At one Portland wine shop, the best bottle just might be your custom blend

Cynthia Nims,  – September 24, 2004

The last time I conducted experiments using beakers was inthird-period high school chemistry class. A recent visit to UrbanWineworks in northwest Portland took me back to those vanished days- though this grown-up chemistry lesson yielded far more enjoyableresults than anything I ever did for Mr. Campbell. Part wineappreciation and part science experiment, weekly workshops at thiswinery and tasting room make for tasty lab work indeed, as you usea kit to mix, measure, and sip your way to your own idealblend.

The kits help to demystify wine too. “Historically, wine hasbeen so inaccessible,” says Reuel Fish, one of the owners ofWineworks and also a principal of Bishop Creek Cellars in YamhillCounty, just south of Portland. “The blending kit idea is abouteducation. It gives us a chance to offer something different whilegiving customers a firsthand experience with winemaking.”

Becoming a master mixer

You can show up at Wineworks anytime and order a blending kitfor a do-it-yourself experience, but you’ll probably have the mostfun at Tuesday-night workshops. These classes, which are usuallyled by assistant winemaker Michelle Franklin, offer step-by-stepguidance, plus the chance to share notes and tastes with fellowclassmates.

You start out with three short beakers, each with 100 ml. (about3 1/2 oz.) of a different varietal. A tall, graduated measureserves as your blending vessel, and three glasses allow you totaste a few concoctions side by side. Franklin encourages you tobegin by tasting the three blending wines separately, making noteof their distinctive flavors – fruity, earthy, floral, spicy – aswell as tannin levels, aftertaste, and so on. Next, you play thewines off each other in 50/50 blends.

From there, it’s up to you. Mix the wines in various proportionsto compare and contrast, playing winemaker to suit just one palate:yours. You can even share your private cuvée with family andfriends by taking home a bottle.

Urban Wineworks is worth a visit for other reasons as well. Theconverted building, once home to Portland Tool & Supply, nowsports flooring milled from salvaged barrel staves. And its wallsare lined with barrels, many of which are capped with originalartwork by local artists (special tastings on the first Thursday ofevery month feature the unveiling of a new painted barrel).

In addition, customers can purchase a diverse collection ofboutique Oregon wines – from wineries such as Bishop Creek Cellars,Andrew Rich Winery, and Brooks Winery – seldom available in retailstores.

Where to try winemaking

WHERE: Urban Wineworks, 407 N.W. 16th Ave., Portland; (503) 226-9797.

WHEN: General hours are noon-8:30 p.m. Mon-Sat, noon-6 p.m.Sun. Blending classes start at 6:30 p.m. Tue (reservationsrecommended).

COST: Classes cost $25, which includes a bottle or carafe ofyour custom blend. Blending kits can be purchased separately for$7.

Keep Reading: