Let’s play a little word association game. I say “winery” and “tree-lined drive leading to quaint or palatial tasting room surrounded by lovingly maintained vines” probably comes to mind. A concrete building smack dab in the middle of a bustling multi-use neighborhood in Oregon’s largest city may not make the visual norm, but the wine being produced in these urban wineries is no less award-worthy.
Three years ago Southeast Wine Collective set up shop in a 5,000-square-foot building in the lively Division-Clinton neighborhood of Portland with the goal of providing a space for startup vintners to incubate their wine label in a collaborative setting. It was the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Tom Monroe and Kate Norris, after spending a year and a half in France to learn winemaking and enjoying success with their own label — Division Winemaking Company.
Today Southeast Wine Collective is home to 10 resident winemakers who produce more than 20 different varietals and, thanks to a cozy wine bar, the results can be tasted via a dizzying menu selection which also includes overseas wines from friends met along the way and a smattering of other local wines not produced onsite.
Monroe and Norris are keenly aware that wine enjoys company. To that end, a food menu has been assembled by chef Althea Grey Potter that features tasty treats to satisfy a range of palates, from a deviled egg flight and cheeses sourced from nearby Cheese Bar to sesame beef lettuce wraps and smoked duck confit. Food is further elevated at regularly scheduled Cuisini?res community dinners which focus on seasonally available dishes and include appropriate wine pairings.
Southeast Wine Collective is not just making wine production accessible to small vintners. The space purposely draws patrons into the process, as well, with only some glass windows separating the wine bar from the production area. Harvest is the busiest time of the year at any winery and, over the last several weeks, guests have enjoyed watching grapes be brought in from area vineyards by the truckful, winemakers performing punch downs and pump overs and all other aspects of the vinification process.
Until a few weeks ago my only experience with punch downs was via a few photos. That changed when Monroe and Norris hosted a Harvest Media Event in September and, let me just say, Norris has some serious abs and biceps to make it look as easy as she does. Standing a good six feet in the air on a foot-wide board with a plunger attached to a very long pole attempting to push it through the cap of grape solids that form on the top of the fermentation vessel, with the bottom of the tank as the goal, is the craziest core workout I’ve ever attempted. My compulsive nature kept me on that plank longer than I’d anticipated while I contemplated the washboard stomach I could have if I persevered.
All kidding aside, Southeast Wine Collective’s concept is a winning one; garnering shout-outs from Forbes, Food & Wine, The New York Times, Wine Spectator and, once again, was voted one of the Top 20 Wine Bars in America by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Monroe’s and Norris’ passion for wine and community are the driving force behind this success and the synergistic spirit of each member winery serves to continuously replenish that momentum.
Viki Eierdam is a Clark County native who lives in Battle Ground. She is certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Read the Corks & Forks blog at blogs.columbian.com/corks-and-forks