A Is for Advocate
OWP, OWB names Oregon Wine A-List top honors
By OWP Staff/Contributors
Just as a sommelier might recommend a wine for your meal, may we suggest a restaurant? A place that not only serves incredible food and features superb service, but also one that advocates Oregon wine?
Presented by the Oregon Wine Press and Oregon Wine Board, the 2015 Oregon Wine A-List Awards have been created to honor those restaurants celebrating the state’s diverse wines and as a guide for all of you, seeking a thoughtful Oregon selection of wine wherever you dine.
You would be surprised at the number of Oregon restaurants that are vocal supporters of “locally sourced ingredients,” but don’t share the same passion for wines “grown” in their own backyards. We intend to change that.
If any wine buyers or chefs are not familiar with Oregon wine, we encourage you to ask your suppliers to introduce you to the many varieties and styles now made here. We also invite you to visit wine country, where we truly live the local ethic.
While many of the honorees on the A-List also offer wines from around the globe — we agree, variety is great — these restaurants make Oregon a priority. It’s not just percentages of bottles and glass pours that factor into the list; we also examined the diverse representation of Oregon wine varieties and geographic regions, as well as graphic prominence of Oregon wines on the list, and the restaurant’s commitment to events and promotions featuring Oregon wines.
Of the 72 extraordinary restaurants named to the 2015 A-List, the following have received a regional star, representing the “best in class” for each region. They excel at promoting Oregon wine through education as well as integration into their offerings. In addition, we have named one sommelier as the 2015 A-List Wine Director of the Year and one restaurant as the 2015 A-List Restaurant of the Year.
Restaurant of the Year
The Joel Palmer House | Dayton
Internationally known for their mushroom- and truffle-inspired menu, The Joel Palmer House in Dayton has become just as lauded for its cellar. Diners can choose from more than 550 Oregon Pinots from 175 different wineries in the Oregon-only collection that has been meticulously built since the restaurant opened in 1997.
Almost from the moment he arrived in Oregon, owner Jack Czarnecki began reaching out to members of the Yamhill Valley wine community rapidly evolving around him. He personally tasted and selected the wines for his cellar, which was installed in the basement of the Victorian residence built in 1857 for Oregon pioneer Joel Palmer.
Only a handful of fine dining establishments in Oregon boast a full-time sommelier. Those striving to gain a reputation for special attention to and expertise in wine, feel compelled to fill this position. When Certified Sommelier Andréa Fulton-Higgins joined the staff in 2009, primary responsibility for maintaining and augmenting the cellar was in the hands of Czarnecki’s son, Chris, who assumed the proprietor/executive chef role in 2008.
Chris welcomed her ideas on future selections with the mandate to maintain the lofty standard set by his father more than a decade earlier.
“Our wine list is exclusively Oregon because we want to offer a broad selection of the old, the new, from the northern Willamette to the south,” Chris said. “We want to show the diversity that our area has to offer, including producers whose wines aren’t available out of the state.
“As a person who loves to travel, I love tasting the wine and foods of the places I visit. In France, I eat French food and drink French wine. When I get to Japan, I will eat Japanese food and drink saké. When people travel to Oregon, they want to experience all we have to offer.”
This philosophy in conjunction with the overall passion for the Willamette Valley and involvement in the wine community has earned The Joel Palmer House the A-List’s highest honor: Restaurant of the Year.
Wine Director of the Year
Andy Zalman | Higgins, Portland
Since Higgins’ beginning in 1994, Andy Zalman has been a part of it. Although his title is “wine steward,” he is much more than that. He’s a respected “sommelier,” “mentor,” “wine buyer,” and every night he works, he is a consummate “waiter” at the Portland culinary icon.
The success of Greg Higgins’ restaurant has never just relied on the food alone; wine — and a bevy of Belgian beers as well as single-malt Scotches — has been integral to the restaurant’s longevity and popularity from the outset.
For years, Zalman has been cultivating relationships with Oregon winemakers in the state and around the world. Distributors know him well, too. Every Wednesday, 2 to 4 p.m., he sits in Higgins’ bar at table 49, and meets with reps keen on selling bottles that will pair well with the menu.
At Higgins, the impeccable marriage of food and wine is a commitment that requires experience, hard work and strong relationships. These are the attributes that make an award-winning wine professional, like Andy Zalman, the A-List Wine Director of the Year.
The Painted Lady | NEWBERG
In a charming turn-of-the-century Victorian house in the center of Newberg sits The Painted Lady, a wine country gem. Owners chef Allen Routt and Jessica Bagley have the accolades to prove it: the top of Zagat Portland, the only current Oregon restaurant on the AAA Four Diamond list, to name a couple.
The couple’s multi-course farm-to-table menu has become legendary since its beginning in 2005, and the wine list is just as impressive. It is not one of the largest, by far, but overall size is not a factor for the A-List — except for Oregon numbers, of course.
The list is organized by variety and then major regions, with Oregon always featured first. Each is further divided into sub-regions; in the case of Oregon, wines are listed by AVA, and the AVAs represented are not only in the Willamette Valley — the cellar contains selections from Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Columbia Gorge and others.
Sommelier Matt Fosket helps diners choose among the wines if the suggested pairing doesn’t suit their fancies. Guests can have the chef decide dinner, too, with the popular seven-course chef’s menu, which changes regularly.
What never changes is the excellent service, romantic atmosphere and the clear advantage The Painted Lady gives the wine industry as a whole. With all the excellent Willamette Valley restaurants that also focus on Oregon wine, it is no small honor to be given this area’s Regional Star Award.
Larks | Ashland
Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine feels like a restaurant in an old Public Works building in a storied national park. An extension of Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, the restaurant epitomizes naturalism, which extends to the menu.
With a “what’s fresh” list on a chalkboard at the end of the restaurant, the menu is decidedly seafood and comfort food focused.
Executive Chef Damon Jones — formerly of Emeril’s in New Orleans and Crosswater Resort in Sunriver — curates the menu. He has ultimate say on the dishes but leaves much of the creativity to his staff and his beloved local producers — Jones estimates 70 to 80 percent of the produce is grown by local farmers.
Unsurprisingly, the wine list also emphasizes area producers. Ashland is justifiably proud of its wine culture, and Larks offers a slew of Southern Oregon — and the Willamette Valley — on both the by-the-glass and bottle lists.
Larks’ local pride and community involvement add to the restaurant’s reputation, now even stronger with a 2015 Regional Star Award.
Alchemy | ASHLAND
While Larks maintains a somewhat urban feel with the adjoining hotel, the Winchester Inn’s restaurant, Alchemy, is pure countryside. It sits on the main floor of the central house that dates to 1866. An outdoor patio spills into a thick garden, so dense with well-manicured vegetation it’s easy to forget this is still the heart of town.
While the atmosphere is bucolic, the food, upscale and progressive, mixes classic French cuisine with Pacific Northwest flavors.
Executive Chef Billy Buscher, from the Rogue Valley, has run kitchens in Bandon and at the Jacksonville Inn — a nearby A-List restaurant. Buscher works closely with Alchemy’s general manager and certified sommelier, Drew Gibbs, who has studied wines from around the world, and chooses to promote Oregon.
“We focus on offering local (think Oregon), smaller-production boutique wines from properties that might be overlooked,” said Gibbs. “Alongside boutique bottlings and deep verticals, we strive to offer some of the renowned wine gems that might be more familiar, but harder to find.”
One glance at the wine list and you will agree: Alchemy is a rightful Regional Star honoree.
Timberline Lodge | MOUNT HOOD
Over the years, the Timberline Lodge wine program has built itself around a single premise: offer the best of the Northwest. In fact, David Villali, wine manager since 1994, says the iconic Oregon hotel has “a responsibility and honor to showcase the region’s bounty in food and wine.”
“Oregon, with its award-winning Pinot Noirs, is considered to be the Burgundy of North America, and Washington, with its incredible Cabernets and Merlots, could be called our Bordeaux,” said Villali.
Nearly all wines on the list are chosen at weekly staff wine tastings, ensuring top quality while educating employees about the offerings. Hosting thousands of guests a year — from all over the world — Timberline also features gems from other famous wine regions, too, creating an impressive wine vault.
Executive Chef Jason Stoller Smith oversees the lodge’s entire culinary program, including the famous Cascade Dining Room. Once a celebrated chef/owner of The Dundee Bistro in the northern Willamette Valley, he has lasting relationships with many in the wine industry and advocates Oregon wine himself, adding to the hotel’s lofty beverage program.
Stoller Smith also knows how to pair food and wine at the hotel’s many wine-focused events, including the exclusive Winemakers Dinner Series hosted at Silcox Hut, high above the lodge — 6,950 feet — yet another reason Timberline Lodge is an A-List Regional Star.
The Farm Café | SOUTHEAST
Founded by Fearn Smith and Guy Weigold, The Farm Café prides itself on local, organic and fresh ingredients. On that foundation, Executive Chef Kelly Weiss and crew create memorable dishes every night, maintaining the restaurant’s popularity since its opening in 2003.
Although the name suggests a pastoral location, this is the city, and more specifically Southeast Burnside. What the name does accurately portray is their close relationships with farmers and producers. They focus mainly on vegetarian dishes, but there is also mouth-watering meat on the menu, sourced from local ranchers, of course.
Adding to the restaurant’s farm “street cred,” the wine list looks like it came from wine country, a rare distinction in Portland, where we awarded only 20 honorees out of the hundreds of restaurants in the city.
Clearly stated on the restaurant’s website: “We believe that our region is beautiful and unique, and we hope to reflect that here with our food and with our wine.”
From bottles to glass pours, the list often features Oregon’s newest and smallest producers alongside other local selections. Weigold and Smith are firm believers in exposing the entire staff to wine country, where they take “field trips” every year, tasting from barrel and meeting the people who make the wine.
The Farm “gets it,” the vital relationships between restaurants and local producers, including winegrowers, which is why they “get” a well-deserved Regional Star Award.
Urban Farmer | SOUTHWEST
It is no coincidence that Portland’s other A-List “star” also contains “farm” within its name. Urban Farmer also emphasizes fresh ingredients and sourcing from local producers. The farm-to-table philosophy stands in stark contrast to its downtown surroundings and the restaurant’s eclectic ambiance — “at once a tribute to the quaintness of a restored farmhouse and the aesthetic audacity of mid-20th century modernism.”
The steak house menu reflects an emphasis on the Northwest and simple, straightforward preparations. The beverage program extends a “love of local” with a 350-bottle wine list filled with Oregon selections, as well as Portland beer and cocktails made with the state’s distilled spirits.
“Focusing on sustainable practices, Urban Farmer creates a connection between the diner and our local farmers, ranchers, distillers and winemakers,” said Executive Chef Matt Christianson.
Again, like The Farm Café, this kinship to growers despite its big-city locale has earned Urban Farmer a Regional Star Award.
Coast & Central
Restaurant Beck | DEPOE BAY
Although relatively new to Oregon’s culinary scene, Restaurant Beck is already making waves on the coast and far inland.
Chef Justin Wills earned a 2011 nomination for Food & Wine’s People’s Choice Award – Best New Chef U.S., and was a James Beard semi-finalist for “Best Chef Northwest” in both 2012 and 2013. Wills was also included in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America 2013 and 2014 — an industry peer review of the nation’s top culinary talent.
Justin and his wife, Stormee, are respected for their freshly foraged menu highlighted by the freshest of seafood, and their creative, progressive approach to dishes and presentation.
Although many miles from the heart of wine country, Justin and Stormee understand the alliance between food and wine, and the importance of supporting Oregon’s wine industry. Their cellar is modestly sized — compared to other ocean-side restaurants like A-List honoree The Bay House in Lincoln City — but the thoughtful selections emphasize Oregon’s varietal variety.
Restaurant Beck’s rising star status and truly locavore philosophy in both food and wine earn it a Regional Star Award.
Artist Point | Orlando
While visiting Orlando, tourists from places like Oregon are likely there to see Mickey Mouse, visit Epcot Center and experience the area’s other theme park attractions. Just like Disney World, the hotels in the area often have themes, too, including the Northwest.
The Artist Point inside Disney’s Wilderness Lodge offers a warm ambiance inspired by the dining rooms of National Park lodges. Murals depicting the American frontier, ornate iron lanterns and tremendous timber columns add to the Northwest vibe.
The menu continues the theme with fresh seafood — including cedar plank-roasted salmon — sirloin and game. The dessert menu showcases their signature cobbler with seasonal berries, and the wine list features more than 130 selections exclusively from the Pacific Northwest — impressive even for an Oregon restaurant.
We believe Artist Point’s focus on Northwest wine, although 3,000 miles away, is magical and deserving of a Regional Star Award.
Norda Bar & Grill | SWEDEN
The Clarion Hotel Post calls itself “a modern hotel firmly rooted in history.” Created from the historic post office on Drottningtorget in Gothenburg, the hotel incorporates furnishings and fixtures from the original neo-classical-style building.
Within its confines is the Norda Bar & Grill, a dynamic visual experience featuring a large, open kitchen creating entrées accompanied by hearty side dishes inspired by American-style steakhouses.
Wine is such an important part of the Norda dining experience, it has been incorporated into the restaurant décor: the Wine Wall is an architectural design element that not only attracts attention but also defines the space. On the wall and in the list is an extensive collection offering selections from around the world.
Norda’s attention to Oregon wine — highlighted at the top of every category and organized by AVA — is a rare find, earning the restaurant a Regional Star and great admiration from across the Atlantic.