Local collective blending wines, food in Southeast Portland storefront

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Five months after forming the SE Wine Collective, Thomas and Kate Monroe have moved to showcase local wines and meals from notable Portland chefs in a new supper club series.Foodies and vinophiles have another reason to celebrate this month as a cozy “supper club” series kicks off at Portland’s only urban winery.

After starting just five months ago in the Richmond neighborhood, the SE Wine Collective has announced ongoing series of family-style food-and-wine pairings beginning Jan. 20.

“The chefs and restaurants will be challenged to leave their comfort zone and create a multi-course dinner in a new space,” says Thomas Monroe, who owns the collective with his wife, Kate.

“Our wineries then have the challenge of pairing our wines with dishes and types of cuisine we haven’t worked with before. Our guests will be part of the ride with us, experiencing how these two elements come together to create a unique social dining experience.”

Each dinner will feature wines from around the world, as well as the four that make up the collective: Vincent Wine Company, Bow & Arrow Wines, Helioterra Wines and Division Winemaking Company.

Each meal will also feature chefs from top local venues, including Boke Bowl, Imperial, Little Bird, Nostrana, Nuestra Cocina, Paley’s Place, Portland Penny Diner, Roe and St. Jack.

The collective sprung from the Division Winemaking Company, which the Monroes began last summer after purchasing the 1920s space just off Division.

They’d been eyeballing places in Portland to set up shop for more than a year, without luck. This space was still too big, but then Tom says he thought about teaming up with other winemakers. Luckily, he knew of two other brands that were also searching for space, and it became a collective of four.

In industry terms, it’s a “commercial custom crush wine production,” which means it provides services to others making their wine. “We lease by the ton to the winery brands,” Monroe explains. “Their brands aren’t ownership stakes but tenants of the winemaking facility. We do that on a much smaller scale.”

The collective is also an incubator for home winemakers (assisting with expertise and equipment) and artisan food businesses.

In addition to wine and draft beer, the tasting bar offers an expanded menu of cheese, chutney, charcuterie and bread from local makers including Steve’s Cheese on Southeast Belmont, Republic of Jam in Canby, and Little T American Baker on Southeast Division.

“We knew we had this opportunity to utilize our collective base,” Tom says. “We try to make this place a playground for all things wine. That’s why we located off Division, integrated in the community and tap into the tapping and thriving culture.”

French influence

Tom and Kate Monroe, both in their early 30s, are relative newcomers to Portland’s food and drink scene.

The couple landed in Portland in 2010 after a cross-country road trip and a yearlong experience in France learning about winemaking.

They had met in the Bay Area five years earlier, where Tom admits to a “fascination with the Oregon wine scene that snowballed.” Since Kate’s family is from England and France, her father offered to let them stay in the family cottage in Loire, the largest wine region in France, with similar conditions to Oregon.

They worked for a small producer and took winemaking and viticulture classes. Kate, fluent in French, translated for them.

Afterward, the Monroes felt the pull of Oregon, particularly Portland. Landing on Division Street, Tom says their brand name came naturally: “It’s the French thing to do — name your business with the piece of land you’re from.”

They favor wines with higher acid structure, less extraction and modest alcohol. Inspired by the wineries of Loire, Beaujolais and Burgundy regions of France, they create sustainably farmed pinot noir, gamay, chardonnay and rosé.

Even in its infancy, the SE Wine Collective has earned accolades. It was listed among Eater National’s list of “11 Hot New Wine Bars Across America: Where to Drink Right Now,” as well as in other local “best of” ratings.

The early acclaim was unexpected, Monroe says, but “we’ll take it.”

He’s hopeful the supper club series will take off and reach a diverse audience of food-lovers, not just the usual crowd.

“One thing we’ve been very conscious of is not to make any appearance of any elitist food,” he says. “That’s a big reason we put the winery where we did — to demystify the sort of pomp and circumstance of the winery, to be a place people with a even minor curiosity can take a look and see there’s no Oz behind the curtain.”

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