Wineries Go to Town

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Mosley The Register-Guard

Your next Lane County winery tour doesn't have to involve a road map and a full tank of gas.

Alan Mitchell and Bruce Biehl would suggest a city bus token instead. Even a good pair of walking shoes.

They're a pair of Oregon wine industry veterans who are bucking the bucolic tradition of countryside wineries by bringing their product within reach of the people. They have quietly drawn Eugene's Whiteaker neighborhood into the loop of local wine production with a pair of small, well-received urban wineries - each with several regional awards to its credit - operating within a few city blocks of each other.

And if in-town wineries are a trend, Eugene is way ahead of the Northwest's larger cities - on a per capita basis, anyway.

Portland also has just a pair of urban wineries: Urban Wine Works and Hip Chicks Do Wine. And the Seattle area has a trio: Chatter Creek Winery and Cadence Winery, both in Seattle, and Tukwila's Owen-Sullivan Winery.

But Eugene's wineries have something the others don't. They're close enough geographically and philosophically - with an emphasis on low-volume, high-quality products and regularly-staffed tasting rooms - to create a symbiotic bond.

"We generate more interest for ourselves by being in close proximity," Mitchell says. "It's not like there are two ketchup manufacturers producing exactly the same product, and competing for shelf space."

Mitchell's Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company and Biehl's Eugene Wine Cellars are the only commercial wine-processing operations that operate within Eugene's city limits. Each chose a combination of urban ambiance and commercial convenience over the strength-in-numbers approach taken by the dozen wineries scattered along a 55-mile stretch of Territorial Highway between Lorane and Corvallis.

"That's the route," says Mitchell, co-owner along with Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles of Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company.

But, he added, ``There's actually a very cooperative spirit among the producers here (in Lane County). There are people who have been out (tasting wines) on the wine route, and have been sent down here. But we are off the beaten path.''

Biehl, whose Eugene Wine Cellars began processing grapes in the city in 2000, says that being different may eventually work to the advantage of the two in-town vintners.

"In Europe, a lot of the vineyard and winery operations are right within the city limits," Biehl says. "Obviously, a vineyard operation wouldn't work here. But I live in Eugene and wanted to be closer to my work, and we were hoping it would generate a lot of local interest, being here."

It has, although business growth has been more gradual than dramatic.

Eugene Wine Cellars - at 255 Madison St., in the old FOOD For Lane County building - has built enough local patronage to support regular hours in its five-year-old tasting room: Wednesdays from noon to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m.

Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company - in the former Boyd's coffee warehouse at 907 W. Third Ave. - has regular tasting room hours every Friday and Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and is available on other days for private functions such as birthday parties or corporate meetings.

"What we have learned is that this is a hybrid operation," Mitchell says. "A big part is that we have local people coming in to enjoy a glass of wine and listen to music. So it's sort of half wine bar, half wine-tasting room."

Territorial has just finished its harvest, and Mitchell expects to produce about 5,000 cases this year - primarily pinot noir, pinot gris and dry rose of pinot. Eventually, as his and his partners' vineyards mature, production may reach 6,500 cases per year.

"It's still microscopic, in terms of what's out there," Mitchell says. …