Certainly the best parts of working in the Oregon wine industry—any industry, really—are the friends you meet along the way and watching their stars rise. Such has been the case with John Grochau, whom I met on a sunny spring afternoon in 2007 at a street side table in Downtown Portland. I was tasting wines for my restaurant and John stopped by with his—on his way to work at Higgins restaurant. Such is the knitting of this place.
A couple of years after that we were "room mates" at the tasting room of the Portland Wine Project, which was the home of Grochau Cellars and Boedecker Cellars wineries. Less than a year after that, both parties had outgrown the space for two and John moved his operation to McMinnville. Three years after that, he’s taken over the former digs of Brooks, soon to be reviewed for American Winery Guide.
Jai and I caught up to him at recently at The Hop & Vine, on North Killingsworth, where he was pouring some of his wares; both previous and current releases. We were a little cold and wet when we walked in, so being greeted with his 2013 Gamay Noir put us in the Thanksgiving spirit. John ferments this one with 30% whole clusters, then ages in mostly neutral—and no new—oak, to get a dusty, briary berry nose. The acid was a little high but certainly not a “winking” level, and that’s going to settle down a little more through the holidays. It’s a very food-ready wine, full of raspberry and strawberry flavors. Beaujolais Nouveau comes out around Thanksgiving and I always look forward to it. But when we can have this, there seems little room for it on our table.
One of my favorite Oregon vintages is 2010 and Grochau Cellars Cuvée des Amis was showing beautifully that night. There was an intense dried fruit nose, bright red raspberry and cherry flavors. Still plenty of food friendly acid to make a meal with it. This wine could finally win over your in-laws.
Last in the flight was the 2012 Tinto, a Spanish style blend of Syrah and Tempranillo. I’ve always enjoyed the rich, intense, dark fruit flavors and aromatics of this wine. This one seemed softer than I remembered it, but that’s probably because he’d always poured it for me pre-release. The black cherry, black plum and currant flavors are really ripe and luscious. I found myself looking forward to winter and cozy evenings with this wine… and was jolted out of my reverie when John asked if I wanted to revisit any of them. I went back for the Gamay, my favorite of the night. It’s that balance of a fooder with a slant toward a cocktail wine that makes for a great dinner party. And it’s a good value for your money, so you won’t feel bad about buying two or three.
Good times, good friends, and great wine. Of course, it runs even deeper than that: we’ve run into each other at Bob Mould concerts for years. But that’s another story that needs a glass of wine and a record for the telling.