In 2015, Carrie Wynkoop took her passion for wine and storytelling and combined them into one irresistable venture — an Oregon wine club that was "not for snobs," but everyday people looking to try new varietals and learn a few things along the way.
Three years later, Cellar 503 wine club opened a tasting room in Southwest Portland, the Oregon and Portland wine scenes have exploded, and Wynkoop has founded an annual festival to celebrate it all — and raise funds for Make-A-Wish Oregon.
The festival is called Pour Oregon, and it's set for Sunday, April 29, — a showcase of 50 small, artisan producers throughout the state designed for everyone from the aspiring sommelier to the thirsty enthusiast.
From across Oregon — Southern Oregon's Rogue, Applegate and Umpqua Valleys, to Elkton and Milton-Freewater in Eastern Oregon, and of course Willamette Valley — there will be plenty of pinot noir as well as Oregon reds like tempranillo, gamay noir and cabernet sauvignon, as well as Oregon whites including viognier, pinot blanc, pinot gris and dry riesling.
We caught up with Wynkoop to ask about the evolving Oregon wine landscape, the craziest new varietals, and the Bitters and Bubbles Bar at this year's festival:
Tribune: How has the wine scene in Portland and Oregon changed since 2015, and how does it affect you?
Wynkoop: I think the biggest change to the Oregon wine scene is just the sheer number of wineries. When I started Cellar 503 there were about 500 wineries in the state and now we're closing in on 800.
It certainly makes my job fun and interesting to keep up with the growing wine scene. I love to introduce my members to new wineries, and there is definitely not a shortage in the state.
Tribune: Have you been able to stick to your vision for the wine club, or what have you tweaked and refined along the way?
Wynkoop: I'm proud that I've been able to stick to the vision for the club. We're committed to working exclusively with small producers, those making less than 10,000 cases a year, all over the state. And, we focus on being as geographically and varietally diverse as we can.
To date we've worked with over 170 different wineries in all 18 AVAs and featured 48 different varietals.
I think we've created a really fun, approachable club full of folks throughout Oregon and the rest of the country who enjoy discovering new wines and new wineries.
Tribune: How has membership grown, and what does this signal to you? Why do you think people are still enchanted with wine club membership even though it's easier than ever to taste wine wherever they go?
Wynkoop: We're doing great with membership — we've doubled every year. You're right, it's getting easier to taste wines in every corner of Oregon, but folks are also overwhelmed with options.
I think our members really appreciate that I curate a great selection that they know they'll enjoy and that I provide them with detailed stories about the winemakers and tasting notes for the wines.
These are wines that you're not going to find in your local grocery store or even your local wine shop, so if you don't have time to travel and seek out these unique producers, it can be a challenge.
And for people outside of Oregon, it's hard to find Oregon wines, especially the small producers.
Tribune: How has Pour Oregon grown over the years? There are many other wine festivals — what niche does this fill, and what's extra special for this year?
Wynkoop: We're so excited for Pour Oregon. We grew the number of wineries this year from 40 to 50 and we could've kept going if we had room.
Our winemakers are super excited to be a part of an event that focuses exclusively on small producers from throughout the state.
And they're happy that we're keeping our focus on wine — no craft beer or distilleries.
This is a unique opportunity for people to explore a whole lot of great wine from different parts of the state in a great setting in one day and, hopefully, they'll find a new wine to love.
New this year is our Bitters and Bubbles Bar. We're going to pair locally made sparkling wine with locally made bitters. Cindy Capparelli of the Portland Bitters Project will be on hand to help our guests discover how bitters can enhance their tasting experience by pairing sparkling wine with different flavors of bitters — herbal, floral, aromatic, spiced and more.
Tribune: Share with us a few surprising facts or anecdotes about the fun things you've learned about wine or wineries or winegrowing or winemakers in the past few years.
Wynkoop: I think the two things that are constantly surprising to me even after all this time is the sheer variety of wines in this state and the amazing support and collaboration between winemakers.
We bring together our featured winemakers at our monthly tasting events, and it's always wonderful to hear them talk about some exciting new project or a crazy new varietal that they decided to play with (Zweigelt or Huxelrebe anyone?).
And it's equally amazing to hear the connections and collaborations between winemakers.
One winemaker looking for a particular grape that another winemaker has a source for.
One winemaker needs barrels or extra glass or just advice on what to do with a particular wine and the other winemakers chime in with help or just a sympathetic ear. I think this attitude is unique to the Oregon wine community, and I love it.
Pour Oregon takes place from 2-6 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at Castaway Portland, 1900 N.W. 18th Ave. Food will be available for purchase from the Tamale Boy and Ember & Vine food carts.
Tickets are $40, with proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish Oregon. For more: www.pouroregon.com