Now that November has arrived, many folks in Portland will start to make plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. Most beer lovers will rightly look past Thanksgiving weekend to the 17th Annual Holiday Ale Festival the following week (November 28th to December 2nd this year). However, for those with family in town you might need to entertain them with Portland things to do. A great tradition for the last 30 years is Wine Country Thanksgiving in the Willamette Valley where over 150 wineries open their doors with special events and tastings. If you are looking to get out of the city, this is a great event for showing off the surrounding area, but you are likely to have a lot of company on the roads and may have trouble narrowing down 150 wineries to the vital few to visit. An alternative for the beer lover is to check out a new type of winery springing up inside the urban growth boundary—the urban winery.
An urban winery shares as many characteristics with a microbrewery as it does with a traditional winery. Urban wineries obviously focus on making wines, but they do so inside the city where they certainly do not have acres available for growing their own grapes. Therefore, they source their grapes from surrounding vineyards giving them much more flexibility to make a variety of wines without being tied to a specific terroir, much like a brewery can acquire various hop strains and malt bills to brew different beers for different palates. Another similarity to craft brewers is the initial set-up decision. Without needing their own vineyard, the biggest decision facing an urban winery from a production standpoint is the size of their system. Many urban wineries start small in a garage like The Commons (nee Beetje) Brewery or Mt. Tabor Brewing did as nano breweries. Once they have established themselves and built a following, both urban wineries and nano breweries often need to expand their capacity to grow their brand and their business. The next logical step is to move out of the garage into a commercial space which is where the tasting room comes into play.
Many urban wineries in Portland have made the leap into commercial spaces, so instead of dragging your friends and family on a road trip over Thanksgiving weekend you can put together a proper ‘pub’ crawl mixing all aspects of Portland’s craft beverage market. If you are looking to hit every option, I would recommend a trip to inner SE. Over roughly a mile, you can hit craft brews (e.g., Hair of the Dog, Cascade Brewing Barrel House and the new Base Camp Brewing), craft spirits (Distillery Row) and urban wine (Enso Urban Winery and Tasting Lounge). Enso is a good choice for beer geeks because in addition to serving their wine, they serve wines from many other urban wineries and they rotate two taps every couple weeks among the likes of Boneyard, Good Life and Amnesia. Enso also recently broke through the wall into an adjoining space to increase capacity. If the weather does not cooperate, though, the recently opened Southeast Wine Collective at 2425 SE 35th Place (just off Division) packs four different urban wineries under one roof – Bow & Arrow, Division Winemaking Company, Helioterra and Vincent. Lompoc’s Hedge House is just a block away to make a crawl out of it.
The growth of urban wineries over the last couple of years has been impressive. My wife is member #7 of Enso’s Inner Circle, so I have had a front seat to many of the new developments. If you are interested in learning and tasting more, PDX Urban Wineries puts on events several times a year where all the members get together to pour their wares. These wineries are a great extension of the legacy of craft beverages made and consumed here, a legacy that Portland has become known for across the country.