Ripe time for urban vintners

Ripe time for urban vintners

BY KARLA STARR

0413 FOB Dispatches DrinkCity 01
Winemakers Kevin Ross and Bob Switzer of Seven Bridges Winery prepare for a tasting at the shop's North Portland location.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears

Portland Wineries

  • Alchemy Wine Productions
  • Boedecker Cellars
  • Bow & Arrow Wines
  • Clay Pigeon Winery
  • Division Winemaking Co.
  • Enso Winery
  • Fausse Piste
  • Grochau Cellars
  • Helioterra Wines
  • Hip Chicks Do Wine
  • Jan-Marc Wine Cellars
  • Seven Bridges Winery
  • Vincent Wine Company

After shelling out for acreage, machinery, landscaping, labor costs, bottling and marketing, budding vintners would be lucky to start a standard winery in the Willamette Valley for anything less than several hundred thousand dollars.

But in Portland, another business model for wineries is sprouting that’s more like founding Facebook than starting a farm. “We have a standard startup story,” says Bob Switzer, co-owner of Seven Bridges Winery in North Portland. “We started in a garage.”

Call it a natural expansion of Oregon’s fertile wine regions and Portland’s rich microbrewery scene. Today Portland boasts at least 13 commercial wineries within city limits, most of which have opened in the past three years. With such low startup costs (a few thousand dollars of credit card debt seems the norm) and little need for physical space (an empty garage or basement will do), it’s almost surprising that the trend took so long to catch on in the foodie, DIY enclave of Portland.

Urban wineries function like any other winemaking venture, save for one factor: Rather than owning acreage and harvesting their own grapes, they rely on buying grapes from outside vineyards.

“It doesn’t mean that we won’t get screwed in a year if we don’t get all the grapes we want,” says Laurie Lewis, co-founder of Hip Chicks Do Wine in Southeast Portland, one of the oldest vintners in Portland. “But with the lower overhead, it’s a little easier to manage than a traditional winery.”