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