Amaterra — a winery, 12-acre vineyard, restaurant, and tasting room perched in the hills of West Haven-Sylvan — sits on the end of Swede Hill Drive, an area once populated by Scandinavian farmers and immigrants in the late 1800s. It was something Jami Flatt, the chef at Amaterra’s restaurant, wanted to capture on the menu, one facet of the restaurant’s overarching ethos, literally rooted in the Pacific Northwest. So, while the restaurant was under construction, he and his 4-year-old son made meatballs in his home kitchen, using an amalgamation of guidance from chefs and friends he’s worked with over the years.
Now that Amaterra’s opulent, immense headquarters are now open to the public, Flatt makes his Swedish meatballs every night, accompanied by white-wine-leek cream and red currant jam, topped with crispy Oregon sunchokes. “As I’m seeing it evolve over time, I want it to be a signature dish at Amaterra — you could always come to Amaterra and get the Swede Hill meatballs, and they will reflect the season,” he says. “To have a dish that was so good even before we had a kitchen that was open, to know that it has a sense of place, to be able to involve my family, it feels really good.”
Amaterra’s physical space supports and provides the inspiration for every facet of the estate. The grapes growing around the property become the wine served in the tasting room, which the kitchen uses as a jumping-off point for the menu. By the summer, a garden among the vines will provide herbs and produce for the restaurant. Its colossal, multi-story building is encircled by a patio and veranda, where people can drink wine with views of the estate. And its proximity to downtown — 10 to 15 minutes, driving — make it unlike any other urban winery in the area, a true Portland vineyard. “We’re trying to do something here that we haven’t seen done really anywhere,” says CEO Marcus Breuer. “It’s accessible in a way that no other serious vineyard is, but also we have access to awesome culinary talent... You can come there and expect to see friends and people you know, which gives it a sense of community.”
Amaterra encompasses a 45,000 square foot space, with a gravity-flow winery producing about 10,000 cases each vintage, a wedding venue, a lawn for events, a restaurant, a bar, and tasting room. It’s also one of the only private wineries in the area; that’s less of a country-club, apply-to-be-considered situation, and more of a one-time, $25 fee made with your first dinner or tasting room reservation.
Robbie Wilson, the owner of the now-closed Botanist, heads up the cocktail program with drinks like Hemingway daiquiris and Grey Goose martinis, but Amaterra is a winery first — a message echoed in the kitchen, as well.
“Our food needs to be an ally to the wine,” Flatt says. Lucky for him, the winery is home to two wine labels — Amaterra, which uses estate and contracted grapes for its Northern Willamette Valley pinot noir and cold-weather chardonnay, and 51Weeks, winemaker Matt Vuylsteke’s personal label featuring larger Italian and French varietals from Oregon and Washington vineyards. Each dish on the menu is paired with a specific wine from the cellar; for example, smoked pork osso bucco with crispy sweet potatoes should work well with Amaterra’s 2017 Swede Hill pinot noir, while the New York steak frites in a green peppercorn-cognac cream sauce is well-suited to 51Weeks’ 2016 Super Cascadian, a blend of Columbia Valley petit verdot and Willamette Valley pinot noir.
“He’s an amazing person and an amazing winemaker,” Flatt says of Vuylsteke. “He makes you realize that wine tasting is very personal; when you talk about how a wine may or may not taste, the words that you choose, the memories you evoke in those flavors, is a reflection of who you are in those experiences. Food is very similar.”
Flatt’s approach to the food is built on his past experiences as a chef, from his teenage days working at an Iowa Pizza Hut to his tenure at Departure, under Gregory Gourdet. “If you know the food at Departure, working with Gregory, his food was elegant. I feel like if you look at our food here at Amaterra, it reflects that sense of elegance,” he says. “Who I am as a cook and a chef today, I owe a lot of that to Gregory Gourdet as a mentor.”
When building the menu, Flatt also sought inspiration from trips to the farmers market, especially when working with produce from Pablo Munoz Farms and Gathering Together Farm. His emphasis on Pacific Northwestern culinary influence is evident: a roasted beet and citrus salad comes with a toasted hazelnut chermoula, Pacific dover sole arrives with a crab-and-spinach gratin and sunchokes, and — of course — there’s a cedar-roasted salmon on the menu, served with creamy farro and blistered fennel.
“We really want to make great tasting food, that really exemplifies the bounty we have in the Pacific Northwest,” he says. “Showcase it in the best ways, and make it approachable.”
Take a look inside the space and menu below. Amaterra is located at 8150 SW Swede Hill Drive; reservations are available via Tock.