In an effort to keep you up to date on wineries in Portland we will be featuring one winery a month in an email and on social media. The plan is to give you a couple of highlights in this email and then follow us on Facebook or Instagram to hear more about each winery.We hope you enjoy this snapshot into each of these unique small Urban Wineries.
A big THANK YOU! has to go out to Aliya Hall for taking the time to interview our winery members.
When did your winery form and how did you get into the wine industry?
Bob: “We formed in 2008. It was a joint venture between my former partner, Kevin Ross, and myself. I got into the wine industry after college when I was working for a company in Santa Clara in California. I grew up on the East Coast and my grandparents lived up north in Sonoma and I hadn’t seen them much growing up and so I would go visit them on weekends. We would go wine tasting and while I wasn’t even that into wine at the time, that changed pretty quickly. The first thing I loved was the atmosphere, because you walk in and smell all the barrels and the wine, and there were pretty small wineries at the time so if they were in the middle of crushing they’d say, “Come on back and check out what we’re doing.” And I just loved it, all of it. I always wanted to get into it when I lived there, and I never had the time. I was just too busy working. Then we moved up here in 2004 and I played on a rec soccer team for adults and one of the people I played with was Kevin Ross. He was making wine in his garage and I saw the equipment and he gave me a bottle of the wine he’d been making. I’ve tasted wine that people have made at home before and I was very reluctant to try this bottle, so it sat for a while. One day I decided to check it out and it was pretty good; it was commercial quality. I told him, “Hey that was great. Next time you make wine, I want to watch and see what you’re doing.” So he invited me and I invested about $200 in couple hundred pound of grapes and made my own, and about three months into the process I was completely hooked. We met again and I said, “This is really good. This is better than I ever expected the whole experience to be. What can we do to make even better wine?” One of the big answers was that we needed higher volume so we could get more barrels and experience with different barrels to get more blends and do different things. We decided to get a commercial license so we could legally make a pretty small amount of wine for a couple of individuals, and figured we’d just sell a few bottles off to some of our friends and that would be it. Then it went horribly wrong and the winery just grew and grew. It just continued to get better: the whole experience, the wine, everything about it.”
Jim: “I was unfortunate enough to be Bob’s neighbor and good friend of his. And he was asked, “Why don’t you come help us make wine?” So, I said, “Okay, that sounds fun.” So he got some free labor and eventually convinced me that I needed to be part of the ownership committee. I really enjoyed this as a hobby and it’s great to be working on a business that you really care about and are so passionate about. Bob and I both also have full-time jobs. It’s not necessarily something you can get into and immediately start making a profit. It takes a long time and a lot of patience. I like to compare how Bob tricked me into the business to Tom Sawyer white washing the fence.”
Bob: “But Tom didn’t have to pay to do it though. It’s been great though. One of the first experiences Jim and I had — he would always volunteer, was always there when we were crushing grapes — but then our first vintage, it was a brand new vineyard for us and there was frost, and issues with the grapes and we didn’t get what we were supposed to get. So as a result half of the wine we had wasn’t very good. Well we can’t afford to not use it, so the next question was, “What are we going to do?” And Jim came over and we sat on the back porch with the different wines and tried different combinations of things and inevitably always ended up bad. The elements were good, the Merlot was good, the Malbec was good the cabernet was not what it was supposed to be. So we were just trying to figure out and we hit on this one blend, using all of them at ratios we could actually make and use up the sub-par wine and it was the best thing we had tasted all day. It was just the most amazing feeling. In the spirit of that wine, we have our flagship wine, Prima Nata — which means first born – which is a combination of the five main Bordeaux that varies from year to year based on which blend gives us those big smiles again. But doing that with Jim, it was a big bonding moment, and we still do our blending together.”
What makes your winery unique?
Bob: “The winery itself. We do have regular jobs too and so those are able to really support this as more of a pastime than a profitable business. We’re able to invest a lot of money into getting the very best grapes, equipment that really makes a difference in the quality of our wine and really anything to make it better. So that’s our approach versus trying to cut corners in order to make a profit. And it’s making the wine we want to make. We do a lot of things to get them an extended maturation process after fermentation for an extra three to four weeks on the skin, which is a risky step because things can go wrong and you can lose a batch of wine, but in the end we like what it does to the wine. We use a lot of new oak barrels because we like what those do to the wine and we age the wine for usually a minimum of two years in barrel. Then hold for another year or two in barrel before we’re ready to release it. We have a lot of money tied up in inventory. So again, you can do it differently but we’re doing it really agnostic of trying to make money and doing it in the absolute best way that we can. We are profitable, and that’s great, but it’s not the point. It’s really about loving what we’re producing.”
What is the benefit of being an urban winery?
Jim: “The real benefit is two things, one you don’t have to travel if you’re a customer to find really good wine. I think people really appreciate that. They appreciate the convenience of it, and the feel of it as well. I think if you experienced some of the urban wineries you’ll notice there’s a similar feel to all of them, it feels kind of homey in some way. You’re right there with the barrels, the wine and the people who really appreciate it. The other thing I think is, we’ve done a really good job of working with our staff. They understand that going to a winery and specially to an urban winery is an experience. People enjoy that experience and keep coming back time after time. It’s not just that we have really good wine that people buy but it’s also they enjoy coming to the space, sitting and drinking wine, and enjoying their time.”
What is the biggest challenge of owning an urban winery?
Bob: “Perception. Overcoming perception. Because people are expecting to be in the valley with grapes around, so we planted two rows of grapes in front. But just getting people to come in the door. Luckily for us it’s been a lot of word of mouth. We impressed a lot of our early adopters and they bring people in and that’s how we generate a lot of new business. We don’t get a lot of just incidental people just coming to check it out. It’s a lot of connection and you do get that a lot when you’re in a great wine region.”
Jim: “Some people, when you say you have a winery, assume you also have a vineyard. And they’re like, “I don’t understand. How can you do that in the City of Portland?””
Seven Bridges Winery
2025 SE 7th Avenue
Portland, OR 97214
Friday 3pm -7pm, Saturday/Sunday 12pm – 6pm
To hear more about Seven Bridges Winery be sure to check out our Social Media pages and you can find a link to them on our website.
Events or Specials at other PDX Urban Wineries
Women Winemaker Flight March 11th – 13th and 18th – 20th
In honor of Women’s History Month we are hosting a flight of wines all produced by Women Winemakers in Portland.
Our flight will include three wines from Hip Chicks do Wine plus a seasonal Sangria, plus one wine each produced by Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars, Anne Hubatch of Helioterra Wines and Pam Walton of Willful Wines. Wine by the glass, bottle or growler are available for purchase along with a small plate menu. Reservations Required
Hip Chicks do Wine
4510 SE 23rd Avenue
Portland OR 97202
Spring Open House March 19th 12pm – 5pm
Join us at the winery to taste through a selection of current releases and some new wines from 2020: Chardonnay, Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs, and two new red blends. And… we’ll be joined by our friends from Hooray For You. They’ll be pouring Cab Franc and their tasty new 2021 Pet Nat!
$15 tasting fee waived with a purchase of three or more bottles.
Willful Wine Co
5705-F NE 105th Avenue
Portland OR 97220