Guests chat in Erath Winery’s new Downtown Portland tasting room. ##Photo by John Valls
The interior contains original wooden beams and brick mixed with modern flair. ##Photo by John Valls

A Pearl in the City of Roses

Erath moves tasting experience to historical Portland building

By Mark Stock

One of Oregon wine’s iconic elder statesmen has set up shop in the heart of Portland. Erath Winery, with roots in the Willamette Valley dating to the mid-1960s, opened its new Pearl District tasting room Sept. 10.

Last March, with the lease expiring on Erath’s Dundee tasting room, the search began for a place with both a sense of community as well as some history, which led the brand to a building in Northwest Portland, one that would properly reflect Erath’s own historic presence in the buzzing Oregon wine scene.

Wine to go in Erath growlers. ##Photo by John Valls

The iconic Reid Pacific Building sits at the corner of N.W. Marshall Street and 15th Avenue. “This area is a cultural hub in the city, and we love the building and the history of the area,” explained Ryan Pennington, director of communications and corporate affairs with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Erath’s parent company. “Being a pioneer in the Oregon wine industry and also to be here in this historic space adds a new page in the history books.”

Pennington stressed Erath’s roots will always be in the Dundee Hills, but the brand is eager to share its story and wine country experience with the Portland metro area. From a consumer standpoint, there will be some of the old and some fresh experimentation as well.  “Our new space opens up exciting opportunities for new programming and experiences for our guests,” he added.

The offerings will be numerous, from growler fills and grab-and-go bottles to special guided tastings and pairings involving local cheese and charcuterie. For the time being, it’s a reservation-only setup, Thursday through Sunday. The tasting slots are created for safety amid the pandemic, allowing no more than six patrons at a time. Currently, the daily wine flight is $15 and consists of four Erath wines.

The tasting room and its staff will further honor COVID-19 regulations. Employees will be masked and checking temperatures, as well as engaging in a significant cleaning regimen between group visits. Transactions will be both cashless and contact-free. The hope remains to ultimately welcome walk-ins but when that might happen depends entirely on the trajectory of the pandemic.

Tasting flights can include an expertly paired cheese plate. ##Photo by John Valls

Fellow Willamette Valley label Domaine Serene made a similar move recently, opening its own wine lounge in downtown Portland. The labels join a fairly vibrant urban wine scene, which includes the likes of Boedecker Cellars and Southeast Wine Collective. Portland Wine Company was completed in time for harvest 2019 and includes a tasting area, a production facility in the southeast quadrant of the city. While the tasting flights are on pause, the winery is operating its own walk-up service window and limited patio seating for thirsty Portlanders amid the pandemic.

Erath is a key player in the old guard of Willamette Valley winemaking. Founder Dick Erath made his first barrel of wine in 1965. Three years later, he acquired his first vineyard site on Chehalem Mountain. He would proceed to bottle the first commercial wine in the esteemed Dundee Hills AVA. Gary Horner assumed the winemaking reins in 2003, and, in 2006, the brand was acquired by Washington-based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

The label has long specialized in Burgundian varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Erath even makes a few more obscure offerings, like a white Pinot Noir and a late-harvest Pinot Gris. In addition to an estate lineup, the label sings the praises of other sites through its single-vineyard series, which features vineyards like Bishop Creek, Hyland, Fairsing and Leland.

In establishing a presence in Northwest Portland, Erath is helping to spread the city wine scene to the west side of the Willamette River, where there’s less of a presence. The new home, the Reid Pacific Building, was erected in 1908 and touts a freight elevator and exposed timber beams. It’s a slice of Northwest history at the core of the city in a buzzing stretch within the Alphabet District. Much about the Pearl has changed, but this building remains a brick-clad glimpse of the past — a fitting new home for a winery with its own enduring legacy.

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