High desert welcomes Stoller and others
By Tamara Belgard
Marooned in the high desert of Central Oregon, the lively city of Bend is probably better known as a recreational playground and a source of delicious IPA than a hub for wine. But times are changing.
This winter, Stoller Wine Group, based outside Dayton, opened a satellite location in the heart of Bend’s Old Mill District. Steeped in history and industrial charm, the Stoller Wine Bar’s location in the Box Factory was built in 1914 and is now a center for food, drink and shopping.
The Stoller Wine Bar provides a unique opportunity to educate visitors on the entire Stoller portfolio, including sister brands Chehalem, Chemistry, Canned Oregon and History. Whether guests are looking for wine flights, wines by the glass or bottle, or cases to stock their personal cellars, more than 40 wines from Stoller’s family of labels are available to explore.
Why Bend? According to Gary Mortensen, president of Stoller Family Estate: “Bend is on fire right now with its hip energy, countless year-round outdoor activities and thriving culinary scene. A Bend location has been a dream of ours, and we are thrilled to see it finally come to life. The community is vibrant with an incredible food scene, many activities and rich culture of innovation.”
Steve Benson, Stoller Wine Bar’s director of consumer sales, regards his new role and the future of Bend: “I’ve been a fan of Stoller’s wines for years, and it’s exciting to join the family.”
He added, “Bend isn’t just a beer town anymore.”
Domaine Serene would agree, as the Dundee Hills winery has exciting plans to open a satellite tasting lounge in Bend this fall.
Element Bend ##Photo provided
Also fresh on the scene is Bend’s newest hotel, Element, located within walking distance to the city’s historic downtown and featuring a variety of attractive amenities.
The first Element Hotel by Westin to open in Oregon, it features spacious studios and homey one-bedroom suites outfitted with fully equipped kitchens, spa-inspired bathrooms and Westin’s “Heavenly” beds.
The hotel has a strong connection to Oregon wine. The Element is managed by Merete Hotel Management, whose president, Richard Boyles, along with his wife, Pamela Frye, are owners of Iris Vineyards, located in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Mountain Range at the southern edge of the Willamette Valley. Under the Iris label, they produce wines from their estate as well as a variety of exceptional ones from around the state. Their Areté label consists of 100% estate-grown wines: three still and three gorgeous sparklers.
Though Iris Vineyards and Areté’s official tasting room is in Eugene, Element Bend guests can also experience the wines, available for purchase in the lobby. Iris Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are also poured at Relax, Element Bend’s complimentary evening reception, Monday–Thursday.
Venture slightly out of town — just 12 miles from downtown — to discover Lava Terrace Cellars, featuring rows of lava rock-lined grape vines. Growing a selection of cold-hardy hybrid grapes, Lava Terrace, the first to be growing, producing and bottling wines in Bend-proper, released their first commercial vintage in 2019.
Owners Duane and Dina Barker are sustainably farming 5.5 acres on the northern edge of Bend. They originally planted a mere 50 hybrid vines as a test in 2012 in the hopes of growing their own wines on their farm. They now have almost 5,000 vines. At 3,440 feet, the property sits on lava beds with merely inches of soil on top. Trellises are either cemented directly into the bedrock or supported by dramatic lava rock pillars. Its rocky, rugged nature feels reminiscent of Europe.
The Barkers originally intended to grow Pinot Noir, but they discovered hybrid grapes like Marechal Foch, Marquette, Brianna, La Crescent and their newest planting, Crimson Pearl, perform much better at their high-altitude, cold-climate location. They abandoned their quest for Pinot — though there are still a few vines lingering on the site — and, instead, are focused on varieties that will actually thrive on their land. Duane says, “Once we figured out what grapes would do well here, and they do crazy well, we knew we had good terroir.”
“Lava Terrace is trying to reach people who want to have different experiences and taste different wines,” Dina explained. The couple is excited about people who want to break the mold and taste something they can’t taste anywhere else. The wines, made by Kirk Ermisch, owner of Elixir Wine Group in Bend, are clean, fruit-forward and varietally expressive.
Lava Terrace is in the process of constructing a new tasting room where the Barkers can host guests in a small, intimate setting. Their opening date has not been announced, but news is available through their website, newsletter and social media.