PORTLAND, Ore. — Willamette Valley winemaker Ed Fus has depended upon distributors to sell his award-winning Angel Vine wines, but that ends Saturday when he opens Urban Crush Winery near downtown Portland.
Despite a few permitting challenges, Fus smiles at the opportunity to move into his own production facility and tasting room in the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood. Patrons of Angel Vine, D’Anu Wines and Willful Wine Co. can walk across the Hawthorne Bridge and be in Tom McCall Waterfront Park in about 15 minutes.
“We could have done this by ourselves — with just Angel Vine — but that’s not what we wanted to do,” Fus told Great Northwest Wine. “And we probably could have filled this place up twice. There was a lot of demand.”
Fus and his wife, Laureen O’Brien, agreed to a three-year lease on the building and signed up Pam Walden of Willful and Joe Williams of D’Anu to round out Urban Crush, the latest addition to Portland’s growing urban wine scene. If the arrangement works well, Fus said he holds an option to stay an additional three years in the former home of House Spirits Distillery.
Public theater for winemaking
A fascinating feature of their shared space will be the wine lounge, a second-story platform that offers an open-air view of the production floor.
“That’s the fun part, up there,” said Fus, whose name rhymes with cuss. “You will be able to see and talk to people working down here. I’ve never seen that before, not in the same space. We’re not going have the outside seating, the umbrellas and the sidewalk, but this will be a different kind of participation.”
The graduate of Penn State’s horticulture program and lifelong Philadelphia Flyers fan expects a bit of heckling to come cascading from the mezzanine seats to the winery floor.
“I can see it already. ‘What are you doing? Adding acid? I thought they were all-natural wines,’ ” Fus chuckled.
The lounge also includes couches, a large-screen TV and a bar from The Price Is Right — yes, the iconic TV game show starring Bob Barker. This wooden bar from the days of shag carpet and Farrah Fawcett hair has been in the family’s basement for half of its life since O’Brien answered the call to “Come on down!” and won it soon after she left her native South Carolina.
“It was 1978, I had just moved to California, and some friends had gotten tickets to The Price Is Right,” O’Brien said. “I was 18, and I’d never seen the show before, but I was telling friends back home that I was either going to win a car or a boat. We’ll, I got picked from the audience, and I won the bar. I thought maybe I had ESP because then I had a chance at a boat, but I didn’t win it.”
Urban Crush Winery to add 4th brand
With enough prodding, perhaps O’Brien will allow the studio clip of her appearance on the show — which Fus hunted down at no small cost — to be played on the wine lounge TV.
Finishing touches remain to the tasting room and the wine lounge, and there’s still winemaking equipment on the way, but the full transition from House Spirits Distillery into Urban Crush Winery is within sight.
“It will inevitably an early harvest this year, and we have to be ready for crush,” Fus said.
“I guess I’m looking forward to November,” he added with a chuckle.
Later this year, Joe and Cindy Maduri, who produce wines in the appassimento style under their new Cinzia brand, formally will join Urban Crush.
Each winemaker will take turns staffing the tasting room along with Fus, O’Brien and their youngest daughter, Morgan. Angel Vine fans know her as the namesake for both The Morgster, a Pinot Noir made from the family’s vines in the Eola-Amity Hills, and The Hellion — a robust blend of Primitivo, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. (The now-charming Morgan got kicked out of daycare when she was 18 months old.)
Making Washington Zin in Oregon
It was O’Brien’s career as an executive in the health care industry that led the family to Oregon in 1997. Fus’ passion for Pinot Noir inspired him to plant those 5 acres starting in 2000, but it was her thirst for Zinfandel that led him to vineyards in Washington state. So in 2007, Fus launched Angel Vine. Their wines, developed by Fus first at Domaine Coteau and then at Carlton Cellars, have fared well with critics and within competitions as production has grown to 2,000 cases.
His examples of Primitivo and Zinfandel, particularly those from Tedd Wildman’s acclaimed StoneTree Vineyard on Washington’s warm Wahluke Slope, receive top marks year after year. And from the 2015 harvest, Angel Vine will add to its portfolio from StoneTree with a Cinsault rosé and a Mourvèdre.
“I keep trying to get more — not less — from there,” Fus said. “I wish Washington Zin was more sought-after in the world because I would dominate StoneTree. Tedd is just a great guy, and he’s done me right every time.”
Adding to Portland’s urban wine scene
In every instance, Urban Crush Winery will afford each of the four wineries a brighter spotlight in the marketplace as they look for Portland’s growing urban wine culture to embrace them. Recipes for success have been created by Thomas and Kate Monroe at Southeast Wine Collective and Ryan Sharp with his ENSO Urban Winery and Tasting Lounge, all members of the Portland Urban Wineries.
“This is my moment in the sun,” Fus said. “This will really be the first chance that we’ve really had to sell our wine to the public in any kind of conventional way. We’ve survived by distribution, and Seattle has been a good market for us. They know the vineyards, and they like bigger reds — more so than Portland.
“We knew that we wanted to have a place where we could sell our own wine and that it probably would be a place where we could make our own wine,” Fus added. “It took us two years from when we found this place to ultimately make it happen.”
And Fus has one suggestion for those driving across the Willamette River to reach Urban Crush.
“Don’t take the Marquam Bridge because Marquam makes you cross the train tracks, and if you get behind a train, you can kiss a half-hour goodbye,” he said.
A new home for D’Anu Wines
When it came to recruiting or choosing his first tenant, Fus said there was no doubt he wanted Joe Williams to be a part of Urban Crush.
“He’s the perfect complement for me,” Fus said. “He’s better and faster in the production area than anyone I’ve ever seen. He runs circles around me. We’ve been synergistic since he started at Carlton Cellars and friends since day one, so it made sense.”
Williams, 50, who handled production at Carlton Cellars and worked with five winemakers at the facility, said he looks forward to focusing on the making, marketing and selling of his D’Anu wines — a 1,000-case brand. In addition to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Viognier, he also makes Sangiovese from Seven Hills Vineyard in Oregon’s Walla Walla Valley and a blend that includes grapes from both states.
“We did almost 15,000 cases last year (at Carlton Cellars), plus process fruit for three other clients whose facilities weren’t ready,” Williams said. “Here, we’ll be all in-house. I did almost 200 tons last year. This year, we’ll do about 40 tons, and it will be just Ed and myself that I’m worried about because Pam has her own labor. We’ll just support her.”
The Alaskan native grew up working in the restaurant industry, a combined 30 years at his family business back home as well as in the Portland area. He burned out on the 16-hour days in Oregon where he opened two restaurants, yet he didn’t want to go back to the minus-58 degrees of Valdez, so he began working at Panther Creek Cellars. In time, Dave Grooters lured him to Carlton Cellars.
In terms of drive time, the move to Urban Crush is a push for Williams, who lives in Hillsboro. “My commute is the same — I’m 40 minutes to wine country and 40 minutes to downtown,” he said. “I’m 1 1/2 hours to the coast or the mountains, and those two places are my down time.”
This summer, he’ll get back home for a week of fishing with family and friends before christening the crush pad at Urban Crush.
“It should be a lot of fun,” Williams said. “Ed is easy to get along with, and he’s a straight-forward guy. I don’t have to interpret anything in the middle of harvest when we’re cranking things out.
“We had our first meeting and he gets out of the car, stops in the middle of the parking lot and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go back for something — I forgot my shoes,’ ” Williams added. “I thought, ‘OK, I can live with a guy like that.’ ”
Closer to home for Willful Wine Co.
Pam Walden, who recently increased production of her Willful project, was looking for a larger workspace closer to Portland, where she raises her two boys as a single parent.
“It was pretty simple. There was an advert in Wine Business looking for custom-crush clients,” she said. “This appeals to me for so many reasons. I’ll be able to see my wines more and my kids more.”
This year, the former television and film producer from Leicester, England, expects to crush 65 tons, and then there’s the negoçiant project that results in the red and wine offerings under her popular Jezebel label, a product of the erstwhile Daedalus Cellars project in Dundee, Ore.
“I should be around 4,500 cases,” she said. “I did about 71 tons at Laurel Ridge and 2 tons at Collective.”
She created Willful Wine Wine Co., in 2011 after divorcing well-known Willamette Valley winemaker Aron Hess and dissolving Daedalus — a brand they built together starting in 2000. Two years ago, Hess died at his home of an apparent drug overdose.
The move from Laurel Ridge in Carlton and the Southeast Wine Collective into Urban Crush will not only expose her to different winemaking styles, but Walden also will be the largest tenant. She does plan to grow again, but it might be five years before she’s ready to make the next big step, she said.
“At some point I want to move into my own place, but I can’t manage to do that now,” she said. “I’ve only been the winemaker for this business since 2011, and I’m just getting comfortable with that.”
Urban Crush also allows for every winery to offer and sample as many wines as they’d like to.
“At Southeast Wine Collective it was usually just a couple of wines,” Walden said.
A showcase for Jezebel and Willful
Space limitations it impossible to sample her large-scale Jezebel wines and her special, 100-case projects under her Willful brand on a regular basis.
“Jezebel, which is 3,000 cases of Pinot Noir, sells through distributors, but it’s fun to try out different things, and I’ve done that each year,” Walden said. “In 2012, I did Cabernet Franc. In 2013, I did Tempranillo, and last year, I did Merlot and a Walla Walla blend. This year, I’m going to do Viognier. You need something new to attract the eyeball of the customer, and it didn’t make sense to send those lots to a distributor.”
It’s been almost three years since her wines had a tasting room presence, so Walden said she looks forward to her shifts at the tasting bar.
“When I was in Dundee, I really enjoyed that because customers are the most important part of the process — the people buying my wine,” she said. “I hope my fans will come see us.”
Carl Giavanti says
Good reportage on this Eric! Thanks for coming down for the trade opening. Cheers, Carl