The Wine Route

Kevin Chambers didn’t have any plans to become a vintner—but his insatiable curiosity and love of adventure led him down the path to cutting-edge wine making

Some pairings are undeniable: wine and cheese, rain and Oregon, hounds in the vineyard. As I crest a rustic country road, neatly lined with luxuriantly green tendrils of vines, I spot a trio of wagging tails. The greeters, introduced to me by grape-grower and winemaker Kevin Chambers, quiver with furry delight. The hairiest and largest, a salt-and-pepper-colored Akita, is aptly named Grizzly; her sidekick Labradors are Cody and Robin. Our afternoon agenda: Meander the sun-dappled Resonance Vineyard, tell stories, and taste wine.

Chambers, his dogs, and I stand basking in the summer glow, soaking up a jungle of colors stretching between us and High Heaven Ridge, the dividing line between earth and sky straight ahead. His story began in Eugene.

When Chambers arrived at the University of Oregon in the 1970s, he studied journalism and radio broadcasting because he wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite. He has the voice.

“I have the voice,” he laughs. When he wasn’t studying, Chambers honed his debating skills with his roommate well into the twilight hours. Their topic: wine. “Grenache Rosé or Malbec Rosé, the matters we’d banter always gravitated to wine,” explains Chambers.

During Chambers’ senior year of college, a friend suggested he apply for a job at a local wine shop, Of Grape and Grain. Selling wine fit. And upon graduation, when Chambers was offered a gig writing news for a local radio show, he turned it down.

Instead, he took his boss at the wine shop up on an offer to open and manage a new store. “I’m taking the wine route,” Chambers recalls himself saying at the time. “And I’ve never left the industry since.”

In 1981, Chambers parlayed his wine knowledge into words, writing freelance articles, and ultimately, a weekly wine column for The Register-Guard, which he syndicated in 1983. His work as a columnist soon brought him attention in the wine community, which recruited him to be a wine judge.

First stop, the Oregon State Fair—at that time, a significant event for the wine industry. The judges that year included an esteemed columnist from the Chicago Tribune, Master of Wine David Lake, and writer and contributor to The Oxford Companion to Wine, Harriet Lembeck. Even though Chambers was admittedly star-struck by his fellow judges, his palate couldn’t be swayed by them, and he ended up granting high scores to a Chardonnay deemed unworthy by his brethren (he considered the wine a bold statement by the winemaker).

To his surprise, the next morning, one of the judges who had disputed Chambers’ decision asked him to participate in the first all-American wine competition in New York City. “Twenty-three at the time, I had never been east of Idaho,” Chambers says gleefully.

Chambers spent the next eight years on what he calls, “the sniff, snort, and spit circuit,” tasting legendary wines and hobnobbing with celebrated writers and winemakers nationwide. One of the most memorable wines he tasted: A 1961 Chateau d’Yquem, considered one the greatest Sauternes. This French dessert wine is a medley of three grapes, raisined by the benevolent fungus, Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot.

“I’ll never forget it,” Chambers croons. “I used to take copious notes every time I tasted. This one simply read: There are wines, then there is d’Yquem. Then I sat there, enthralled.”

Edible Portland | Fall 2008
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