You Can Drink Rare Wine from around the World in a Northeast Portland Bunker

Hunting for your next bottle? Head underground to NE Alberta's Les Caves.

By Ramona DeNies November 20, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

1217 pour les caves xkjxre

Image: Michael Novak

Find the alley to the right of Courtesy Janitorial Service at NE Alberta and 17th; follow the cinderblock stairway down, around a rusty wine press, and past the impish face of Dionysus.

Under the bull’s head, duck into a bunker that feels like it dates to the Great War. (It does.) This is Les Caves (“lei CAHV”), a tasting room jointly run by Jeff Vejr, of Forest Grove’s Golden Cluster winery, and the owners of Newberg-based Ovum Wines. And yet there are few Oregon pinots in the house. Instead, find a Slovenian orange next to a Mosel Riesling, an Oloroso sherry opposite an Ovum gewürztraminer. Open just six months, Les Caves is both hyperlocal and deeply global, pouring wine for (at most) 18 people at a time.

Les Caves’ tiny size is by design: Vejr’s wine recommendations feel as personal as tarot readings (he was previously the wine guy at Holdfast); his grilled cheese assemblage, meticulous. Golden Cluster bottled only 37 cases of old vintage Flora this year; just enough to sell right here. That VIP feel has proven instantly popular with off-shift chefs and somms, from Le Pigeon owners to the line cooks at nearby Spanish spot Urdaneta. But the real surprise is that Les Caves, a freakin’ wine bar, is somehow becoming a neighborhood dive.

“We’re constantly shocked by how many locals pop down,” says Vejr. “We thought it might be just industry-heavy, truthfully.”

Not only are locals crowding the house, but they’re taking risks, too. Take the ever-changing “Winesman’s Pick.” One night, this blind pour was a glass of unctuous gold: all straw and sunshine, a wild blend of grenaches, Macabeu, and Carignan blanc from Roussillon winemaker (and native Oregonian) Carrie Sumner. The Winesman’s Pick, regardless of night, is also Les Caves’ surprise top seller. It’s a sign, Vejr says—proof that Oregon wine culture is eager for more than pinot.

Three Winesman’s Winter Picks from Jeff Vejr

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot nv Les Meuniers de Clemence Premier Cru, France
“This Champagne, made from 100 percent pinot meunier, is a stunner! Enjoy this with anyone and anything.” $75/bottle

Archil Guniava 2015 Kvaliti Otskhanuri-Sapere & Tsolikouri, Georgia
“Your portal to the ancient Georgian wine culture. A dense black cherry robe, covering concord grapes and exotic spices.” $12/glass

Kelley Fox Wines 2015 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir, Oregon
“The yin-yang of Oregon pinot noir. Sourced from one of my favorite vineyards made by one of my favorite people.” $15/glass

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