Carrie Wynkoop wants Cellar 503 to promote industry

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF CARRIE WYNKOOP - Wine club Cellar 503 supports Oregon wineries, as well as the states grape growers. Its just more true to what Oregon is, founder Carrie Wynkoop says.Carrie Wynkoop knows about a former firefighter in Medford who decided to become a winemaker.

In a part of town that actually is the “middle of nowhere,” she says, he planted his own grapes, built his own winery, makes his own wine and sells it in his tasting room and at one local restaurant.

The winery — LaBrasseur Vineyard in Eagle Point —produces a rosé pinot noir that’s unusual for its region and “just delicious,” Wynkoop says.

Which to her, makes it a perfect wine to feature in her new curated Oregon-only wine club, Cellar 503.

“There’s great wine being made all over the state that is not just pinot,” says Wynkoop, 37, a Northeast Portland mom and business owner who started the wine club in November. “We focus on the small places without huge distribution.”

Specifically, her club — which has attracted about 50 members in three months — features wineries that produce less than 10,000 cases each year.

That means the big grocery store labels aren’t likely to be among the two bottles sent to members every month.

For $50 per month plus shipping, members sign up for two bottles of red, two bottles of white, or one of each.

Wynkoop includes her own tasting notes and detailed stories about the winemakers, careful to stay away from bizarre taste descriptors like having the aroma of pencil shavings or plastic shower curtains.

“We try to make them brief and approachable,” she says, noting that she also wanted to keep the price point down so Oregon wines can be accessible to all.

With two-thirds of its members from Oregon, the club’s local focus appeals to those who “like Oregon wine but have no time or energy to do the research,” she says. “They value the exploration.”

She does the legwork for them — exploring the up-and-coming Southern Oregon wine scene, finding an obscure winery in Bend that pushes the boundaries with its styles, and discovering a Reisling that is drinkable and “bone dry,” not syrupy sweet.

In her December shipment, Wynkoop included that Rallison Reisling from Sherwood with a note that said “You must this!” she says.

“I don’t expect that everyone will love it. Just that they’ll try every bottle. Trying stuff you don’t like will help you figure out what you do like.”

Solo employee

At Oso Market for lunch one day, Wynkoop scans the wine list and finds an Oregon wine she hasn’t heard of before.

At $10 per glass or $28 per bottle, it’s Matzinger Davies Sauvignon Blanc 2013, from the Columbia Gorge.

“It’s grassy, light and crisp,” Wynkoop says. “Good for lunch.”

Originally from Olympia, Wash., Wynkoop studied international affairs at Lewis & Clark and got her first job in wine before she was of legal drinking age, as a wine seller at CostPlus.

While this month’s focus is on Valentine’s Day, March’s theme is urban winemakers; April is biodynamic and organic wines, and May is all about women winemakers, in celebration of Mother’s Day.

In their first year, her club will be using a strict definition of “Oregon wine” — those that not just locate their winery in Oregon but also produce their grapes in Oregon.

Strict federal standards require all wines to label where their grapes are from.

However, many Oregon wineries source their warm-weather grapes from Washington or elsewhere when making tempranillo or syrah, because they’re cheaper or because it’s easier to get to the Gorge than Southern or Eastern Oregon, where those grapes are also grown.

After Cellar 503 has been around for a while, Wynkoop says, she’ll have a conversation with her members about the “What is made-in-Oregon” question, and use it as a learning opportunity.

By sticking with Oregon-grown grapes for now, “It’s just more true to what Oregon is,” Wynkoop says. “We’re doing such amazing things; we should be celebrating and sharing it.”

Not for snobs

As oenophiles know, there’s no lack of Oregon wine clubs. Yet none take on the mission of Cellar 503 exactly, Wynkoop says.

The Made in Oregon Wine Club focuses on well-known producers; the Oregon Wine Merchants’ Founders Club ships both Oregon and Washington wines; the Oregon Pinot Noir Club specializes in pinots; and the Backroads Wine Club — an offshoot a private wine tour organizer — offers rare, boutique Oregon wine but at half-case or full-case quantities, at higher cost.

Wynkoop says she wanted to make it as easy as possible for anyone to play. “This is not a wine club for snobs — just for people who want to learn something and enjoy,” she says.

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