August 01, 2012
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Kate and Thomas Monroe. Photo by Mark Stock
Kate and Thomas Monroe. Photo by Mark Stock

Sip off the Old Block

By Mark Stock

Division Street contains more food culture in 30 blocks than most cities have in their entire metropolitan areas. And while the restaurant and bar scene is well established, it was always only a matter of time before the wine scene started creeping in. Now, with the Southeast Wine Collective in the forefront, this once-sleepy neighborhood may be the Rose City’s most remarkable gastronomical beehive.

To start, four labels will occupy the space on 35th & Division formerly housed by Dow Columbia, a disaster cleanup company. The labels include Bow & Arrow, Helioterra Wines, Vincent Wine Co. and Division Winemaking Co., the brainchild of the project. The Division team, husband-and-wife duo Thomas and Kate Monroe, have been sitting on the idea for years. 

Presently — as the construction team cuts wood and digs the drain — the Monroes’ urban winery vision is sprouting to life. 

The model follows the relatively recent charge led by breweries and distilleries to have a facility wherein libations can be crafted as well as consumed. 

The Collective has a delightful populism written all over it. Essentially, it is bringing small-batch Oregon wines, along with the process to make them, to the thirsty masses. In allowing a certain level of interaction between vintners and tasters, the Collective’s resident producers are hoping to educate the public and tear down that perceived wall that seems to separate so many people from fine local wine.

“We are truly in a neighborhood hub here,” Kate said. “The collective will be right in front of you, right at home.” On top of convenience, there will be grub, the extent of which Thomas is keeping cloaked until the official opening. “Wine is meant to enjoy with some kind of meal,” Kate continued. “It can transform food and food can transform wine.”

Adjacent to the Collective is Cibo, a new Italian restaurant led by Marco Frattaroli of Bastas Trattoria fame. Across the street, Division Wines offers a wide selection of bottles. This is, of course, on top of an already endless list of noteworthy neighborhood stops, ranging from culinary star Pok Pok to the forthcoming Ava Genes restaurant (by Stumptown’s Duane Sorenson). With everything coalescing by harvest 2012, these few blocks of Division could be the home of the greatest block party ever. 

The Monroes are planning to use the facility for special events in addition to pouring from the tasting bar. Dinner parties, barrel tastings and draft wine are all possibilities. 

“There are so many opportunities in this neighborhood,” Thomas said. And while he admits what he and Kate are doing is not new, being in the epicenter of the food and libation culture will yield massive exposure to Oregon wines.

The Collective’s building design is the work of architect Joe Karman. According to Thomas, production capacity is about 7,000 cases per year. The four current residents will combine to turn out about 5,000 cases this fall. 

The Monroes consider the Collective a launch-pad for young winemaking talent as much as a collaborative cellar. With all the construction scraps circling the Dow Building at the moment, it’s easy to imagine the Collective as a 5,000-square-foot bird’s nest where promising young winemakers are nurtured into success.

The couple cites time spent in France as part of the inspiration.  There, food and wine share an inseparable bond, one that is accessible from every direction. “Portland is the closest thing to a European town,” added Kate. Between the transportation, the food, the wine, the seasonality, the small-scale craftsmanship, the collaboration, she’s spot on. 

A city setting has some tremendous legal benefits. Recent legislation prohibits most wine country operations and tasting rooms from functioning as restaurants as well. That is not the case in town. Hence, the dawning of the eno-pub, where frequenters can enjoy a glass of Helioterra Syrah with a freshly-prepared charcuterie plate, and not just on major holiday weekends.

The drive to wine country is always worth the effort. But it’s exciting to see operations like the Southeast Wine Collective shrink that hour-long commute into an effortless stroll, bus or bike ride for scores of eager urbanites. 

Mark Stock is a Portland-based freelance writer and works at Vista Hills Winery in Dayton.