Good wine, terrific cheeses, small plates of terrific food in a cool atmosphers–that’s Cyril’s Clay Pigeon Winery and Wine Bar.
When Michael Claypool and Sasha Davies conceived the idea of combining their passions—his for wines and hers for cheese—they, like everyone before them, had no true idea of what they were getting into. And the result, Cyril’s at Clay Pigeon Winery, one of the hottest wine bars/cheese rooms/cafes in Portland, Oregon, was way beyond their expectations.
Not that Claypool and Davies didn’t bring years of experience to the venture. Michael formerly studied wine and worked at Astor Wines in New York, served as wine director and sommelier, and learned to make Pinot Noir and Zinfandel in California. Sasha is on the Board of the American Cheese Society, helped launch the first U.S. certification exam for cheese professionals, and has authored two cheese books.
Urban wineries have taken hold in Portland. While we enjoy one of the premier U.S. wine regions right in our own Willamette Valley, there are also a growing number of wineries crushing grapes and making wine right in the city from grapes grown all over the Pacific Northwest, each with their own tasting rooms.
Real Raclette and More
In one year, Sasha and Michael have accomplished opening a winery, tasting room, restaurant and bar area. If that’s not enough, they’ve created a new outside patio and started a cheese club.
On this evening, they are celebrating their first year milestone with a wine and cheese soiree. Shile Sasha acknowledges the pressures, the sizable investment and the learning curve, she’s quick to say they have also enjoyed a great deal of fun and satisfaction. Sasha says, “I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than Michael.”
A buffet table in the center of the spacious tasting room/winemaking room is arranged with plates of sautéed cabbage and roast potatoes, and bowls of pickles—pickled carrots, beets, green tomatoes, chanterelles, and fennel stems. The pickles are all made in-house and the flavors are fresh, crunchy and distinctive. There are sliced rounds of baguette and locally-sourced sliced salami, thin slices of sweetheart ham and a wonderfully subtle lamb loaf.
Sasha plays host at the soiree at the cheese table. She is serving raclette, a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese, and also the name of a traditional Swiss dish where the cheese is lightly melted and scraped over plates of edibles. This evening, she is serving two cheeses: de savore, a cow’s milk cheese and du chevre, a goat’s milk cheese, both from France.
She monitors two machines: an upright Raclette machine that holds a quarter wheel, and a Raclette oven or grill, where we enjoy a more do-it-ourselves approach. We watch as Sasha warms the wheel of cheese until it bubbles and browns slightly. Using a knife, she slides some of this melted goodness onto our plates. Foodies one and all, none of us can name another restaurant in town that does raclette, but we quickly become expert and know just the right moment when the cheese is melted to perfection.
Home Town Wines
Meanwhile, Michael is serving and chatting wine. Clay Pigeon Winery produces Syrah and Oregon Pinot Noir. He prefers reds, but is interested in adding a white to his repertoire.
In 2011, Michael released 100 cases of his first Syra,. It’s a very good Syrah, initially spicy with a velvety finish. His first release was produced in their garage before the winery’s opening, a small production that sold out before they opened the winery. Michael smiles, “So, yes, that means we opened a winery with none of our own wines.”
He plans to sell to restaurants in Portland through direct point of sale and through a distributorship with his New York connections. We taste his 2012 Pinot Noir, just about ready for bottling, directly from the barrel. It’s already delicious, with a big fruity finish.
The lunch and dinner menus at Cyril’s are designed to leave people feeling good and sated rather than stuffed from a heavy meal. They offer smaller plates to complement good wine and encourage time spent with family and friends. Sasha initially resisted doing comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches, but requests for these dishes have been strong. So they appear (using first-class ingredients), as does a wine- rich boeuf stew. Their lighter fare includes sandwiches and some unique salads and ever- changing cheese, charcuterie, and pickle plates. A bar serves their own and other wines, and also beer
So, if you find yourself in Portland, Oregon, do stop by; check for special events or have them host your next event. Pick up some excellent cheese and wine from the retail shop. Or gather for a great meal or just take a wonderful respite with a glass of wine or beer and small plates in a relaxed, friendly setting. –Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Contributor
IF YOU GO:
Learn more Portland Urban Wineries at www.pdxurbanwineries.com
Want to know more about Cyril’s and Clay Piegon Winery? Check out Jeff Thomas’ story about Cyril’s opening one year ago.