Bruce Biehl, the owner of Eugene Wine Cellars (EWC), once dreamed of being a cowboy. He became a winemaker instead. With a soft spot for European wine culture, influenced both by his travels and a brother who makes wine in southern France, Biehl brought the first “urban winery” to Eugene in 1999. It was a family effort, with Biehl siblings Beverly and Brad, which made EWC the first licensed winery within city limits.
Biehl decided to close the winery tasting room for a few years in the late aughts, but in May 2013, EWC reopened the tasting room at their winery in the Whiteaker, making it possible to process and serve their wine under the same roof. Wednesday through Saturday evenings from 4 to 8 pm, Eugeneans visit for a chilled glass accompanied by a familiar where-everybody-knows-your-name kind of ambience. From time to time a music group performs in the back warehouse and the customers can wander, glass in hand, among the barrels and equipment.
EWC sources its fruit from 23 different growers in the Willamette Valley, including a family-owned vineyard. They process about 6,000 cases a year of the EWC=b²+Recess brand. The b² label represents the two Biehl brothers, while Recess pays tribute to their parents and sister’s work as schoolteachers. To simplify the equation, “It’s inexpensive wine that’s good, that’s what it equals,” Biehl says.
The sharp but sweet scent of wine is everywhere, saturating the senses so that you can imagine the taste as it slides over the tongue and leaves a pleasant warming sensation rising in the throat and lingering on the palate.
If you’re new to the wine scene, Biehl recommends a pinot gris, a simple white wine that’s easy to drink and enjoy. Or if you’re having a meal, he suggests one of their Recess label’s red or white blends. “You don’t have to sit there and think about it; it’s just a part of your meal or your conversation or your day,” Biehl says.
However, if you ask what he’s drinking, it will most likely be his favorite — the pinot noir. “I liked the pinot noir from the very beginning, but I did not realize that it was a love-hate relationship,” Biehl says. “It is a grape that is very frustrating to grow, it’s a wine that is very difficult to make and when you come out with something nice — you are very rewarded. So I compare pinot noir to a woman,” he laughs.
As a young adult, Biehl worked on his grandparents’ ranch in central Montana. When he returned to Oregon and told his parents he wanted to be a cowboy, they simply said no. Two months later Biehl became a grape grower. “On a nice summer day, early fall, you can’t go wrong with starting with a pinot gris and vegetables and fruit, some cheese, then open a red wine with some barbecue and fish,” Biehl says. In 1978, at just 20 years old, he was already smitten with the wine industry.
While the Whiteaker location was not a deciding factor for this urban winery, Biehl likes the neighborhood, especially how it has grown over the past 10 years with the “fermentation district” emerging, drawing both tourists and locals alike. “I would say Eugene is a liberal arts city that likes to drink beer and watch football,” he says, “but there’s a wine culture here as well and it’s vibrant.” F
Visit Eugene Wine Cellars at the Tasting Room, 255 Madison St. in the Whiteaker, The B² Wine Bar, 2794 Shadow View Dr. in Crescent Village, or the B² Coffee Haus, 1986 NW Pettygrove St. in Portland.