wineries: Alchemy, Seven Bridges, Division. It was fun, the wines were good and it was wonderful to be able to sample such a wide variety of wineries by easy taxi rides -although the cabbies tended to be rather opinionated.
Yes, urban wineries have a lot going for them, and Portland is in a class by itself in the storied world of alcohol.
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