Have you heard all of the buzz surrounding Amaterra? I have been, and it all started in late October 2021. I heard there was a preview, and everything was already reserved when I tried to get an opening. Realize something, there were a LOT of reservations, hundreds, and there was nothing to be found. I even sent an email to the PR contact asking if there is any chance for one person to slide in and sit in the far corner. Sadly, there was nothing.
The hustle-bustle of the Holiday season went by. I decided to make another attempt to get a reservation. Lady Luck did not want to tango at all. Finally, I decided to book a reservation about a month out in March not to be disappointed any further. I paid my $25 “Social Membership” fee and was looking forward to visiting.
Give me a few minutes to explain the Mid-March reservation while it’s still February, but first, let’s talk a bit about the “Social Membership.” From the website: “Social members can visit Amaterra for wine tasting or dining, and can book reservations for up to four people. Become a social member by using the reservation link below. As you make your first reservation, a social membership can be purchased for a one-time $25 fee, which can be applied on your first visit to two bottles of wine to-go, or refunded if you join the wine club.”
The “Social Membership” is a different approach compared to other wineries. Before my visit, I talked with two people about their experience, and both were extremely happy! What I also found interesting was both people said, “We became members.” When I hear the words, “We became members,” I perceive we signed up for a member’s allocation to get wine every so often. What I think they meant is, “We signed up for the “Social Membership.” I wasn’t aware of the difference when I talked to these people.
Werner Nistler, Jr., and Colleen Nistler co-founders of Amaterra, along with Marcus Breuer. From what I can tell, Werner and Colleen started another company called Touchmark, whose purpose is to develop and operate full-service retirement communities throughout the US.
Marcus Breuer is also a co-founder for Amaterra and is CEO of Touchmark. Previous to Touchmark, he worked in finance and Intel. The winemaker for Amaterra is Matt Vuylsteke. Marcus and Matt used to be friends in grade school.
Matt Vuylsteke started a winery called 51Weeks. It appears to be precisely the type of winery I would write about. Matt did Cycle Oregon in 2014, his daughter does ballet, and on their Instagram account, he was happy to pour his Pinot at the Raleigh Hills New Seasons. The 51Weeks website says, “51Weeks will have a dedicated tasting room in 2021! Stay tuned for the exciting developments.” I guess this would be none other than Amaterra!
The last person I want to mention on the team is Jeff Brown only because he comes into play later. He is the general manager of the restaurant. He was also the general manager at Morton’s Steakhouse and general manager for the Sage Restaurant group. The restaurant inside The Nines Hotel, Urban Farmer, fell under Jeff’s umbrella.
Getting a bit into the people behind Amaterra gives you an idea that this is not a family-run boutique winery. In my mind, this is more of a wine restaurant if there is such a thing. It feels too big for a wine lounge. There is a full-size bar with lots of seating indoors and out. The winery is on-site as well. What does one call something of this nature other than a restaurant with a significant emphasis on wine?
I went way off tangent and should circle back around about my mid-March reservation. Unfortunately, some scheduling issues arose, and I could no longer make it for my reservation. So I logged into Tock, canceled, and of course, I had to see what openings there were. Surprisingly, there was an opening for Sunday evening during the Super Bowl. I had zero interest in the teams playing, and just like that, my visit went from mid-March to the first of February.
Amaterra isn’t located in the heart of Wine Country and fits a much-needed niche for those located closer to Portland proper. Coming off of 217 and 26, it is an easy 5-ish minute drive from St. Vincent’s hospital. It’s super easy to find, and I have to tell you that I was blown away when I pulled into the parking lot. It’s a stunning facility. When I get admitted to a long-term care facility, I want amenities like this! There is a fantastic view of Portland, a vineyard, and a waterfall!
Walking in the front door, everything was immaculate. I walked up to the host, gave my name for the reservation, and let him know it was only me even though my reservation said 2 (Tock wouldn’t let me change it to one). He said I was welcome to sit at the bar if I chose with the newfound knowledge. Of course, I would like to sit at the bar! It is the best place to sit, and the number of times I have done this in the past two years has been less than optimal. There was a pondering thought, “Did I need a reservation at all just to sit at the bar?”
Before I sat down, I needed to explore a teeny bit. Look at this place, isn’t it magnificent?
Before I left the house, I debated if I should eat there or at home. I chose home. Ultimately, I wanted to experience the atmosphere and the wine. When I sat down at the bar, I got the wine tasting menu with the current flight and by the glass offerings.
Seeing the flight, I wasn’t in the mood for Rose of Grenache, Roussanne-Viognier-Marsanne Blend, Pinot Noir, and a Petit Verdot. I should have been more open-minded, but I wasn’t expecting a diverse flight. Instead, I was stuck in my typical Rose, Chardonnay, and Pinot frame of mind. I also admit I was looking forward to some downtime and wanted to unwind with some Pinot.
Being on the hunt for a Pinot, I narrowed it to three choices. I asked for samples of the 2017 Amaterra Swede Hill and the 2016 51Weeks Nemarniki Vineyard. Comparing the two with sample pours is difficult. I decided on the Swede Hill for its darker color and more character. At first, I got quite a bit of tannin, but they seemed to mellow out after a while. For me, there are the bright red Pinots where it is lighter in color, and the bright color follows through on the mid-palate. The Nemarniki fell effortlessly into the category.
Usually, when I sit at a bar with a glass of wine, you can always find me with my laptop doing work of some sort. I did not plan very well at all. I decided to watch the Super Bowl like everyone else sitting at the bar. At one point, I did ask the bartender a couple of questions about the wine. I was curious to see how geeky I could get. We didn’t get super geeky, but it was a great wine discussion. Come to find out, the bartender started at Amaterra to get a job in the cellar when a position opened up.
A guy was sitting two chairs away from me, and we started talking about wine. He heard me getting all geeky with the bartender over wine. He wanted to know how to learn more about wine. Come to find out, he was an engineer, and I could relate on that level. So I told him he needed to try a wine and take notes on what he likes and doesn’t like. I also told him to just go out into wine country to taste and ask questions.
Once we finished talking, my glass of Pinot somehow disappeared, but I didn’t want a whole glass. I asked the guy next to me if he wanted to share my treat. Who is going to say no to a glass of wine? I ordered the 2017 51Weeks Fourgon Petit Verdot. It was a pleasurable glass with the standard super dark colors and tannins. I was expecting a bit more fruit on the nose and mid-palate, but I can’t say much. I am super limited in my Petit Verdot experience.
Sitting there, I kind of wished I hadn’t eaten at home. I felt like I was more in a restaurant than a winery and felt lost without my laptop security blanket. I asked to see the menu and immediately regretted my eating choices. The 8150 Beef Smash Burger with thick-cut bacon and grilled onion would go damn well with the Petit Verdot. Oh well, I guess I will have to go back sometime!
I am circling back on Jeff Brown real quick. When I checked out, the manager came over to chat. At the time, I had no idea who I was speaking with. I gave a little feedback, mentioning how gorgeous the facility is, and it is a much-needed space for this part of Portland. No joke, this place will be hopping big time in the summer. I can only imagine what the deck will be like in a few months! I also mentioned I was slightly disappointed in the wines. I went in with HUGE expectations to be blown away by the facility and the wine. Now, let me state that 99.7% of the people will adore the wine and think I am crazy to say I was slightly disappointed. And for that, they are absolutely correct. I now know the wines a little bit and the grape varieties, so my mindset will be different next time. I will also get a smash burger! I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself and see what you think. I am super curious if you have been your thoughts on everything. If you haven’t been, please let me know when you go. I need more data points!
With all of that, I found out the next day via email from the PR person the manager I spoke with was none other than Jeff Brown. Word travels fast! I would tell you to say, “A.J. sent me,” but they don’t know me. Instead, take a minute to make a reservation on their website.