Franchere Wine Co. winemaker Mike Hinds at Hanson Vineyards in Woodburn. ##Photo by Michael Alberty

Parliament of Vowels

Franchere sparks A.E.I.O.U. revolution

By Michael Alberty

Austriae est imperare orbi universo, Latin for “Austria is destined to rule the world,” is a House of Habsburg motto, which is abbreviated A.E.I.O.U.  A small winery in the Cascade Foothills takes those letters to heart with a new Austrian-inspired wine named “Failed Empires.”

Mike Hinds’ Franchere Wine Co., hosted at Hanson Vineyards, a small family-owned winery in Woodburn, is located within audible distance of the bells of Mount Angel Abbey in the Cascade Foothills. The small winery promises some cool selections, if you’re willing to exit the path well-traveled. It’s also a place of great debate, concerning alternative history.

Suppose the House of Habsburg, aka the House of Austria, had retained its status as a sovereign European dynasty. “Would the great Austrian grape varieties be as famous as the so-called ‘noble’ French varieties, whose universal esteem was abetted by the now-defunct British Empire?” asks Hinds on his website.

This provocative question inspired “Failed Empires,” a blend of Blaufränkisch and Rotburger, the two most widely planted red wine grapes in Austria. This blend could have supplanted Cab-Merlot had the Habsburgs just stayed the course.

Franchere "Failed Empires" ##Photo by Marcus Larson

“Failed Empires” is precisely the kind of clever, quaffable wine I’ve come to expect from Hinds, who made his Franchere debut with the 2013 vintage. He is, after all, the man who once owned a Portland record label so eclectic the Irving Klaw Trio was the most mainstream act in his portfolio.

Hinds is also the great-great-great-grandson of French Canadian explorer Gabriel Franchère. In 1810, Franchère sailed to the Oregon territory as a clerk for the Astor Expedition. Information from the book Franchère wrote about his travels in the region helped the U.S. Congress establish Oregon’s boundaries. You could say Hinds is genetically predisposed to exploring uncharted territory.

The Blaufränkisch and Rotburger grapes are grown by the Carlberg family. Their Christopher Bridge Wines estate vineyard near Oregon City includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and 10 other varieties, ranging from Kerner to Siegerrebe. The Carlbergs call it their “Eastern European varietal program.” After years of pestering by Hinds, they finally relented and sold him a small amount of fruit in 2020.

“Failed Empires” is a near 50/50 blend of Blaufränkisch and Rotburger, with 4% Havlin Vineyard Syrah thrown in for good measure. It is, without a doubt, the world’s first central Willamette Valley Blaufränkisch-Rotburger-Syrah(BRS) blend.  

The winemaking was quick and gentle. The Austrian varieties underwent a few hours of maceration, followed by stainless steel tank fermentation. The Syrah from Jeff Havlin’s vineyard in the Van Duzer Corridor was blended in as the wine was racked to neutral oak barrels. The “Failed Empires” wine rested on fine lees for four months, bottling without fining or filtration. The wine is so good and reasonably priced at $23, BRS blends might just become a thing.

Let’s start with the label’s striking artwork. It looks like the Vienna Secession collided with Jackson Pollock. The artist’s name is Mae Starr. To bring things full circle, Starr plays in the Portland band Rllrbll, once on Hinds’ record label.

The color, reminiscent of a cherry Starburst candy melting on a roasting playground, complements the label art. Is the rosewood-hued “Failed Empires” a red or is it a rosé? To paraphrase what a famed Austrian neurologist likely never uttered, sometimes a red wine is just a red wine. 

Aromatically, this wine is a circus of scents. It begins with an exotic combination of wild strawberries and a handful of French burnt peanuts — if you’ve never tried French burnt peanuts, go buy a bag this instant. The next wave features grilled tropical fruit with a mild trace of lilac.

Flavors of tart red raspberries, lemon and dough make me think of summertime pies yet to be made. A touch of thyme adds interest, while a flavor I couldn’t quite pin down drove me to distraction. All I could come up with for a description is “frozen watermelon,” which made me long for a daiquiri.

“Failed Empires” is 12.7% alcohol by volume, and it manages to combine acidic tang with a significant tannic structure. I can see it pairing nicely with a wide variety of backyard summertime menus.

This BRS blend makes the case for embracing your inner Franchère and sailing to Woodburn and Oregon City this summer. Long live the Austrian wine revolution!

THE CHANGEUP is a baseball pitch designed to disorient and confuse, the perfect representation of the unknown and its mastery over those who think they know what to expect. This column is devoted to those unorthodox Oregon wines you never saw coming.


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