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November 26th, 2003 KELLY CLARKE | z-Bite Club
 

Escape from the Valley

     
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This holiday weekend means one thing to many Portlanders: wine-tasting in the Valley. The next three days mark an annual bacchanal for oenophiles, when the finest of Oregon's more than 250 wineries throw out the welcome mat--for a price.

Almost every winery charges a tasting fee, ranging from $5 to $20, so if one keeps touring--and drinking--those fees will start adding up. Well, you know what Bite Club says to that? No thanks.

This year, we're leaving the Willamette Valley's vine-covered hills to the sweater-vest-and-Gucci-handbag set. Let them rough it with an overpriced wine weekend that--with hotel, gas and dining included--can cost more than a month's rent.

Instead, Bite Club suggests a ghetto-fabulous weekend of wine and other spirits, staying home to check out the fruits of a few urban alcohol. We're dubbing this our first annual Ghetto-Fabulous Wine--and Beer and Spirits--Weekend.

To get started, we wandered through a rat's nest of warehouses and repair shops in the train yards of Southeast Portland's Brooklyn neighborhood to find the purple door that leads into Hip Chicks Do Wine (4510 SE 23rd Ave., 753-6374. 10 am-5 pm Friday-Sunday, Nov. 28-30). The chicks, Renee Neely and Laurie Lewis, know their winery's appeal is as much gritty locale as cheap, drinkable bottles.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the couple created Hip Chicks, the largest of the handful of the metro-area wineries. "People are tired of trekking out to the wine country," says Neely, who also works as a Starbucks barista. "Why drive all the way out there when you can just take the bus here?"

Inside their warehouse, the two women have created a pink-and-orange wonderland, just a table's length away from a giant forklift and more than 100 barrels of syrah and pinot noir. It's a butch grrl-meets-fairy princess-styled tasting room that's a perfect spot to sip $10-to-$18-dollar bottles of wine, the antithesis of the regal bars of the valley's established wineries.

There's nothing highbrow about the chicks. Their signature Vin Nombril--Belly Button Wine? "It's an easy-drinking, hot-tub wine--just chill it and kill it," Neely says.

The Hip Chicks are celebrating the holiday weekend with both bottle and barrel tastings, complete with showings of multimedia art from Rin Carroll-Jackson. They've also invited two other PDX-based operations, Dimmick Cellars and Ce Soir Cellars, to pour alongside them. The whole shebang costs $5--and you get $2 back if you buy a bottle. "We make a beverage that people drink when they're happy," Neely says. "How cool is that?"

If you're still thirsty, you can catch a brewery tour and slurp a free half-pint at BridgePort Brewery (1313 NW Marshall St., 241-7179. Tours 2 and 5 pm daily. ). Also check out Clear Creek Distillery (1430 NW 23rd Ave., 248-9470), one of the nation's premier makers of eaux de vie. Sample its 80-proof European-style fruit brandy--for free. Again, how cool is that?


Bent on a Willamette Valley weekend? Bite Club suggests a stop at JK Carriere Winery's 100-year-old hazelnut barn, a sip from Argyle Winery's screw-top bottles and a glass of pinot noir at Carlton Winemak-ers Studio--that's a 10-winemaker collective with a rock-climbing wall.
 
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