Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Arriving in Corvallis at the beginning of 2007, my first priority was to find a place to live. I found a decent rental house and had myself moved in by midday Saturday January 6th, and went out to buy a good Oregon Pinot Noir to celebrate. My first stop was Avalon, but the less-than-friendly reception I got from the (now departed) salesperson led me back out the door in search of an alternative. Two blocks away, at the Water Street Market building on the NW corner of Monroe and 1st, I discovered Wineopolis.

I found the proprietor, Jerry Larson, to be both friendly and knowledgeable, and I purchased two bottles of 2004 Pinot Noir, each from a local winery. Since then I've been a frequent customer.

Jerry has been active in the Corvallis culinary scene for a long time. He operated the Tower of London restaurant from 1980-1985 (the site is now the McMenamins at Harrison and 3rd), and put together the wine program for the First Alternative coop in 1989-90. He opened Wineopolis in June of 2005.

The store favors wines from producers (both domestic and foreign) that can be characterized as "agricultural" rather than "industrial".  These are small-to-medium sized wineries whose products convey a sense of place (roughly equivalent to the French term terroir), rather than trying to conform to a modern style proselytized by contemporary critics such as Robert Parker (who favors wines that are highly extracted, high in alcohol, and low in acid; these can be great by themselves but often do not pair well with food).

Although there are a few wines in the $50-60 range (typically vineyard-designated Oregon Pinot Noir), most wines in the store are priced between $10 and $20. Jerry has tasted every one of them and can vouch for them all, the result of good relationships with local winery owners, distributors and Portland-based direct importers. Every Saturday a white and a red are available for tasting; these are usually in the $10-12 range.

Jerry believes in educated consumers, and will give you a good bit of information about any bottle you're considering. Most people appreciate this, but there are exceptions. I've met a one-time-only customer who complained that he was simply not interested in all the details, and just wanted a good recommendation. His view was that "it's the salesman's job to be the expert, and all I want is to rely on his expertise." There is nothing wrong with this perspective, and I suggest to Jerry that he should consider it a compliment when encountering a customer who wants his recommendation but not all the supporting data.

Jerry is also very good at recommending food and wine pairings. I know from personal experience that he's an excellent cook, and have come to rely on his advice when looking for wines to match a menu.

The store currently carries about 500 different wines, mostly from Oregon, Italy, France, California and Washington, with a small number from Spain and Portugal. Jerry has phased out Australian offerings; "No one seems to have noticed or cared." Over the next month, preparing for the holidays, he'll be increasing the selection and inventory.

There may be greater selections at some places in town (e.g., Market of Choice), but you won't get the personal attention you'll get at Wineopolis. There is no substitute for that, and your chances of getting a good wine are a lot better.