Adjusting to the New Normal with Cellar 503

This past year for obvious reasons, many consumers have increasingly turned to the internet to purchase items that normally would have been acquired on premise. From milk to Mercedes, online commerce has certainly seen a boost during the pandemic.

This, of course, includes wine. The dramatic decrease in restaurant consumption of wines also played a role as previously frequent diners are now consuming at home the wines they once drank out on the town.

While I could not find the statistics online, I imagine that one distinct area that has benefitted from this switch in consumer wine purchases has been the wine club. My anecdotal evidence does support this as I have been contacted by a number of such services over the past few months, no doubt hoping to capitalize on my mind-blowing popularity (I hope you noticed the sarcasm there, mom).

One such outfit that really piqued my interest this past month was Cellar 503, a wine club that focuses only on small producers from the state of Oregon. Due to the dominance (and marketing chutzpah) of the Willamette Valley, many wine consumers think a singular thought upon hearing “Oregon Wine.”

Pinot Noir.

While it is true that many of this country’s best Pinot comes from north of the 33rd parallel, the 33rd state admitted to the union produces a wide swath of wines from across the state. I visited the Southern Oregon AVA a few years ago and I was amazed at the diversity of varieties produced (Troon Vineyard, one of my favorite producers in the AVA is one of the wineries associated with Cellar 503). There is also the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley (including Walla Walla), both shared with Washington, and the Snake River AVA, shared with Idaho.

The premiss is rather straightforward, Carrie Wynkoop, the Owner of Cellar 503 (“503” is Portland’s area code), selects four Oregon wines (two whites, two reds) from nearly 200 small producers (I could not find on the website what qualifies as “small”) usually around some sort of theme. Then, when one signs up for a membership, they opt for either the two reds, the two whites, or one of each (one could also opt for a four-bottle membership, which I presume would entail all four wines or a doubling of the reds/whites).

The cost for each shipment is between $45-55 and there is a flat-rate shipping charge of $20 for the continental U.S. (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii, you have to pay $50 for shipping). Surprisingly, given the myriad (and screwed up) state liquor laws, there are only seven states that are excluded: Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania (of course), New York, Utah, and Vermont.

I am not (at least currently) a member and can not speak with any type of authority as to the level of customer service that Cellar 503 provides. But. It does appear (after an extended amount of research on their site) that they have their “stuff” together, and they have been doing this for just over six years now, so that must count for something.

2018 Minimus Wines Kerner Johan Vineyard, Van Duzer Corridor, OR: Retail $32. Non-Diam agglomerated closure. 100% Kerner. Cellar 503 Selection. Johan Vineyard. B.A.B. There is a ton to get to in this note. First, when I saw it was a Kerner, a German variety that is a cross between Riesling and Trollinger (a German red grape) known for its hardiness, I knew it had to come from Johan Vineyard. The people at Johan are both fantastic and slightly nuts, so they are always planting crazy stuff like Kerner–as far as I know it is still the only Kerner grown in the state of Oregon. Second, I received this wine from Cellar 503, an Oregon-focused wine club that seems to have some really stellar wines and a straight-forward business model. Third, Kerner is a wine geek’s wet dream, of sorts, and this iteration of the variety checks all the boxes. A cloudy golden straw color in the glass (more straw than golden for those that are interested in that) and quite aromatic, with notes of lemon curd, spice (clove, cinnamon, and white pepper), and even a bit nutty. I have had a few Kerners now and this falls in line with the others: I would not call it “fruity” but there is fruit (some citrus), nor would I refer to it as “spicy” but spice plays a significant role. It’s a full, somewhat round, and delicious wine that one needs to experience as a wine geek. Outstanding. 92 Points.

2017 Anchor Valley Primitivo, Rogue Valley, OR: Retail $33. A Cellar 503 selection. Just a few years ago, many people claimed that Primitivo (a grape variety from Italy) and Zinfandel (often described as “the” American Wine Grape) were actually one and the same. The truth is, while they are certainly closely related, they are not entirely the same. (My first lesson in this tidbit came from Barry Collier of Collier Falls, in Dry Creek Valley, who planted the two varieties side-by-side to show the differences). More proof came from Anchor Valley Winery in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon (and via Cellar 503). Sure, there are plenty of similarities between this Primitivo and a Zinfandel as it is fruity (ripe red and black berry fruit), rich, and full (14.5% ABV). But it is also quite earthy and perhaps (slightly) more tannic (although soft and integrated) than a “typical” Zin. In short, it’s wonderful. Outstanding. 91 Points.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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