Wine travel and tasting lore conditions those of us along the wine route to expect the bucolic best from our wanders and destinations. From winding roads through thick forests, to open expanses of vineyard under even more expansive skies, the terroir is scenery. After all, an afternoon spent kicking back on a winery patio is the lush life.
And nowhere can that be more idyllic than in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where pinot noir (and other requisite varietals) thrives in forested valleys, nooks and knolls. If you have traveled and tasted there, then you know the magic.
Contrast that with the bustling, urban setting of Portland’s industrial Northwest district and you might wonder why the husband and wife team of Athena Pappas and Stewart Boedecker eschewed the country life for the city grit.
First off, we know Ben Parsons did it here in Denver, opening his inventive Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery after years of wine making on Colorado’s western slope. He has turned the terroir of the built world into a thriving community focal point, inviting locals in for help with projects like bottling, and to drink all that good wine.
For the Greek-descendent Pappas, she too was drawn to the buzz, the energy of the people, all seemingly anonymously going about their ways, while all contributing to the fabric of city life. And lord knows, there is no shortage of that in Portland. She reinforces her claims when describing the dining scene (or lack thereof) in the rural Carlton area, about an hour south of the heart of the city, where options were basically zero. Again, contrast that with culinary Portlandia, a veritable mini San Francisco.
Boedecker’s start came when Stewart signed on as a volunteer to assist wine maker Eric Hamacher in his enthusiastic communal winemaking project known as the Cartlon Winemaker’s Studio. If fact, my former boss and owner of Ella, Jessie Kipp, had a stint running its tasting room, and National Geographic Traveler notes “The winemaking is heartfelt. The wineries are small, independent and taking on the world.”
As are Boedecker Cellars’ wines, now gently hauled out of the Willamette Valley, into downtown Portland. The previous four years leading up to the move were educational and hands-on all the way, as Pappas recalls, “When we first started out, it was nothing like the chemistry books. It was learning how to fit clamps on heavy hoses. And then there were the earwigs, crawling in my hair!” She let out a little squeal and then laughed as she tells me that now she thinks they are neat.
Boedecker Cellars produced 400 cases during their first harvest at the CWS in 2003 and by 2007 grew their annual production to around 3,000. Along the way they gained a feel for the vast and varied terroir of the Willamette; from the famous Shea Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton and Stoller Vineyard in the Dundee Hills District, to the Cherry Grove and Holmes Gap Vineyards, both certified LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) through an internationally-recognized third-party certification of collaborative science-based winegrowing standards of integrated production.
They also understand the blend, which serves double meaning here; for the compromises required of any marriage — especially one that involves being enjoined as a winemaking team-and for respective styles of their individual Willamette cuvees. For example, each lot may produce five to seven barrels of “red fruit” character. These bright and acidic wines go into the Stewart blend, made from Pommard or Wädenswil clones, which were likely grown in crunchy and porous volcanic soil. Athena claims the blue and black flavors, produced from Dijon clones grown in clay and sedimentary soils at lower elevations. Together, they are each a separate part of the greater whole. My detailed tasting notes go on way beyond the scope of this page, but suffice to say, I was fairly blown away with the aforementioned abilities of the cuvees to achieve balance, and the single-vineyards expression of terroir.
Open in 2008, and now fully equipped and with space to produce around 20,000 cases annually, the Boedecker Cellars’ urban winery is in full swing. They are committed to great sourcing; artful processes like natural ferments; and the sensory results of their wines. “Wines we like to make,” according to Pappas. Their spirit — of both the country and city — is in full effect. She mentioned an upcoming event to wit: Sadly, a popular local musician recently passed and over the weekend immediately after my visit, they were hosting a wake/Oklahoma hoe-down. Again, this conjures the flavored spirit that Ben Parsons is growing in urban-industrial Denver.
As an added bonus — and for the magic that wine often induces — my friend came along with her mother and her mother’s childhood friend who lived nearby. The two older gals hadn’t seen each other in thirty years, and after a few sips of Boedecker pinot gris, rosé and pinot noir they were laughing and chatting like no time had passed at all. That’s what it’s all about.
Cheers! Wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.