Food by VICE

Why Portland’s Best Natural Urban Winery Is Breaking Every Rule in the Book

All of Teutonic Wine Company's wines are sour-forward, light in tannins, very full-bodied, and will most likely knock your socks off, no matter if you are a beer or wine person. The urban winery is located in the middle of Portland, Oregon.

by Javier Cabral
Sep 20 2016, 11:00pm

All photos by Javier Cabral

All photos by Javier Cabral

All photos by Javier Cabral

Barnaby Tuttle of Teutonic Wine Company takes a "Spock approach" to making wine.

"I want to know the logical and rational explanation behind things," he says, "which means that I experiment a lot."

On a Friday afternoon in southeast Portland, just over the Willamette river, you might find him sitting on the customer side of his tiny wine bar disarming a carburetor for his wife's '62 Plymouth Valiant American muscle car over a piece of greasy cardboard. An amateur drag racer, she co-owns the urban winery with him, and his taste in cars is similar to Tuttle's style of making wine. "I like my wines the way I like my American muscle cars: understated and not your traditional 60s, testosterone-filled muscle car whose rider wears belt buckles—but still gets the job done with its speed and tighter corners."

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According to Tuttle, a lot of wine "tastes fucking boring" nowadays. As he tells me this, he flips Poison Idea's Choose Your King EP on the turntable and turns up the dial just a little bit.

He has had a deep obsession with German wines from the Mosel wine region for the last 14 years. It all started with a glass of Riesling when he was the wine buyer for Portland's Papa Haydn. He had worked his way up through the local restaurant industry to that position and was known for having the largest German wine list in the city until he embarked into winemaking in 2005. That was the year he quit the restaurant industry to put 2,000 vines into fallow, rocky, coastal farmland in Alsea, Oregon. There were no investors or any other kind of financial backers in sight, unless you count a few of his close friends he convinced to help him.

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All of Tuttle's wines are sour-forward, light in tannins, very full-bodied, and will most likely knock your socks off, no matter if you are a beer or wine person. If the flavors don't get you, then the aroma of the wines will. Some, like the white wine blend called "Recorded in Doubly," sporting a black label with a red outline of a hand making a devil horns gesture, smell like blossoming jasmine flowers.

Tuttle isn't completely comfortable with calling his wines "natural" because he fears that natural wines will become too similar to a religion. "The last thing I want is someone to come and tell me, 'Oh, your wines aren't natural because you don't do this.' Sure, I have a few wines that are a bit cloudy and funkier, but that just isn't my style."

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different_wine_yeast_coming_soon-1 Assorted tubs of wild yeast

Despite the fact that his wines are all naturally fermented, he has a love-hate relationship with science and how it comes into play when making wine. He hates the fact that some wine science textbooks try to tell you how to make one of the oldest beverages in all humankind but loves that he just got his yeast analyzation report back from the lab and that three out of four of the wild yeasts that he uses for his wines are virtually unclassified. (He proudly points to them through the glass wall that separates the wine bar from the winery in the small building.) Just two feet behind him, also on the other side of the window, are a couple of huge, clay amphora pots crafted in the ancient style that he is experimenting with, too.

"The mantra that covers most of our wines is: 'old, cold, high, dry, wood, and wild.' The objective with all of our wine is for our vines to have the deepest roots possible, so that they fully express the soil." Thus, every single one of his wines is made from dry-farmed, non-irrigated grapes from vines that are 30 years old or older. Still, he is the first to admit that his role as a winemaker "isn't important" because he "just guides the wines." He is also the first to catch himself being elitist toward any winemaking style, "It doesn't matter what your winemaking philosophy is, it is cool as long as it tastes good."

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Teutonic is a small winery whose space is limited by the quickly rising demand from out-of-state cannabis businesses, breweries, and developers that are bidding for a piece of urban Portland. Yet, as of right now, Teutonic Wine Company is producing roughly 6,000 cases of wine per year and it is available in 20 states and three Canadian provinces. And Tuttle is perfectly happy with making that amount of wine. He says he has absolutely no interest in expanding or opening up another location. Tuttle's only goal is for Teutonic Wine Company to become a local watering hole that is secretly a chill wine bar—and having some time to pursue a non-wine-based hobby again.

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Judging by the two young dudes casually sipping a whole bottle of rosé at 4 PM on Teutonic's patio—and the disassembled carburetor at the bar—he is well on his way to accomplishing those goals.