In a Salmon Street warehouse, up a flight of stairs and down a relatively nondescript hallway, lies Oregon winery Statera’s new tasting room, which opened on January 17. Its walls are relatively unmarked, save a mirror serving as the tasting room’s menu, advertising bottle prices for its wines. A few tables and chairs sit in the space, including a handful of bar seats staring out the window, overlooking the Stumptown roastery in Southeast Portland. But at the center of the space, hanging from the ceiling, is a gargantuan globe of stuffed animals, looming over the tasting counter and its visitors. “You know,” says co-owner and winemaker Luke Wylde, with a grin, “it’s just another stuffy tasting room.”
Wylde built the globe of stuffed animals, hauling in garbage bags full of plush unicorns and bears and Pikachus from the Bins, a Goodwill outlet store. They attached them to a spherical cage of chicken wire, not stopping until the wire was completely hidden. The goal: To make the tasting room — and wine — feel approachable and fun, whether that involves hosting book clubs and Dungeons & Dragons games in the tasting room or loading hard-to-find cups of instant noodles with crab and kimchi as a food pairing. “As much as we take wine seriously, I don’t need people to take this seriously,” he says. “Just hang out and have a good time.”
Wylde founded Statera with fellow Chehalem Winery alumna Meredith Bell in 2015 specifically to focus on the region’s chardonnay — single-vineyard wines, pet nat, and the occasional blend. Grapes come from biodynamic and organic vineyards, particularly Johan Vineyards along the Van Duzer Corridor near Salem. Each of the winemakers has their own labels, as well, which they pour and sell out of the tasting room: Bell’s Est. Wines, which specializes in pinot noir and sauvignon blanc grown in Clackamas County, and Wylde’s Lares Wines, which makes bold blends incorporating everything from apple juice to aligoté.
At the tasting room, visitors can choose between flights, glass pours, and half-glasses, perusing bottles listed on the mirror. When it comes to food, Wylde offers a rotating selection of Korean and Japanese snacks and instant noodles, the latter of which they upgrade with toppings like crab or squid, premium sesame oil, and/or kimchi, depending on the day. Some days, Wylde brings in a slow-cooker of congee, which they top with a similar array of accoutrements. “One of the things I wanted was like a spot where people could just come and hang out and drink wine and have silly food,” he says. “We don’t have access to a full kitchen, and I just kind of had the thought, ‘market price Cup Noodles.’ High brow, low brow.”
Despite the region’s glut of talented natural winemakers, tasting rooms in Portland proper are somewhat limited. Some of the big names in the up-and-coming wine world, like John and Ksenija House of Ovum and Jeff Vejr of Golden Cluster, own wine bars or restaurants, but not formal Portland tasting rooms. Occasionally, Portland-based wineries like Monument or Post Familiar host open houses or release parties; others, like Fossil & Fawn, offer pre-scheduled private tastings. Otherwise, tasting Oregon-made — or even Portland-made — wines happens at restaurants, wine shops, and bars, even ones as far-flung as Boston’s Haley.Henry or Brooklyn’s Dandy Wine & Spirits.
However, a group of existing wineries in the region have started to invest in opening Portland-based tasting rooms, hoping to build relationships with local wine drinkers. Division opened a new tasting room last year, for instance, as did Community Wine Bar, the collaborative wine tasting space from Gonzales Wine Company and Ram Cellars. “As we are facing the crippling truth of where the economy is actually at, it’s either innovate or starve,” Wylde says. “Sales for a lot of us were really bad last year. So it’s part of opening a tasting room was like trying to take some ownership of that.”
Wylde, Bell, and their respective romantic partners live in a Southeast Portland house together, and they would frequent several Portland wine bars and bottle shops — Nil, Bar Norman, OK Omens, Pairings — but the wineries they sought out didn’t operate their own tasting rooms. They had hoped to open their own winery tasting room space in Portland for years, so when the people behind the Portland Night Market reached out about opening a tasting room in a space they owned, Bell and Wylde jumped at the chance.
“A single winery tasting room that serves the purpose of a natural wine bar seems to make sense, right?” Wylde says. “I’m a queer person, and one of the reasons I did want something that felt a little private like this is so that it feels more like a safe space. ... I like the speakeasy, subway bar vibe, because I feel like it’s a spot where you can sneak away.”
Statera is located at 109 SE Salmon Street, Suite B3.