When pharmacist Gary Gougér first started making wine, he was an amateur who was simply translating his love of vino into a pleasurable hobby. Soon, his passion took over, and he began racking up numerous International Gold awards for his red blends. His science background, coupled with training at one of the world’s finest winemaking schools in Australia, helped Gougér take his wines to the next level. Gougér now oversees his own winery, built in 2013 inside a renovated firehouse, where his bottles take center stage at tasting-room events ranging from holiday events to varietal samplers.
Each step of Ryan Sharp’s winemaking process embodies the small-batch ethos. Within the Eastside headquarters of ENSO Winery—Wine Press Northwest’s 2013 Oregon Winery to Watch—he mixes several winemaking techniques, yielding complex flavors inside miniature fermentation bins. He mashes grapes in miniature crush equipment and ferments whites and rosés in steel-jacketed tanks no larger than a fully grown mannequin. He sources grapes only from the West Coast, giving himself a framework for his experiments with varietals such as pinot gris, pinot noir, zinfandel, and counoise. As part of his craft-oriented operation, he never makes more than 100 cases at a time of the wines from his ever-evolving roster.
At ENSO's Urban Winery & Tasting Lounge, rustic wooden chairs gather under bare light bulbs and tin lampshades, surrounding a tasting bar crafted from old wooden timbers. Guides stationed at the bar pour tastes of ENSO- and Resonate-label wines, explaining how to decipher each wine's flavor notes. These wines—along with two rotating draft beers and libations crafted by 10 other local urban wineries—complement plates of marbled artisan salamis cured by Olympic Provisions, blocks of raw and aged cheeses from Steve’s Cheese Bar, and sweet and savory pies from Pacific Pie Co.
For more than four decades, the Ponzi family has used the rich soil of the Willamette Valley to produce lush, sustainable wines. Winemaker Luisa Ponzi worked alongside her father for many years, gaining hands-on experience with viticulture and foots-on experience with grape stomping. She deepened this education in Beaune, France, where she studied Burgundian practices. In 1993, Luisa earned her Brevet Professionnel D’Oenologie et Viticulture certificate, a first for an American woman.
Luisa and her sister Maria carry on the dynasty started by their parents, creating wine varietals suited to the climate with sustainable practices that respect the tradition of winemaking. In addition to stocking the cellar with an award-winning collection of pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, and white riesling, the Ponzis fill bottles with arneis and dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals.
A refurbished relic of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, Portland's first and only "World's Fair," the Aurora State Bank building has gone on a hundred year journey to become the landmark it is today. Transported from Portland to Aurora in 1905, its vaults have played host to robberies, Hollywood productions, and dental cleanings. Though the bank's two original vaults remain, they now house racks that Pheasant Run Winery fills with their small-batch, locally sourced wines. Winemakers harvest their grapes from local and sustainable vineyard estates in Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, and Horse Heaven Hills and ferment them into New World-style wines. They cold-soak grapes in small bins to extract more color and flavor for their signature pinot noir and blend merlot, syrah, and cabernet grapes to create a rich red with notes of blackcurrant and plum and the power to unite feuding grape vines.
This grey brick building is also home to their tasting lounge. Guests walk through the original doors and across the original lobby tiles to savor glasses at tasting tables surrounded by dark wood-trimmed windows. Visitors can also find a rotating collection of prints, paintings, ceramics, and jewelry from local artists. The winery owners also connect to the community through their donations to local charities and non-profits.
The foursome behind Ye Ol' Grog Distillery doesn't just make specialty liquors—they make the tools that make specialty liquors. Comprised of three engineers, the team built the microdistillery’s two stills, including a completely redesigned version of a traditional pot still. This machinery not only helps churn out an extremely smooth vodka, but two variations of Ye Ol’ Grog’s namesake, an alcohol beloved by sailors throughout history. Sweetened with blue agave, the distillery’s grog includes the butterscotch-flavored Good Morning Glory and the 100-proof Dutch Harbor Breeze, which is aged in charred oak. To add an extra touch of sweetness, Ye Ol’ Grog’s proprietors complement samples of their liquors with adult shaved ice's made in house.
Much like the wines they produce, Jim and Holly Witte gave their romance ample time to develop—40 years time. Though they met in New York City when Holly was Jim's secretary, it wasn't until a mutual friend reintroduced them decades later that they fell in love. They exchanged vows in Willamette Valley, an area flush with wine grapes, and then began A Blooming Hill Vineyard in nearby Washington County. Their vineyard sits in the hills of the Chehalem Mountains on a basalt range strewn with windblown volcanic soil, protected on three sides by still taller hills and taller yet older brothers. Jim personally walks the vineyards, tending to each vine by hand to create enough breathing room for full clusters to grow.
Visitors can sample the award-winning blends in the onsite tasting room, which plays host to different events each month. To sate people's curiosity, the Wittes share their fermentation process online, and to sate people's appetites, they also share the recipe for the wine-infused cake they served at the vineyard for their wedding-anniversary party.