By Maria Anderson for Eugene Daily News
In the good old days before Prohibition, there was a great deal of wine made in warehouses in urban areas. In the 1960’s and 70’s, however, wineries and their consumers began wanting more pastoral, idyllic settings. But now urban wineries are back, and have been cropping up in warehouses from Brooklyn to Portland. I took a look at two urban wineries in Eugene founded over ten years ago, Territorial Vineyards and Eugene Wine Cellars, to learn more about how this kind of business gets started and who the people are behind the wine.
Alan Mitchell, one of four founders of Eugene’s Territorial Vineyards, first started working at a vineyard to pay for graduate school. He did some of his graduate studies in Austria and then wanted to return. Mitchell says,
“I didn’t want to start applying for my real job, so I did agricultural work.”
Instead of heading out into the “real world” of business and political culture, Mitchell decided to work at a vineyard for a few months before heading back to Austria. During that time he fell in love with the scene and the people. After Mitchell went to Europe one more time, he did not end up applying for the job for which he said he would come back to the States. He says,
“I never wore the suits I bought.”
Farming life can be challenging. It calls on those doing it to wear many hats. Mitchell knows this first hand now, as he manages vineyards, farms, and operates Territorial.
Forgoing the suit for the farm
Mitchell explains his change in professional interest:
“The people in the wine-making industry were a big part of it. They were, for the most part, wealthy. And instead of choosing more lucrative lifestyles, they chose instead to do this. These are passionate people, people who have a real love for what they are doing instead of those who have paycheck jobs.”
Territorial Vineyards was founded in 2001 by Jeff and Victoria Wilson-Charles and Alan and April Mitchell, with wines made by John Jarboe. Annual production is around 5,000 cases and takes place in a 12,000 square foot coffeehouse that the founders converted to a state-of-the-art wine-making facility. Mitchell is a fourth generation Oregonian and has lived in the Eugene area since 1988. Born in Portland, he lived in other parts of the country and spent time overseas before returning to Oregon. He now lives in Junction City on the farm.
Like other businesses, the founders have come across inherited difficulties running an urban winery. Mitchell states,
“The most challenging thing is selling the wine. With agriculture, there’s a million different ways you can lose it all. A small business is a dangerous thing, a challenge. Really it all boils down to selling the product and managing distribution.”
The economy has also crippled national wine sales. It takes significant work to keep sales up. Mitchell explains,
“We want more people clued into the value of what we do. We feel that our $20 wine will beat the $30 wine from other vineyards.”
With the struggle against the flood of cheap overseas or California wines, it can also be difficult to convince buyers of the benefits of more expensive, higher caliber wine. As Mitchell says,
“It’s going to be better for their lifestyles if they spend more and buy one of ours rather than three cheap bottles. It’s more money for less fluid ounces of product, but what you get is quality.”
In a city of few urban wineries, getting your name out there is another challenge:
“You always hope for more exposure. People come and tell us they didn’t realize we’re down here. It’s a constant battle to get your brand out there and to get established as a producer of quality, valued wines.”
There currently aren’t many wineries nearby in Eugene, and Mitchell believes more might increase awareness.
“There’s certainly the element of critical mass — it would be nice to have more wineries down here, because this place would become more of a destination.”
When asked about the taste difference between urban versus commercial wineries, Mitchell says,
“It’s all about how you grow it and how you get it done in the cellar. People assume if you’re an urban winery, you must be moving fruit farther. With Territorial, this isn’t the case. Territorial’s furthest trip is 25 miles.”
There are few wineries in the state where the wine is grown nearby, and their grapes are typically shipped larger distances. Territorial’s wines are sourced from Equinox Vineyard, Bellpine Vineyard, and Irish Bend Vineyards. Mitchell’s plans for the next few years are to keep doing more of what they’re doing, and to continue to grow the business and ride out this economy. He does not plan on introducing any new varietals. Mitchell explains,
“We’re in a shoulder-season with the weather, still transitioning into the fall. I like the crisp, clean white wines. The rosé is a great summer wine, very crisp and refreshing and dry. Or the bigger whites like the Chardonnay, more of a wintertime wine.”
Territorial’s winery is located in downtown Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood on 907 W. Third Avenue. The tasting room is open to the public for tastings, wines by the glass, and wine sales Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 5pm, with live music on Thursday and Friday nights. Territorial also hosts special events and gives off-hours tours and tastings by appointment. More information can be found on their website, www.territorialvineyards.com.
Eugene Wine Cellars
Eugene Wine Cellars is another urban winery which started up around the same time as Territorial. It is run by siblings Bruce and Beverly Biehl. Bruce owns a business called A.R.E.A. which manages vineyards. He brings over forty years of expertise to the table in growing practices and vineyard management. Over the years, he has developed over 140 vineyard operations in thirteen counties within Oregon.
Beverly and Bruce lived in Missoula, Montana before heading to Oregon, where they have lived for 45 years. Both graduated from Sheldon High School. Doyle Hinman (from Hinman Vineyards), once a teacher at Sheldon, got Bruce interested in vineyards and led him to study Agriculture Resource and Economics at Oregon State University. Beverly was a schoolteacher for thirty years. She now runs the office and the wine tastings.
The two teamed up to start Eugene Wine Cellars in 1999, and produce roughly 6,000 cases annually. Bruce continues to manage independent vineyards while also providing custom wine development services, private label wines, and bulk wine products.
Eugene Wine Cellars focuses on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, selecting its grapes from independent vineyards in the Willamette Valley. They also have a new blend label, Recess Red (Sangiovese and Merlot) and Recess White (Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Melon). In the next few years, Eugene Wine Cellars hopes to be able to sell a lot of wine — and to start selling in more states. Beverly says,
“We would also like to bring a tasting room back and produce more wine. We do custom-crush, for other peoples’ wines, also, so they bring their grapes in.”
Like Territorial, they hope to increase exposure and to continue to promote quality wine. Events or tastings are currently by appointment only. But Eugene Wine Cellars hopes to have a tasting room again in the future. Beverly explains,
“When we had a tasting room and events our winery got more exposure to the public.”
They do, however, have the swanky b² Wine Bar. The bar is located in Eugene’s Crescent Village at 2794 Shadow View Drive, and serves over 60 wines. The bar features Oregon wineries, but also has a full bar and food menu. You can check the schedule for movie nights, music, and other events on their website, www.b2winebar.com.
You can also purchase wines at the winery by appointment, which is located at 255 Madison Street. For more information, visit the Eugene Wine Cellars website at www.eugenewinecellars.com.