What Is Indie, Anyway?

By Kerry Newberry

British economist E.F. Schumacher penned a sliver of a book called “Small is Beautiful.” Three title words: so simple, sweet and true. Though he applies the mantra to the study of economics, I find it applicable to many other life pursuits. Like food, wine and fashion. Petit plates are perfection. Tiny tapas, divine. The two-sip espresso is really all you need. As for fashion, I say strut that boutique style.       

Perhaps this is why I wait with eager anticipation every spring to sip en vogue at the Portland Indie Wine Festival. It has it all: food, wine and the fashionable. Often hosted in a chic warehouse space, 40 artisan wineries uncork their “wines with soul.”

Adhering to the adage that small is beautiful, the participating wineries produce less than 2,500 cases a year, literally handcrafting labors of love. Smartly dressed chefs pair savory bites to complement the reds and whites swirling around the room in elegant Riedel stems.

Pretty people from the Pearl cruise by tables, hobnobbing with winemakers and falling head over their Manolo Blahnik heels for the taste of Indie wine. Pinot-philes from across the nation descend, desperately seeking sultry Pinot. They sip, then declare they, too, will renounce it all and move to the Willamette Valley for this seductress of a grape.

Oregon wine overall is celebrated for high quality Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and small-production wineries. Especially compared to our neighboring California; in fact, some of California’s larger wineries produce more wine in a year than the entire state of Oregon. The boutique factor beguiles, but something about the Indie spirit shimmers and captures the soul of Oregon.

What is it…the essence of an Indie? Well, outside Oregon, the snow-covered slopes in Park City, Utah come to mind. Not for the skiing, of course, but for Sundance. The Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent cinema festival in the nation, celebrating the offbeat, quirky story on screen. Since the 1970s, this festival has reveled in Indie. Wine starred on screen in two films at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, also the inaugural year for the Portland Indie Wine Festival.

Taking a stand on individuality in the world of wine, the first film spoke like the Slow Food manifesto, but for wine. Mondovino, a documentary film, chronicles the impact of globalization on the world’s different wine regions. The story flashes back and forth between interviews with large, multinational wine producers and small, single estate winemakers committed to crafting terroir-driven wines. Director and writer Jonathan Nossiter also explores the influence of critics like Robert Parker and consultants like Michel Rolland, in defining a ubiquitous style of wine and what this means for the small producer.

The next film was a tale of two slightly dysfunctional men in search of wine, women and themselves. “Sideways,” the idiosyncratic cinematic ode to Pinot Noir turned this varietal into a rock star overnight. One of many notorious scenes has Paul Giamatti, the surly, yet soulful main character, wax poetic about pinot. “It’s a hard grape to grow, as you know,” he says. “It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. In fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world.” Shout out to Oregon.

“Only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really,” he continues. “Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Its flavors, they’re just the most haunting, brilliant, thrilling and subtle and...ancient on the planet.”

Five years later, Giamatti’s soliloquy on the thin-skinned, yet sensual Pinot Noir still converts Cab drinkers into Pinot purists. The ramifications of the globalization of wine, introduced by Mondovino, are national cover stories, heating up on-line chat boards now more than ever. Writer Alice Feiring, a judge at the first Indie Wine Festival, published a book chronicling her search for authentic wines in 2008, “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I saved the World from Parkerization.” All present themes at the fifth annual Portland Indie Wine Festival: celebrating small tastes beautiful.

More than taste, the Indie identity unfolds in story. When the winemakers at the 2009 Indie Wine Festival uncork Saturday, May 2, they will pour not just their wines, but also the essence of who they are. Why wine, why here, why now? Their revelations inspire.

Oregon Indies are worldly. Winemaker Ray Walsh from Capitello Wines landed in Oregon from New Zealand, while Isabelle Dutartre from 1789 Wines came from France. Misty Oaks Vineyard’s Steve and Christy Simmons left Alaska after 30-plus years to make wine in the Umpqua Valley. Alfredo Apolloni of Apolloni Vineyards and Gino Cuneo of Gino Cuneo Cellars, toast Italian soul with Oregon soil, marrying their home and heritage. Cuneo Cellars uses only Italian varietals, a taste from under the Tuscan sun in the Pacific Northwest. 

You see, it’s not all about the Pinot. Quady North specializes in small lots of Syrah, Viognier and Cabernet Franc from Southern Oregon; Three Angels Wine shakes it up with Zinfandel and Primitivo; and Folin Cellars produces 100 percent estate-grown warm-climate varietals, including Tempranillo and Syrah. Jonathan Scott Oberlander from J. Scott Cellars claims Oregon will be known for “kick-ass Cab and Syrah…I kid you not!”

Most, if not all of the Indies are family-run endeavors; the brothers at Ancient Cellars work their winery together as does the father-daughter duo, Howard and Jessica Mozeico at Et Fille Wines. Dukes Family Vineyards includes their sons and daughters, as does Quady North, though for them, add the in-laws. While many of the families are complete with one or two four-legged friends, the winemakers at Big Table Farm, Brian Morey and Clare Carver, raise their own version of Noah’s Ark: 150 chickens, three cows, two working draft horses, six to nine pigs a year, four goats, a guard llama named Edward and one very spoiled hound dog. Seven of Hearts’ Byron Dooley named the winery after their remarkable cat, Seven; while the Howard family named Zenas Wines to pay homage to their great-great-grandfather who came over the Oregon Trail in 1856.

Indies bring intellect. Don Hagge from Vidon Vineyard has a PhD in Physics from the NASA Apollo program; Maria Largaespada of LongSword Vineyard is a scientist that left the beakers and flasks of pharmaceuticals for a wine lab. Ron Helbig, winemaker at Barking Frog Winery, is an engineer turned winemaker.

Indies are arty and athletic, too. There is so much more than what meets the eye: like Dave Grooters of Carlton Cellars, an erstwhile jazz pianist and auto racer; and David C. Polite at Carlton Hill Wine Company, when not making wine, plays a mean game of croquet and rides a classic BMW motorcycle.

For Indies, wine makes the ride worthwhile. Bankers turned Pinot prophets at Thistle Wines, Jon and Laura Jennison muse that when the wine gods smile upon you and you get it right, there is nothing quite like it in the world. At Styring Vineyards, Steve and Kelley Styring chose wine to add as much sensuality to their lives as possible. John Bacon and Jane Smith from Nuthatch Cellars fell in love over wine (a bottle of Cab, 27 years ago) and their romance continues (over Pinot, of course). Jim Seurfert from Seufert Winery finds wine inspires great insights and memorable experiences. “I’m just doing my part to help make the world a better place to live,” he said. And Nick and Sheila Nicholas from Anam Cara Cellars indulge in the simple pleasures: sitting on their deck, drinking a glass of their own wine and watching the grapes grow.

At its best, winemaking, like life, is a roller coaster of emotions: intellectual, sensual and primal, said Athena Pappas and Stewart Boedecker from Boedecker Cellars, “personal, yet social and hedonistic, too.”

Hedonistic philosophy says ‘seize the day,’ and that is what Indies do, at every stage in life. Chris and Susanne Carlberg from Christopher Bridge Cellars produced their first vintage of estate Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris at the age of 60. “The vineyard was 10 years old, the wine was positively reviewed and my soul felt good,” said Chris. Ribbon Ridge Vineyard winemakers Dewey and Robin Kelly purchased the land for their vineyard in 1978. “It took us 25 years to realize the dream of producing our first Ribbon Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir,” said Dewey. But they did.

Indie Wine 101: you only live once, make it count.

Kerry Newberry is a Pinot-sipping, vineyard-hopping wine and food writer. She resides in Portland.

Portland Indie Wine Festival Grand Tasting

Location: Portland Wine Project
Address: 2621 N.W. 30th Ave. • Portland
Date/Time: May 2* • 2–6 p.m.
Cost: $75; $125 to begin at 1 p.m.
Information: 503-595-0891 • www.indiewinefestival.com
*See website about May 1st dinner and May 4th trade tasting.

The Indie Spirit

Sip and savor from these selected wineries May 2, when they uncork their spirit at the Portland Indie Wine Festival. Of the over 175 wine submissions taken from nearly 100 wineries, only the top 40 wineries are selected to pour their wines.

1789 Wines • Anam Cara Cellars
Ancient Cellars • Apolloni Vineyards
ArborBrook • Artisanal Wine Cellars
Barking Frog • Big Table Farm
Boedecker Cellars • Capitello Wines
Carlton Cellars • Carlton Hill
Christopher Bridge • Coeur de Terre
Dukes Family Vineyards • Et Fille
Folin Cellars • Gino Cuneo Cellars
Hawkins Cellars • J. Scott Cellars
Johan Vineyards • Kelley Fox Wines
Longsword Vineyard • Misty Oaks
Monks Gate • Nuthatch Cellars
Pudding River • Quady North
Ribbon Ridge Vineyard • Rizzo Winery
Séjourné • Seufert Winery
Seven of Hearts • Styring Vineyards
Thistle Wines • Three Angels Wine
Vidon Vineyard • WildAire Cellars
Winderlea Vineyard • Zenas Wines

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