For Portlanders, one of the joys of visiting SE Hawthorne wine bar OK Omens comes before any wine actually hits the table: The restaurant’s wine list, written by wine director and partner Brent Braun, reads like a conversation with a friend. Braun describes a 2019 pét-nat (short for pétillant naturel, it’s a type of sparkling wine where the wine finishes fermenting in the bottle) rosé of gamay as “like you poured a shot of orange vinegar into a strawberry Jamba Juice;” he says a 2016 tannat and cabernet franc blend would pair well with “an old French man smoking a cigarette in the cold.” Talking to Braun, who often wanders around the patio at OK Omens with glasses of wine and sage advice, has been known to use words like “chuggable” when detailing tasting notes or refer to a wine as a “good river wine.” Portlanders, after all, love their outdoor sports and booze.
For Braun, who’s also curating the February wines for Eater Wine Club — Eater’s new-ish monthly wine subscription — the appeal of so-called “natural” wine is its accessibility: He’s a passionate guy, but wine, for him, isn’t about arbitrary distinctions or designations of what is good or bad. For him, it’s just about finding something delicious and sharing it with others, which he soon will be doing more directly: Braun is launching his own wine label called Post Familiar with designer Jordan Sowers, with the singular goal of making interesting, under-the-radar wines accessible and easy to understand.
Post Familiar aims to financially support small-scale, creative winemakers and vineyards they trust, while packaging wines in a way anyone can understand. In other words, Braun isn’t going to be processing grapes or planting vines; Post Familiar is focused on partnering with existing winemakers to fund and support small producers, underrepresented varietals, or distinctive wines. For example, if a wine-grower has an acre of an obscure grape that doesn’t exactly fit any of the major buyers’ interests, Post Familiar will buy it to make a sort of off-the-wall wine outside the world of Oregon-style pinots and chardonnay. If wildfire smoke taint hits a Willamette Valley vineyard and a winemaker is nervous the finished product won’t fit with their slate of other wines, Post Familiar will pay for that winemaker to go ahead and make that oddball smoky wine, marketing it under their label. Braun will package it — like the wine lists at OK Omens — description-first, so someone who knows absolutely nothing about wine could get an idea of what the bottle is about. “The idea was, ‘How do we continue this project that’s been my life’s work by making wine more accessible for the average human?’” Braun says. “A lot of people like the idea of wine but don’t know anything about it. [We] go, ‘This is cool and delicious and fun.’”
Braun figures Post Familiar will be based on trust: Trusting that a winemaker can wrangle something unfamiliar or challenging and make something surprising and cool out of it. One of the first winemakers on board is Andy Young, the natural wine darling behind The Marigny; he’s joined by local wine star Julia Bailey of Columbia River Gorge winery Loop de Loop, who will be making a smoke taint wine for the first vintage of Post Familiar. For Braun, it’s about investing in those obviously talented winemakers, both metaphorically and literally. “The goal is to help smaller winemakers find a way for extra creativity or for wines they weren’t sure they’d be able to afford on their own,” Braun says. “Small winemakers always have cash flow problems. You’re getting all your grapes, and then you have to pay for grapes before you have wine to sell. If we’re teaming up with these winemakers, we’re paying for the grapes, but if we’re also paying the winemaking fee, we’re helping with those cash flow problems.”
Once the wine is in Braun’s hands, he gets down to describing and naming it, putting his description on the front label. His business partner, Jordan Sowers, figures out a way to design the bottle with that information clearly displayed, while also appearing fun and inviting. On the website — also under Sowers’ domain — the two will list the full-blown stories behind the winemakers and wines involved. “Through the label design, the humor in the descriptions, you’re opening them up to being excited,” Braun says. “Once you’ve got them there, tell them a meaningful story that’s important to hear.”
For them, those are stories about winemakers and vineyard owners incorporating biodiversity and sustainability into their work. Braun thinks of one of Post Familiar’s collaborators, who is buying out a conventionally farmed vineyard to convert it, to incorporate more sustainable farming practices. The wines under Post Familiar’s umbrella will fall under the complicated and messy label of “natural” — not relying on commercial sprays or the overuse of water, allowing for biodiversity on their vineyard land, and, in Braun’s words, “not fucking with their wines” in production. “All of this is in pursuit of sustainability,” Braun says. “If you know it’s a label of integrity without having to overthink.”
Post Familiar bottles will begin appearing in wine bars and bottle shops in the spring of 2021.
• Post Familiar [Official]