D’Anu Wine Bar features a variety of wines, including the winery’s latest release, a first-ever Primitivo, also known as Zinfandel.  ##Photo provided

Heart of Hillsboro

Williams creates downtown destination

By Mark Stock

It’s mid-March, and Joe Williams is rereleasing his first-ever Primitivo. Inside his downtown Hillsboro tasting room, a healthy-sized crowd samples the new red, preferably alongside some bites of the day — specifically, Croatian cevapi with ajvar sauce. He and his wife, Maxine, busily fill glasses and put together food orders. The couple seems to know every face in the room.

D’Anu Wines launched in 2011. Williams’ first vintage involved about 150 cases of production, two-thirds of which was used to cover labor costs. Today, he’s making quite a few varietals, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sangiovese and Tempranillo.

“I became fascinated with the entire process of winemaking after my first harvest in 2007 at Panther Creek,” he says. “By 2010, I knew I wanted to see how my influence would affect a vintage.” After Panther Creek, Williams worked at Carlton Cellars. He cultivated lasting relationships with growers all over the Willamette Valley and beyond; he continues to rely on them today.

Those vineyards include quality sites like Freedom Hill outside Dallas and Coyote Canyon in the Horse Heaven Hills of Washington. “Not knowing your farmer is like a chef [not] knowing his purveyor,” Williams says.

He definitely knows his way around a kitchen. In fact, he’s been working in and out of restaurants since he was 16. Where there’s good food, good wine tends to follow; this is certainly true at D’Anu, where he changes the menu often and uses ingredients like fresh rockfish — he caught — for wine-friendly tacos.

D’Anu Wine Bar features a variety of wines, including the winery’s latest release, a first-ever Primitivo, also known as Zinfandel. ##Photo provided

Williams’ culinary background benefits D’Anu and winemaking in general. “I’d like to think my sense of smell and sense of taste tell me when a fermentation is either happy or heading down the wrong path,” he says. With small lots and a patient production schedule, Williams performs in the cellar without much outside pressure. He tends to bottle-age his wines longer than most, leading to some pleasant evolutions in the glass. “I don’t have to release anything if I’m not ready to,” he admits.

His approach translates to tasty treasures in the tasting room, such as a 2014 barrel-select Pinot Noir currently showing both finesse and balance, and made from a family of Willamette Valley vineyard locales. Williams’ 2016 Sangiovese, begging for some pasta or homemade pizza, is made from Seven Hills Vineyard fruit on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley and aged in neutral French oak. His Sauvignon Blanc, an incredibly refreshing spring sipper, will get you excited for longer, warmer days; and his whole-cluster Tempranillo promises something different as the Spanish variety remains sparsely planted here in the Willamette Valley.

In addition to single varietals, Williams also makes blends: Clare, a mix of Pinot Gris, Viognier, Roussanne and Chardonnay; and Larnach, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Primitivo, Sangiovese and Syrah. If you’re sensing a Celtic theme, you’re correct. The D’Anu moniker itself borrows from a Celtic deity of the same name.

All told, Williams currently produces about 3,100 cases a year in a facility in Aurora, but the plan is to create his own production space that he’ll lease to a few other tenants by harvest 2023. Some of his production comprises an entry-level label, 49Som— as in the 49th parallel and Som standing for state of mind. It’s a salute to Alaska as Williams spent a stretch in Fairbanks before moving to Oregon.

Many operations this size employ a couple workers with some seasonal staff come crush, but Williams works mostly solo in the cellar. Outside winemaking, D’Anu remains a family affair, clearly evident the moment you step in the wine bar.

In the heart of downtown Hillsboro, located next to the Collective Kitchen on Third Avenue, the tasting room feels cozy and inviting, with plenty of seating inside and out. In addition to a small food menu, guests enjoy live music (see website for details) and chatting with Williams, often behind the counter. He can tell you firsthand all about the broad selection of offerings.

Back at the release event, the Primitivo is the main draw. A handful of people stand outside, enjoying the occasional sun break between showers. Inside, more tasters relax, clanking glasses. The wine itself pops with pleasant acidity and plenty of fruit on the palate. The grapes come from the relatively warm Coyote Canyon site in south-central Washington. The wine epitomizes the D’Anu way, tasty in its own right but all the better with some grub and good company.

“I hope people see my wines as true to each varietal and vintage,” Williams says. “Hopefully, the wines show good balance between Old World earthy and New World fruit-driven.”


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