Flâneur Wines at the Carlton Grain Elevator hosts an open house in late August.  ##Photo provided
Flâneur Wines at the Carlton Grain Elevator hosts an open house in late August.  ##Photo provided

Elevator Up!

Flâneur transforms iconic Carlton granary

By Mark Stock

One of the Willamette Valley’s most recognizable structures is alive and well again, opening to the public in the name of wine. Flâneur Wines at the Carlton Grain Elevator opened the doors to its historic new headquarters this October. It rests majestically in the heart of Carlton, overlooking endless miles of vineyard rows, farmland and the forested mountain ranges beyond.

The move sees renewed spirit injected into Carlton’s most iconic building. Originally built in 1890, the grain elevator initially functioned as the Madsen Grain Mill. The agricultural enterprise grew as the 20th century unfurled, adding structures to keep up with booming business demands. In 2013, Flâneur’s owner Marty Doerschlag acquired the space from Ken Wright, a prominent winemaker and unofficial mayor of Carlton.

Russell Lichtenthal, the director of hospitality and sales, brings experience to Flâneur from places like the Pierre Hotel in New York and the Four Seasons in D.C., to the exciting Carlton project. He’s spent ample time in both restaurants and hotels, as well as the wine import business and harvests overseas.

Inside Flâneur Wines at the Carlton Grain Elevator. ##Photo provided

Lichtenthal says Flâneur’s game plan changed a bit over the roughly six-year span between the purchase of the building and its completion. The crew shifted focus from the north tower to the south tower, no small feat given its lofty 90-foot height, and reimagined the tasting room layout. “In the end, it worked out quite well,” he says. “The aesthetic, however, is spot-on to what we envisioned in how little we touched the building and left it in its raw state.”

There were plenty of obstacles, from tricky seismic upgrades to fire code issues and clearing out a building that mostly sat vacant for a decade. Working within the context of an older building is almost always more difficult, given structural age and significant shifts in architecture over the building’s almost 130-year lifespan. But it’s hard to put a price tag or timeframe on bringing a building like this back to life.

“The most unique aspect of our tasting experience will always be the amazing wines and the larger-than-life structure you will be sitting in,” Lichtenthal says. “There are so few of these types of structures in the country, and even fewer of them in strong enough condition and ideal enough locations to warrant refurbishing and repurposing.”

The hospitality element will be a key component. “Best Buy has customers; we have guests,” he adds. That equates to a significant food program, bolstered by a commercial kitchen that will, at least initially, aid with dinners and special events. Down the road, the plan is to offer wine-friendly culinary options daily. “We always want the wine to be the focus, with whatever food is offered to support the wine, not overshadow it,” he says.

The construction itself is nearly complete, at least when this story was printed. Throughout the process, the crew used lumber from the grain elevator itself.  The structure initially included three towers; they took one down and saved every scrap of wood for floors, windows, doors, frames, even cutting boards. Doerschlag has also incorporated 19th-century terra cotta tiles from Burgundy. Given the tall nature of the structure, the Coast Range-gazing view will be celebrated. The space can comfortably accommodate approximately 55 guests inside and another 50 outside. Per Carlton’s intimate footprint, the establishment is walking distance from just about everything the town has to offer.

Flâneur is banking on a range of venues and experiences to enhance their wines. It’s part of a larger trend that’s seeing the traditional tasting room giving way to sit-down pourings, food pairings, custom tours and more.

“One major part of the Flâneur experience is diversity,” he says. “Diversity in tasting experiences and locations — something to mirror the diversity between our radically different two estate vineyards that go into every bottle you will be enjoying!”

The vineyards are located in the Chehalem Mountains (La Belle Promenade Vineyard) and Ribbon Ridge AVAs (Flanerie Vineyard). Flâneur focuses solely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and has achieved some fairly remarkable scores over its relatively modest history. The current vintner is Grant Coulter, formerly of Beaux Frères. He’s famously credited for crafting the third best wine of 2016, according to the Wine Spectator.

This winter, Flâneur plans to develop a production space located just a stone’s throw from the Grain Elevator. Big Table Farm is set to take the space Flâneur once occupied, also in Carlton. “While the Grain Elevator experience will have amazing architecture and history as the backdrop, the Blue Barn will put the vineyard and all of the Willamette’s rugged, rolling and natural beauty on display,” Lichtenthal says.

Carlton is now home to new wineries ranging from Flâneur to Résonance along with new eateries like Earth & Sea. And this is to say nothing of the long-standing players like Ken Wright, Carlton Winemakers Studio, Carlton Cellars and Cana’s Feast, all well worth a visit.

If the endearing wine-soaked town somehow didn’t place on your must-visit list before, it surely is now, underlined and highlighted for emphasis.


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