Alive in the LAB
By Abra Cohen
It’s the type of place you wouldn’t expect to see tucked between Eugene’s revamped downtown area and the hip Whiteaker neighborhood.
With music billowing from vinyl records on an old-school turntable on the bar, high ceilings and minimalist décor give the Oregon Wine LAB an urban loft feel.
The Wine LAB — LAB stands for Local Artisan Blends — is what owner Mark Nicholl classifies as “Pacific Northwest meets wine country, meets mid-Century modern meets steampunk …. I wanted to take it to another level.”
Mixing a hip vibe with local undertones, Nicholl, a winemaker and owner of William Rose Wines, opened his doors mid-September and offers a unique twist on this tasting room concept.
The youthful Aussie, who moved to Oregon in 2006 to work on a vineyard, found the people and the wine to be good, so he decided to stay.
With more than 20 years of winemaking experience, both in the Willamette Valley and overseas, Nicholl says that this project, which he’s been working to open for a couple years, represents a type of a midlife crisis. “Some people buy Porches; I buy a winery,” laughs Nicholl over a glass of his dry Riesling.
While he is currently pouring his own label and two other local vineyards, he hopes to bring similar small-scale local production out for a taste at Oregon Wine LAB. He envisions it as a place where people can come meet the winemaker, ask questions and have a glass of wine.
”It’s important to have a brick-and-mortar place,” he says. “Without that, it’s difficult to get a presence in the marketplace and exposure to your wine.”
Although the tasting room is still in its infancy, Nicholl calls it a work in progress, as he continues to grow and expand the space. In the back of the house, there is a large area where he plans to produce his own wine, and hopes to co-op the space for other small vintners looking for a space to produce their wines as well.
Keeping it as local as possible, the bar, which Nicholl designed and built himself, is made of salvaged local timber from the Urban Lumber Company and wine barrels for an added aesthetic touch.
In addition to hosting events in October, like Ballet Fantastique, Nicholl plans to bring in art with a local artists-in-residence-type program so that area art can be displayed and enjoyed by the community. In addition to art, live music will be available starting in November.
Nicholl says the tasting room, originally a campaign headquarters with various rooms off the main area, will soon offer classes, blending trials and food pairings. “I want this to be an educational space,” he explains, “My staff will have been to the vineyards and will be able to talk to the customers about it.”
In keeping with Eugene’s love of locally made and grown food, Nicholl has plans to transform the outdoor area into seating and bring in some of the popular food carts on weekends. During the week, he will be partnering with Noisette on Broadway, a downtown bakery, for boxed lunches in the tasting room.
The next time you’re in Eugene, check out the relaxed feel of an urban wine lounge blending together architectural influences, wine production and, of course, a great glass of wine.
Abra Cohen is a freelance writer based in Eugene.