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Caption: Rows of Oregon Pinot Noir for sale at Primrose & Tumbleweeds in Hillsboro.##Photo by Del Munroe

Claim to Retail Fame

Oregon bottle shops make their case

By Karl Klooser

From Beaverton to Bend, Bandon to Baker City, wine merchants around the state boast about their bottle selections, tastings, wine club offerings, staffs’ palates and more. As a voice of the Oregon wine industry, we searched for the shop claiming to stock the most Oregon wine. While we were at it, we also discovered the oldest, newest and largest cellar selection of library wines featuring, you guessed it: Oregon.

Most Oregon Wine

Primrose & Tumbleweeds | Hillsboro

Primrose & Tumbleweeds may be an unusual name for a wine store, tasting bar and secretive saloon, but it suits owners Doug and Dawn Sellers just fine.

Furthermore, they claim to offer (printed in bold type in their promotional materials) The World’s Largest Selection of Oregon Wines! This is a mighty big boast by any measure, but Doug and Dawn are eager to prove their point to anyone who walks through the door of their Hillsboro-based establishment.

Doug’s current estimate, admittedly not precise because it is constantly expanding, resides in the neighborhood of about 280 Oregon wineries. We have not found another retail operation in the state able to equal that figure.

Furthermore, they don’t just offer a wine or two from each of these wineries; they carry every type of wine the winery has in current release, which accounts for more than 6,000 facings on their shelves.

Putting it explicitly, Doug said, “Our philosophy from the day we opened in 2011 was that we wanted to represent as many Oregon wineries as possible, and we wanted to carry a complete selection of wine available from each of those wineries.”

So far, that claim seems to be exactly what they are out to do. To top it off, they stock more than 250 handcrafted beers and “the largest selection of cider (some 75) on the west side of Portland.” He also added, “We offer 10 rotating taps with local beers and hard ciders.  Our “Today’s Pour” list rotates frequently so each time you come in, you will be able to taste a different Oregon wine.”

When asked what the “Primroses & Tumbleweeds name signified, Dawn had an interestingly logical answer. “People ask us that all the time,” she said. “The truth is it’s just something that came to us, sort of a symbolic cross between Western and Eastern Oregon. Even though it didn’t mean anything from the standpoint of our business, we liked the sound of it; it was unique and we felt that we could brand it.”

Furthermore, they’ve already created an internal extension of the brand with their secretive Tumbleweed Saloon. The on-site, on-the-side “speakeasy,” if you will, is a full bar open only on Friday and Saturday evenings and accessible only by those who have an invitation and a passcode. “It’s become a word-of-mouth thing,” Dawn said with a smile.

Sundance Wine Cellars | Eugene

Running a strong second in the boast of the largest Oregon wine retailer is Sundance Cellars of Eugene. The company started in 1971 as Sundance Natural Foods, an organic grocer. The Sundance wine operation began as a separately operated entity in 1983.

The wine store is situated in a wing of the parent company’s building, which occupies most of a block in southeast Eugene. Primary emphasis is on Oregon and Washington with particular attention to organic wines.

Since almost all Oregon wines adhere to some degree of organic practices ranging from LIVE and Salmon Safe to Demeter-certified Biodynamic, those that pass staff taste tests are welcome on the Sundance shelves.

After  32 years in business, the selection of Oregon wines is large, if not quite as large as Primrose & Tumbleweeds. However, the Sundance folks do lay claim to being home to “the world’s largest selection of Oregon Pinot Noirs.”

Newest

The Oregon Wine Garden  Charbonneau

Opened on January 21 of this year, The Oregon Wine Garden in Charbonneau’s ultimate goal is to become the state’s largest Oregon-only tasting room and retailer. The handsome building is surrounded by manicured grounds.

Motorists traveling Interstate 5 will find easy access to The Wine Garden’s country club-like setting just 25 miles south of Portland. The expansive facility features a large tasting room, a retail wine shop and a fine dining restaurant where patrons can order menu items to pair with purchases made in the store next door.

Founded by a Portland group that owns several travel and transportation businesses, promotion for the Oregon Wine Garden makes several claims yet to be fully realized.

Most ambitious among them would be “largest selection of Oregon wines,” The owners’ intention is to create a tasting room with the most wineries under one roof, and from that, build the foundation for a substantial retail store inventory.

An event space capable of accommodating up to 300 has already been completed. A Wine History Center is in development, promising visitors the opportunity to “learn the history of Oregon wine.”

So, you could say the “Garden” is a work in progress striving for a goal that could prove to be an irresistible attraction to the wine -minded.

Oldest

Strohecker’s | Portland

The honor for the longest operation goes to Strohecker’s Market in Portland Heights. Founded in the 1910s, the up-market grocer again began offering wines and beers as soon as Prohibition ended in 1934. It is also one of the only supermarkets in the state to have an OLCC Agency retail outlet on premise.

Strohecker’s affluent clientele makes it possible for them to offer an extensive wine selection from around the world as well as stock and do a brisk business in numerous high-end distilled spirits.

Their OLCC outlet features French Cognacs, Armagnacs, liqueurs, eau de vies and Scotch whisky, available from other liquor commission agencies only by placing a special order with the state-run agency’s warehouse.

Wizer’s Fine Wines | Lake Oswego

Running a quite respectable second in longevity is Wizer’s of Lake Oswego. Founded in 1929, the gourmet grocer began stocking an inventory of French and Italian wines as soon as possible after Prohibition ended and built an in-depth cellar, which has long been one of the best in the Pacific Northwest.

As the Oregon wine industry grew and gained prominence, the elite customer base around Lake Oswego prompted Wizer’s to acquire and increase its Oregon offerings.

So, in effect, although Strohecker’s takes first place as the oldest because it was established earlier than Wizer’s, both offered wines at essentially the same time post-Prohibition and both promoted Oregon wine early on.

Although the Wizer’s Oswego Foods grocery operation closed in 2013 after a 65-year run, Wizer’s Fine Wines continues to operate under the knowledgable management of Wizer veterans Jim Vincent and Tom Reider, who have been on the job 38 and 25 years, respectively.

Largest Oregon Library

Sundance Wine Cellars/Oregon Wine Merchants | Eugene

As for cellar or library wine selections, Oregon Wine Merchants, the online division of Sundance Wine Cellars, has links to 158 Oregon wineries on their website. Accessing them supplies information on all the selections from each winery, including current releases.

A random sampling revealed that, although there was no inventory available for some of the wineries, they vast majority had four or more older vintages. In the case of Ken Wright, for example, there were 15, and Brick House had nine.

Further complicating the ability to estimate how much and from whom, several links listed more than one winery. In addition to four Chehalem wines on the Chehalem link, wines from Barking Frog, Beckham, Bergström, Gresser, J. Albin and Patricia Green were also listed.

None of these wineries were listed on the Oregon Wine Merchants home page, which leads us to conclude that there are many more than the 158 shown there and that most are represented by several more mature vintages. From these indicators, we have concluded that the list easily exceeds 400.

Wizer’s Fine Wines | Lake Oswego

Wizer’s website details more than 250 individual older Oregon Pinot Noir listings, sufficient to secure a strong second in the Cellar category. Aged selections from other regions, most notably the Rhone, Italy, Burgundy, California, Washington and Australia, substantially augment their library offerings.

As prominent as these few may be, however, the effort that has helped Oregon wine industry sales grow significantly in its home state runs the gamut from small, independent wine shops and wine bars to specialty grocers and major supermarket chains.

In appreciation, a list of the state’s most prominent wine retail outlets accompanies this story. All of them devote a segment of their shelf space to Oregon wines. Examples from other noteworthy regions both domestic and international further augment their inventory. 

Oregon Wine Press is not responsible for any claims herein that may be inaccurate. Although in some cases, verification is possible, for others, it is either difficult to determine or subjective.

 

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