Story Of The Vine: Portland’s Division Wines Unites Oregon’s Best, Global Wine

Author’s note: Originally, I sought to work in the wine business. My parents encouraged the enjoyment of wine at the table and in our deep European travel in the 60s and 70s. This eventually evolved to a career in the culinary arts. Writing about wine, tasting wine, wine travel and, of course, the study of culture through wine became a career. As a former trained chef who started at the very bottom— the dish sink, wine appreciation is a wonderful way to teach the palate (and the mind) about the best things in life. Culturally, wine is part of our civilization. We learn to follow the drinking of wine and history is written shortly thereafter. Soon, the creation and the documentation of cocktails became another passion of mine, but in life, I believe that things happen for a reason. A lifetime of tasting wine has offered me knowledge, making it easier to enjoy small-producer, hand-crafted organic and biodynamic wines— my favorites! These are the ones that almost always grace the dinner table because they go so well with the kinds of foods I prepare, from scratch with love. For me, wine is the art that inspires memories and deepens relationships. A special bottle of wine shared between friends makes for experiences that never end. Every sip in the future reminds one of the past. It’s just that easy!

Photo credit: Sam Gehrke

Pouring a glass of wine at Division Wines’ wine bar.

 

When owners Will and Danyelle Prouty first opened Division Wines in 2011 on Portland’s Division Street, they did so with the intention of creating a small wine store they believed would add value to their neighborhood. After all, the shop would be a mere 12 blocks from their home of 23 years, where they currently raise two teenage boys and their accompanying two cats, an anecdote mirrored on the Division Wines website. Danyelle and Will have 30 and 35 years experience, respectively, in the restaurant business–Will, positioned at downtown Portland’s South Park for the past 19 years, running their esteemed wine program for the most recent 13. As time beckoned for the couple to venture out on their own, the wine business was a natural segue. With eCommerce and big box stores ruling retail, they sought to create a neighborhood place where people know who you are and remember what you like to drink, a spot people can trust while exploring wines from around the world.

“What first attracted me to wine over 30 years ago still defines the shop today. Wine is connected to everything around it. Wine is farming, science, politics, religion, history, ambition, ego, grace, beauty, calamity, and more,” Will shares. Speaking with him for just a few moments, it becomes obvious why Will sees wine in everything. “The story of the vine is the story of the human experience. It needs to struggle a little to find true expression. Too much stress and it could break. Not enough, and it grapples with finding character. This journey defines me, and it defines our humble shop,” he says.

In the six years since opening, the shop’s stretch of Division Street has transformed into Portland’s bustling “restaurant row” with culinary institutions like Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok, Ava Gene’s, Bollywood Theater, even Oprah’s favorite Salt & Straw, just a few paces away. Along with Division Street’s growth, Division Wines endured a quiet transformation from neighborhood wine shop to destination wine bar. As several months ticked by between February and May 2016, neighborhood residents–both stopping in for a bottle or simply walking by–saw the couple painting, sanding, and sawing while unwrapping the interior, reclaiming the near century old building that houses their space. Chiseling away to salvage beautiful grey exposed brick and wood column work, in their words, “paying homage to the men who first built this place,” the two took aim at cozy seating and romantic ambiance steered by a trademark Gobi horseshoe Oregon- sourced black walnut bar, all engulfed by floor to ceiling windows overlooking the intersection of Division Street and 35th where neighbors Cibo and SE Wine Collective entertain guests as sunsets hover over Portland’s West Hills. This city’s Willamette Valley surroundings–flanked by Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla, Snake River, and Southern Oregon AVAs–boast an incredible range of winemakers competing on the regional and international stage. The Willamette Valley region alone claims nearly 500 winemakers and over 600 unique labels, counting both vintage rural and new urban wineries. And that’s just Oregon. Counting French, Italian, Australian, Austrian, Spanish, even rare Georgian and gem wines from near, far, and in-between, Will and Danyelle’s Division Wines has rooted itself as a hub in the global viticultural landscape.

While the new bar serves up perfectly simple pairings–local cheese, bread, charcuterie, and other nosh synonymous with a relaxing glass or two–regular tasting events, both announced and completely impromptu add to the Division Wines design. Regional and international guests regularly pass through–the mythical Yeti-like local importer of French and Spanish wines Phil Smith, Nicola Agramante of Ruggeri Corsini from the Piedmont, Andrea Bonivento from Felsina in Chianti, Lorenzo Palla of Loredan Gasparini from the Veneto, and locals Ranger Chocolate paired with dessert wines–are just a few who have helped illuminate festive, intimate evenings meeting and drinking from the more thoughtful, expressive indie-winemakers around the globe.

Yet, the winemakers, producers, Will, Danyelle, and staff themselves, are simply one part of a much larger equation. Every wine in the Division Wines 800-plus bottle catalog is a natural wine made using sustainable practices. Nearly 90 percent of the wines are made from grapes grown with organic or biodynamic processes. At least half the wines are produced from native yeast. And if the Division Wines crew doesn’t know the winemaker personally, their importer does. It’s this attention to the world around–being conscientious, supporting good in the world, and giving back–that powers the collective Division Wines mission. On third Thursdays, Division Wines donates 10 percent of sales to a cause. Each month’s cause is picked by staff or via customer suggestion.     

This article originally appeared here via Google News