Now an intrepid group of winemakers is hoping enough wine lovers will forego the bucolic backroads of Yamhill County and the seemingly endless vineyards and instead stay in the city to explore their version of Oregon wine country.
This is the PDX urban wine scene, and it is rich with quality, its own vibe and great cuisine.
"I don't know that the romance of the vines is necessary for coming to wine country," said Ed Fus, owner and winemaker of Angel Vine, who this year relocated from the Yamhill County town of Carlton to southeastern Portland. "In the short time we've been open, a lot of people want to be able to watch something. At our place, the watching is the winemaking."
Fus, who brings in grapes from both Oregon and Washington, said his new customers love the idea of watching winemaking in progress, and they pepper him with questions: "What's that machine do?" and "Why do you use oak barrels?"
"More than anything, people want to be connected to the person who's making the wine," Fus said. "You don't necessarily have to have the vineyard landscape with all of the cool trees. There are some beautiful places out in wine country, but I don't know that you need them to be a successful winery."
For Fus, being in the city provides him all kinds of advantages. First of all, he no longer needs to make the one-hour commute from his home in Portland out to Carlton. And it saves him more than an hour of driving when he heads to Washington's Columbia Valley to bring home Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.
"For me, it was a big improvement," he said. "It is better in all regards."
In many ways, Portland and San Francisco are similar. Both have a vibrant restaurant scene. Both are about an hour's drive to wineries (Napa Valley can take a bit longer, depending on traffic). Both have busy airports and are easily reached from just about anywhere in the country.
Fus and his wife, Laureen O'Brien, are part of Urban Crush Winery, which is home to three other wineries: D'Anu Wines, Willful Wine Co. and Cinzia. They are a short drive or modest walk away from the center of Portland and its hotel district.
Even closer is Southeast Wine Collective, an urban winemaking facility that is home to 10 wineries and a tasting room that pours as many as 30 wines from those brands at any given time. It was launched in 2012 by Tom Monroe of Division Wine Co. and has become a big success.
"It's definitely a very good thing for our local customers who live in Portland and want to dip their toes into what wine tasting is about," Monroe said. "We also get a lot of visitors from out of town who are visiting Oregon. Wine isn't their focus, but they want to do a half-day of wine tasting."
Monroe is the first to admit that wine touring in an urban setting is much different than heading out to wine country.
"My dad's crowd grew up on Napa Valley," he said. "They were used to seeing big estate wineries surrounded by vineyards. I acknowledge that if that has been your entire wine-tasting experience, this is different."
Monroe attracts a lot of customers who are unlikely to drive down to the Willamette Valley.
"That's not on their list of things to do," he said. "We see a lot of customers who want to come experience wine but perhaps have a lack of confidence. They don't want to feel stupid."
But in the urban setting, such customers have a greater sense of confidence in asking questions. And they rarely ask about where the vineyards are, he said.
"That conversation never takes place," he said. "The winery itself is built in glass, so you can see everything that is going on. We're transparent about our entire process."
Monroe said that because customers can see the process, they feel more comfortable and confident in their wine tasting experience.
And that helps with sales, too. Urban winemakers are much more reliant on direct-to-consumer sales, which nets the winery a higher percentage of the sale of the bottle because it isn't having to pay the distributor. Monroe said that of the 10 wineries in Southeast Wine Collective, eight rely almost exclusively on direct-to-consumer sales.
"We definitely depend on that approach," he said.
If you are planning to head to Portland, here is a quick guide of where to taste and where to eat.
Most Portland urban wineries are clustered together, so touring could not be much simpler than catching a train, bus, taxi or Uber, then settling in for a couple of hours of sipping and enjoying the atmosphere.
Based in southeastern Portland, Urban Crush is about a 30-minute walk from the hotel district or a short drive (depending on whether the drawbridge is up or down). It is open noon to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The address is 2025 S.E. 7th Ave.
Here are the member wineries:Angel Vine:
Southeast Wine Collective
Less than two miles from Urban Crush, Southeast Wine Collective is home to 10 wineries. It is open 4 to 10 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Friday; 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday. It is at 2425 S.E. 35th Place.
Here are the wineries:51 Weeks.
Division Winemaking Co.
James Rahn Cella
Welsh Family Wines
Just two miles away from Southeast Wine Collective is Hip Chicks Do Wine, a longtime Portland urban winery. The address is 4510 S.E. 23rd Ave. It is owned and operated by Renee Neely and Laurie Lewis.
Enso Winery is not far away at 1416 S.E. Stark St. It moved to this location in 2011 and is open daily.
Northwest PortlandBoedecker Cellars
Leah Jørgensen Cellars
Northeast PortlandBow & Arrow Wine
Portland has a vibrant food scene, much to the envy of just about every other area of the Pacific Northwest. We asked urban winemakers for their favorite spots. Here they are:El Gaucho
Southeast Wine Collective
The Woodsman Tavern
The Ringside Uptown
Salt & Straw
There is no shortage of hotels, motels B&Bs and other forms of lodging in Portland. In the downtown core, such hotels as RiverPlace, the Benson, Hotel Monaco, River's Edge, the Westin and Kimpton’s wine-themed and renovated Hotel Vintage will get you started. Need more help? Start with www.travelportland.com.
This story was originally published December 14, 2015 4:24 PM.