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Winemakers Put Down Urban Roots

Winemaker Ryan Sharp forklifting 1/2 ton of Malbec grapes at ENSO winery in SE Portland

Courtesy Enso Wines

The Willamette Valley’s wine country is less than 40 miles from Portland, though it can seem light years away — especially if your preferred mode of getting around is via public transportation or two un-motorized wheels. But fret not, city dwellers! Portland offers up wine country within the city limits with options for every palate and every pocketbook — and they’re organized!

Producers such as Helioterra Wines, Enso Winery and Hip Chicks do Wine have joined forces as PDX Urban Wineries to cross-promote the new movement in wine trends and the urban wineries that are popping up like spring flowers all over the metro map. This Saturday the group is hosting the second annual PDX Urban Wineries’ summer tasting event, where participating wineries will be pouring their newest releases and some limited availability wines. Cuisine Bebe Catering will provide food to pair, and local businesses Roll Chocolates and Portland Creamery will be sampling and selling their scrumptious wares.

So just how does urban winemaking work? During the harvest season, winemakers cart their grapes in from wine country during the early morning while it is still cold so as not to affect the quality. Then they make their wines right in the heart of the city. Ryan Sharp and Chris Wishart, owners and winemaker at Enso Winery, worked in the Willamette Valley for a few years on a family-owned estate vineyard and winery. It was there that they became interested in making big red wines. Usually, though not always, to make big red wines they needed to buy grapes from Southern Oregon or Washington anyway, so why not locate their winery in Portland?

“We love Portland. It’s where we live. And we decided we wanted to make wine here,” says Sharp of their business decision. “The only real challenge for us is not getting out to our vineyards as often as we’d like. It’s hard to check in on all four vineyards when they’re so far apart. But we have good relationships with our growers and trust them to do the good work they’ve been doing for years.”

Helioterra Wines’ 2010 Syrah

Courtesy Helioterra Wines

For Anne Hubatch, winemaker and owner of Helioterra Wines, the benefits greatly outweigh the challenges. “Portland is a national food hub and is a place where people come and congregate for craft food and beverages. Making wine in the city is nearly the same as making wine in the country. Sure, there are less bucolic views and more traffic, but the process is still the same,” says Hubatch.

Though the urban winery movement might be a new one for Oregon, this trend first took hold in the 19th century when the city of San Francisco became a center for wine production. It is estimated that at the time before the great earthquake, there were more than 40 wineries in the South of Market area (SOMA). That same neighborhood is now host to several newer wineries, a trend that was sparked by the DIY winemaking business Crushpad, an urban winery where people can come and make a barrel of their own wine with customized labels. Crushpad has since moved to Sonoma, but several other wineries have sprung up in its place, most of which specialize in their own wines with tasting rooms that focus on their products.

Go See It

PDX Urban Wineries Summer Tasting

  • Saturday, June 9, 2-5pm
  • Hip Chicks do Wine, 4510 SE 23rd Avenue, Portland
  • Visit website

In Portland the urban wine movement is growing. “I would be very surprised if the number of PDX Urban Wineries does not double or even triple within the next five years. We are a town full of innovators and micro-producers. That trend is not going to slow down,” says Hubatch.

Will an urban winery ever replace the magic of being able to step out onto a vineyard in a quiet rural surrounding? Probably not. Still, a beautiful glass of wine, a handful of friends and the sights and sounds of the city can be welcome companions at the end of a long day at work… and now that is just around the corner.

Jennifer Cossey works as the wine director for Veritable Quandary in Portland. She is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators.