Editor’s Note: Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become renown for great wines, especially Oregon Pinot Noir. As the wine industry has grown here, so have the ways winemakers are collaborating and working together. NW Wine, Brews, & Spirits Editor Nancy Zaffaro introduces a unique one: the SE Wine Collective.
In the 1970’s, the early years of Oregon winemaking, pioneers such as Dick and Nancy Ponzi, Dick Erath, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser, David and Ginny Adelsheim, Myron Redford, and David Lett met regularly to share knowledge and experience. Each knew their land was capable of producing wonderful, even world-class wines, but they knew a collaborative environment would help them all.
Fast forward to 2016 and Oregon wine is a multi-billion dollar industry, with official figures for 2013 sales at $3.35 billion dollars. The forward-looking, collaborative thinking of the early winemakers set the tone for the winemaking industry in Oregon.
A New Idea in Wine Making
Southeast Wine Collective opened in August 2012 in the Division-Clinton neighborhood and offers a different kind of collaboration. The 5,000 square foot urban winery was founded by Kate and Tom Monroe to offer small scale winemakers a space to prepare and store their wines in a fully commercial facility. Both commercial and private winemakers can use the state-of-the-art equipment and garner help at every stage of the process. The Collective provides added value of community between the winemakers and the chance to gather to support one another and further their knowledge of everything from the grape crush, fermentation, wine blending, bottling and aging, as well as marketing and distribution.
For wine lovers, the Collective offers a great place to enjoy and buy wine and more. Sip a pour and enjoy some great dishes from the kitchen at the Wine Bar, purchase bottles or tap growlers from collective members and bottles of other wines curated from around the world. Attend special wine tastings and events and join the wine club for further discounts, book a private event using your caterer or their onsite partner, Chef Althea Potter’s Cuisinières Catering and Events.
Thanksgiving Weekend Event
Thanksgiving Holiday weekend is The Big Weekend for donning your favorite pair of favorite boots and cozy sweaters and vests and making a road trip to spend the day or the weekend at the vineyards. The hard work of grape picking and the crush are done, and winemakers open their wineries for the public for celebration—and holiday wines sales.
It’s a tradition to love, but last year’s Thanksgiving, this wine writer stayed in town and attended the Collective’s Annual Urban Thanksgiving. At the weekend event, seven of the current collective winemakers poured their wines and chatted with attendees about what they do—including Division Winemaking Company, Welsh Family Wines, 51 Weeks Winemaking Co., Fullerton Wines, Laelaps, Jasper Sisco Wines, and Ore Winery. The crowd visited with the winemakers and with one another for a congenial afternoon of winetasting amid the stainless steel tanks and wine barrels. Chef Althea prepared a turkey and black bean nachos bar to nourish the crowd. Wine sales were handled by Collective staff to free the winemakers to pour and mingle.
Each of these small producers was eager to share their stories, their love of wine, and the hard but joyful work of producing their own labels. Nancy Vuylsteke, who co-owns 51 Weeks Winemaking Company with husband Matt, says, “Even though there are thousands of other people making wine, you get to make this your own. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Matt Vuylsteke has worked in various capacities in the food and wine industry since 2003; this is one more step in his career.
Kate Norris and Tom Monroe bring a varied work history and life experiences to winemaking, including learning to make wine while living in France, then moving to Oregon to make wine and start SE Wine Collective.
Jasper-Sisco’s Justin Paul Russell managed an inn wine cellar, worked as a wine buyer, certified as a sommelier and worked at another winery before starting his own label. Fullerton Wines is a family affair; parents Eric and Susanne instilled an appreciation of wine in their children, eventually leading son Alex to an internship at Penner-Ash, travel and formal education in winemaking. Today, the whole family contributes to the label.
Wine Enthusiasts to Wine Makers
The common theme among all of the winemakers is that they began as wine enthusiasts, started making their own wines, fell in love with the whole process and expanded to their own labels. Some were already working in the business as winemakers, distributors, or consultants and some were winemaking hobbyists who furthered their educations with formal classes or degrees. And each, in the end, took their winemaking to the next step by creating a commercial winery.
The Thanksgiving Weekend event allowed the opportunity to sample a great selection of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, and Sangiovese wines from their 2013 and 2014 vintages. Not surprisingly, all of the winemakers have at least one quite good Pinot Noir in their portfolios. Among the Pinot Noirs, I was partial to selections from Fullerton Wines, Jasper Sisco, Fullerton and Division Winemaking. Laelaps’ Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon, Ore Winery’s Sandown Vineyard Cabernet Franc and Division Winemaking Company’s Chardonnay “Deux” were standouts.
These are newer winemakers and young wines, made in small production—most between 200 to 4,300 cases per year. You won’t yet see many blue ribbons hanging from the bottles. What these winemakers lack in exposure and distribution, however, they make up for in educating themselves both formally and independently on the latest in viticulture and in their commitment and enthusiasm. Get to know their wines now; they might just turn out to be the rising stars in Oregon wines.
SE Wine Collective is open year-round. Stop by for a class of wine or a bottle to go. And attend the Urban Thanksgiving event Nov. 12 from 3-6 p.m. — By Nancy Zaffaro, RFT NW Wine & Spirits Editor
If You Go:
SE Wine Collective, www.sewinecollective.com
Division Winemaking Company, www.divisionwinemakingcompany.com
Ore Winery, www.orewinery.com
51 Weeks Winemaking Co., www.51weekswinemaking.com
Fullerton Wines, www.fullertonwines.com