Fausse Piste is a winery making wine in the middle of Portland. Urban wineries used to be the model in France long time ago in all the French provinces, but most emigrated outside to the open spaces around villages and cities; just think of Beaune where there used to be dozens of wineries and where only 2 wineries remain today downtown, Philippe Pacalet and Fanny Sabre (but I heard months ago Fanny was selling). In the United States there seems to be a growing movement of urban wineries, a phenomenon which may be rooted in the fact that many people here began to make wine in their basement.
But here to make our matter a bit more complicated, the Fausse Piste winery is set behind the back doors of a natural-wine bar named Sauvage, a hot spot for Portland's real-wine amateurs. Jessie Skiles (on left) is the man behind this double adventure, and his love for Syrah and Viognier led him to first work in Owen Roe winery in Oregon, which opened the way for making his own wines. It's not usual to sit at the counter of a wine bar and catch sight of a large wooden foudre in the background like on this picture, and I wouldn't have guessed that I'd experience that for the first time in Portland, Oregon.....
And for yet another layer of complexity in this intricate web of relationships, one of the associates, Jeff Vejr, (at right on the picture) uses the place as a front door for his wine importation business, drinkSNOB, and all the foreign wines here come through his channel... The two other people on the picture are Molly Madden and Seth Morgen Long who seem to be both into wine.
Jesse began making small volumes of wine like 200 cases, from Syrah and Viognier and found his customers by word of mouth, his clients and restaurant experience helping spread the news I guess. Not too many people were working with those two varietals at the time in Portland, and he helped familiarize the wine amateurs here with these Rhone style wines. The first home of his winery was Saint Paul in the Willamette valley and he moved the facility into this former water services office building a couple years ago, renovating it so that he could after a few months open this wine venue, Sauvage. Sauvage means wild in French, it's a word you don't use like in "wild yeast" but more about the wild aromas (can be in the good sense) and nose of a wine (natural wine can have this exciting sauvage nose that is full of expectations (at least for me). The winery name, Fausse Piste, means wrong track or also wrong lead (when speaking about an investigation).
Speaking about the move to Portland, Jesse Skiles says that actually moving to Portland put him much closer to the vineyard than he used to be when the winery was in Saint Paul, and visiting his sourced vineyards in Washington State is easier. He works with 8 farms for the grapes.
Jeff also makes wine, he made a cuvée in France last year as well as one in Spain.
I have tasted a couple of great wines from Jeff's imports :
__ Tursan AOC "Les Pentes de Barène" 2011, Baroque variety 45 %, plus gros manseng, sauvignon blanc, petit manseng. The vineyard surface of this estate is only 4 hectares.
__ Montocino Superiore, cuvée La Quercia 2012, Abruzzo. Made from 200-year-old Carignan vines through carbonic maceration.
Jeff tells me also about the picking mode here for the grapes, as we are speaking of the grenache. Jesse and Chris decide but they're very interested in picking proper ripeness in the vineyard so that they don't have anything to do in the cellar. So they pick for acid, they pick for longevity. Other vintners usually want more brix levels than they do, they want more ripeness. There's never problem with ripeness in Washington State, the problem is acid, and getting the right balance is tough, especially for the reds (for the white it's pretty easy, he says). That's why the picking window is relatively short for proper natural acidity and the brix level. Other wineries think they're crazy when they see them picking much earlier than them.They're most in the mindset that the wine is made in the winery [through corrections], not in the vineyard, this is the dominant mentality here. Then, there's the style of wine in question. The Syrah and white wines at Fausse Piste are very different from what's being made in Washington State and Estern Oregon [a hot climate region too], with a few exceptions of course.
Katy also set up a separate business, Coquine, where she does some chef-for-hire and catering for businesses or private parties (like on this picture I guess), working also for example for wineries when they have an event, and designing meals that are adapted so that the food pairs with the wines. She usually prepares the food partly in advance using seasonal products and she brings her 4 Weber barbecues with her on the event grounds.
Her impressive bio states that she worked 5 years in France with renowned chefs like Guy Savoy, Michel Troisgros, Phillippe Labbé and Didier Aniès, and back in the States she worked in San Francisco at Coi, then at Plum, these experiences bringing her closer than ever to opening her own restaurant.
Jesse skiles says that he got no training but learned on the job, exchanging experience tips with friends. At the beginning his winemaking was more conventional using cultivated yeast and doing a "clean" winemaking while now they're doing more Old-World winemaking with lots of whole-clustered vinifications, no additions except for a small SO2. They lenghthened their fermentation times. They don't have really temperature control and the wines do their work by themselves. the fermentation usually takes 30 days, so they don't need to cool the fermentations. They don't crush, they do some pigeage after 3 or 4 days, adding some CO2 and giving time for some quiet maceration. The fermentation starts then slowly on its own yeast, taking something like a week. For the white, they press the grapes and don't do anything, don't add any sulfur either. The viognier ferments in different containers, a 500-liter acacia barrel, a concrete egg (Nomblot), stainless steel and older oak, and they combine the whole. For Roussanne they use an old big oval 1000-liter foudre (large barrel).
The space is a big tight for all of Fausse Piste tools and cellaring containers but there's enough room for all the casks. They have the equivalent of 500 cases right now doing its élevage in casks. They do routinely 3 years of élevage for the Syrah wine from Walla Walla. They work with small wine farm, selecting unique sites or vineyards located in slightly different type of soils, so that the wines express differently. In Washington State all the vineyards are irrigated in the area (there's only 6 inches or rain yearly) where they source, so thay haven't the choice on that issue. They make a little bit of Pinot Noir and they source it from Oregon (McMinnville and Amity Hills), and it's dry farmed, it's a little warmer than Dundee Hills and it brings more tropical flavors in the wines. tHey tend to work with farmers who don't use pesticides on their vineyard, but there is no absolute rule here. Three of them are organic, and Washington is so dry that they don't really need to spray, or maybe once a year.
The large-capacity foudre (50 hectoliters) in the background is 18 years old and they purchased it last year from Seguin Moreau (the cooperage). They took it apart, refinished it and reassembled it before shipping it here, ready I guess for a few more dozen years of service. That's where they had a cuvée of rosé and they'll put in there the cuvée Garde Manger.
The smaller foudre makes 600 liters, it comes also from Seguin Moreau and it holds the roussanne right now. The reds spend time in neutral wood (most casks are over 5 years old) and for most of the wines, élevage time goes from 12 months to 24 months. The Syrah sourced from River Rock Vineyard in Walla Walla is the only wine that sees new oak.
For the bottling, they use an Italian 4-spout gravity filler (pic on left). They just filter the whites.
They work with grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, viognier, roussanne, a little bit of cab franc, of pinot noir and of sauvignon blanc. This is the blending season in early july and Chris has been blending 900 liters of sauvignon blanc recently as well as the viognier, which was in the Nomblot egg tank as well as in acacia barrels and which he racked into a milk-type stainless-steel tank (pic on right).
The Mueller vat above is not full, so he uses argon to protect the viognier wine from oxidation. We taste the wine :
__ Fausse Piste Viognier 2012. Some turbidity. They took the leesx away last week. Very nice wine, even though the tasting temperature is a bit high. Very easy drink. Made from grapes sourced at Outlook vineyard in the Yakima valley. It's owned by Owen Roe who takes most of the other grapes there. 50 % of Fausse Piste grapes come from that grower. Chris says that compared to Walla Walla, Yakima yields wines that are more pretty, more subtle, and not as rich or big.