Heading south through Oregon wine country on Route 47, just past Beverly Cleary’s hometown, there’s a sign that feels like a mirage pulled from our collective Norman Rockwell unconscious. It reads “Carlton: A Great Little Town,” but it doesn’t spotlight what visitors might expect—a bottle of red or a nod to Cleary, maybe. Instead, it features an illustrated silhouette of Pine Street, just off downtown Carlton’s main drag. Low-rise brick buildings flank a towering white centerpiece: the city’s iconic grain elevator, more than a century old.
“I started working there in 1950,” says Bob Nistler, now 86. Nistler commuted to Carlton from McMinnville throughout high school, prepping literal tons of grain for storage and distribution at the elevator. When his boss died in 1979, Nistler took over operations, and he remained in charge until the elevator shuttered in 2003. Since then, it’s changed hands twice. The first time to Willamette Valley wine giant Ken Wright; then, in 2013, to Flâneur Wines founder Marty Doerschlag.
“My wife and I were driving around Carlton, and we turned the corner to the grain elevator, and she was like, ‘What’s that?’,” Doerschlag, a D.C. native, remembers of an early Flâneur scouting trip. “I said, ‘It’s a grain elevator, it’s empty right now.’ And she said, ‘That’s all you.’”
Doerschlag bought it from Wright for $300,000 in a handshake deal, under the condition that he not tear the building down or change the facade. Now, after nearly six years of restoration (including a hazmat-clad clear-out of dust-caked grain bins coordinated by ropes course professionals), Flâneur will open a “tasting room and hospitality space” in the local landmark on September 7th.
In all, the 2,500 square foot interior will seat about 100 people in a sleek tasting room straight from Doerschlag’s patchwork imagination. Large brown pulleys, once used to hoist grain 90 feet in the air, have become glittering chandeliers. The outdoor patio is floored with terra-cotta tiling from Burgundy; the floors inside are repurposed wood from a nearby storage warehouse. And then there’s the bar top that would beat most of us in a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: it’s a marble slab from Independence Mall in Philadelphia, laid by Bacon’s father Edmund in the late ’70s when he was Philly’s city planner.
“My hope is that when people go into [the elevator], they get some sense of history,” Doerschlag says. “When a building sits and doesn’t get used, it starts to fall apart and become sort of sad.”
Since it started bottling in 2013, Flâneur has drawn local acclaim for (surprise) its pinot noirs, which it sources from two vineyards about six miles outside of Carlton. Until now, though, oenophiles looking to try a glass have had limited options: a mid-sized tasting room at Flâneur’s Newberg vineyard or a tiny one downtown Carlton. The grain elevator aims to change that, and to help the winery expand into private events—there’s a commercial kitchen on site, and there are plans to turn an upstairs loft into a Multnomah Whiskey Library-inspired speakeasy.
“Oregonians, to me, are live and let live,” Doerschlag says, noting a lack of push-back from Carlton locals. When he tore down a storage building on the property due to fire concerns, there was some light Facebook panic, but he and his team maintain that it’s been smooth sailing ever since residents have been clued in on the full vision.
Nistler, for one, is excited. “The main thing is, it’s gonna stay agriculture,” he says, pleased that Doerschlag and company are swapping grain for grapes instead of pivoting to a whole new industry. Still, did he ever dream that the elevator—where each of his five children and two of his grandchildren have worked—would become a Kevin Bacon-adjacent wine palace? “Hmm. I’m not much of an imaginator.”
After a long pause, he conjures a night in 1995 when the whole structure almost went up in smoke. He was a volunteer firefighter at the time, and around 3 a.m., a call came through: local community center The Log Cabin (actually a two-story brick structure) was burning barely 50 feet from the elevator. Nistler stirred, drew the curtain, and watched flames dance in the distance, unsure if they’d claimed his workplace-slash-heirloom. “There was no wind that night,” Nistler says, still lightly astonished at the building’s survival two decades on.
He plans to attend Flâneur’s opening reception on September 7th, nearly 70 years after his first shift. Leave the imagination—the French floors and high ceilings hung with industrial bric-a-brac—to Doerschlag, then. Nistler’s specialty is sticking around.