In the early days of the pandemic, Andy Fortgang — 2019 Food & Wine sommelier of the year and co-owner of both Le Pigeon and Canard — began building wine packs for customers to pick up from the restaurant, a way to bring in revenue during an extremely difficult period for the industry. The wines he chose spanned several wine regions: Columbia River Gorge pinot noir, Barolos, and, shocking no one familiar with Fortgang’s taste, Burgundies. While designing the wine packs, Fortgang reignited a dream he had kept on the back-burner for years: opening his own retail shop.
“It’s always been a little bit of a ‘maybe one day,’” he says. “Over the 15 years, it was really gratifying to see people learn to trust us, to try new things, and people were getting these wines and taking them home and in certain ways bringing us into their home. It seemed like something we were decent at, picking wine for people — whether it’s in the restaurant or at home.” So, now that Le Pigeon and Canard have reopened for service, Fortgang is planning on scratching the wine retail itch at his own Northwest Portland bottle shop.
Flor Wines, owned by Fortgang, former Little Bird wine director Sergio Licea, and Fortgang’s longtime business partner Gabriel Rucker, will be a bottle shop where visitors can walk through the aisles and caves with a glass of wine, or talk directly with Licea and Fortgang for recommendations. Fortgang compares it to something like a bookstore: a place not just for buying wine, but a place for wine nerds to browse and feel at home. “People often go to bookstores not because they want to buy a book, but because they want to look around, have conversations,” Fortgang says. “So maybe it’s a place where you come in to buy a bottle, or maybe you come in, you have a glass of wine, and you have a conversation about what you’re looking for. It’ll look and feel like a shop, but it won’t look like any wine shop you’ve seen before.”
Walking into Flor, customers will pass the front counter and encounter rows of bottles, as well as two wine caves toward the back of the space. There will also be a table and seating area in one corner for customers to talk wine with the staff, attend events, and take classes — wine classes, pairing classes, and wine dinners. “We’re more a store than a bar, but food and wine are inseparable,” Fortgang says. “And you know, my partner is the best caterer you can find.”
The bottles at the shop, like the bottles in the Le Pigeon wine packs, will cover a wide swath of wine growing regions, with West Coast representation, several French bottles, and French and Italian wines. By working with Licea, Fortgang hopes that the shelves at Flor incorporate both of their tastes, as varied as they are. “He and I have similar philosophies in wine and different tastes; I think that’s key,” Fortgang says. “To me, a good wine list should express the personality of the restaurant and the buyers — that’s what makes it interesting and unique — but it also has to have what people want. You may not have the exact chardonnay or nebbiolo that they’re looking for, but you can help someone find something they’ll like.”
Fortgang will be happy to talk about region, vintage, or varietal with customers who walk in, but he bristles at the term “natural wine” — not because he dislikes minimal-intervention wines, but simply because he resents the premise of the binary. “People love to talk about traditional wine vs natural wine; that’s just a conversation we won’t have. We sell wine that is made properly, grown properly, and made by good people. That’s the venn diagram that captures both of those wine worlds,” he says. “All are welcome that are respectful to the environment and make wine that tastes good. It’s been the rare bottle of wine that’s been really amazing that hasn’t been made with grapes grown responsibly and organically.”
Flor Wines will open at 825 NW Glisan as soon as early November.
• Flor Wines [Official]
• Flor Wines [Instagram]
• How a Burgundy-Loving Sommelier Fell for Spanish White Wines [F&W]
• Portland’s Wine Bars Morphed Into Makeshift Bottle Shops. Will They Change Back? [EPDX]