Kurt Heilemann of Davenport in Portland, OR on Nerello Mascalese vs Pinot Noir - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Kurt Heilemann of Davenport in Portland, OR on Nerello Mascalese vs Pinot Noir

When Davenport opened a couple of years ago in the Kerns neighborhood of Portland, it was, like most restaurants in Portland, locally sourced ingredients, sustainable and/or organic. GM Kurt Heilemann laughs about it: “In Portland, it’s like saying ‘yes, our car has wheels.’” But Heilemann’s wine approach is slightly out of the Willamette Valley orbit—and his clientele, many of whom are winemakers, often appreciate that.

Advantages of Age

With our wine program we take sort of a messy desk approach. It looks like chaos, but since I’m never not here, I’m the only one that can ever find anything. We sort of have three wine lists. There’s the normal list, there’s the one that’s up to date, and then there’s the one with all the stuff I sort of forgot to put on there. But our philosophy has always been driven by the fact that you shouldn’t be drinking current release. Should we be drinking ’13 premier cru Burgundy right now? No. The Bourgogne rouge, sure, those are the better wines to drink right now. But we try and buy stuff not to sell right away.

Oregon Eccentricities

Oregon is a funny market. We’re above California, below Washington, and we have our pinot thing. I think that affects the way we approach wine. Oh sure, we have clientele like big, rich round wines, the stuff from Walla Walla Valley. But in general California wine is not as successful here; it’s the stuff that gets closed out, or shipped back to California or to Chicago. So when it comes to the new blend trend in California, I think my customers would prefer a wine from the Languedoc, or a Côtes du Rhône. And when I ask my friends who are producers, ‘what do you drink when you go out? Do you drink OR wine?’ they say no;  that’s not what they want to drink at all.

On Chardonnay

People don’t drink chardonnay here, even when it’s good chardonnay. I’m more likely to sell a Ribiera Sacra white than chardonnay, they’re more willing to try whatever weird thing I put in front of them.

A Wider View

People are getting more and more used to finding what they like from different places. They say ‘I like pinot noir,’ for example, and they have a pretty good idea about what they like, but they’re not stuck on having be from this region or in this style of wine. You know, pinot noir equals nerello mascalese in some ways, or, if you like Bordeaux, you can get what you like in a super-Tuscan. I think people were previously a little more rigid, like, “I want Bordeaux and only Bordeaux, and it better be Margaux because I know Margaux is the best.” They’re more open to experimenting.

Most Successful New Wine

Confuron-Cotetidot Bourgogne Passetoutgrains. Partly because it’s bright and crisp and lively. And it’s Burgundy-ish. It’s like the worst house on the best street in the neighborhood. Also because it totally over-performs for what it is, like a redheaded stepchild of Burgundy that really works with food. And the price point definitely works.

Patrick J. Comiskey covers US wines for Wine & Spirits magazine, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, California’s Central Coast and New York’s Finger Lakes.