Chevonne Ball, sommelier and founder of Dirty Radish Travel Company, shares her favorite wine bars in Portland, Oregon.
Chevonne Ball didn’t grow up drinking the wine that she features on her Dirty Radish Travel Company tours in Oregon and France. Her earliest wine memory is seeing her family drink E&J Gallo—yes, from the jug—during the holidays.
Her true “wine awakening,” as she calls it, came from working at Le Pigeon, the pioneering French bistro in Portland, Oregon, with co-owner and sommelier Andrew Fortgang. “Learning from him set the tone for my wine career—I can still remember the first time I tasted a Grand Cru white Burgundy. Game changer,” she says.
Ball went on to become a sommelier herself, working at Park Kitchen and Smallwares, then spent a year in Lyon in 2009 to learn more about French wines specifically. She started taking friends on unofficial tours of the region, launching Dirty Radish in 2017. Now, she hosts tours in the Willamette Valley, Beaujolais, and Lyon in addition to hosting wine events around Portland.
“The wine scene in Portland is still young, new, fresh, exciting, and innovative. We have urban wineries which help small producers make wine and keep their day jobs,” says Ball. “The ‘natural’ wine bar movement is happening here as well. Oregon as a whole is still a pioneer state. We have so much to discover and create.”
But like many other industries in Portland, wine is not the most inclusive. “The lack of diversity in Portland is a challenge for a POC like me,” says Ball. In January, she sat on the steering committee for the first-ever Assemblage Symposium, a conference for women in wine, in addition to being a main stage speaker and panelist. “I hope to change [the industry] by creating spaces for women of diverse backgrounds to come together and work together to find our seat at the table.”
Here, Ball shares her favorite wine bars in Portland, Oregon.
1. Les Caves
“Les Caves is owned by winemakers Jeff Vejr of Golden Cluster Winery and John House of Ovum. The space is truly a cave. Look for the A-frame sign and slip down an alleyway to the stairs leading to this carved-out-of-the-earth space. Small, intimate, and perfectly lit, Les Caves couldn’t be cozier. The wine list is a rotation of the geekiest of wines without being pretentious and you can always find the winemakers’ latest releases. If you’re lucky, you can climb (yes, climb) into the recessed loveseat space where you can enjoy your glass in a cave within a cave.”
2. Bar Norman
“One of the things I love most about Bar Norman is the attention to detail. The mismatched candlesticks and chairs, the painstakingly made wallpaper in the bathroom, the plants, the chalkboard, the color of the walls. It all works. What makes me even happier is knowing that owner Dana Frank did it all. (I watched her paint the whole place on Instagram, so inspiring.) Tucked away off a busy little corner in SE Portland, Bar Norman strives for a ‘natural’ wine list and it’s amazing. From all corners of the globe, these wines are unique and tantalizing. The staff is always incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the wines. Also, who doesn’t love a nightcap of Amaros from the 1960s?”
“Part winery, part wine bar, part restaurant—this place has it all. Located just a short walk from Bar Norman, S.E. Wine Collective and Oui Bar do an incredible job with their tiny shared space. Chef Althea Grey Potter and her team created a kitchen on the backside of the barrel room and churn out everything from fun bar snacks (like a trio of deviled eggs) to large comfort plates like shrimp and grits. The wine list is a combination of winemakers who make their wines on-site as well as a wonderful selection curated by owners Kate Norris and Tom Monroe, winemakers themselves, of course!”
“Owner Kristen Murray has placed a perfect slice of France-meets-Scandinavia in downtown Portland. A stone’s throw from Powell’s Books, it’s my place to go when I need a ‘petite pause.’ The wine list is small and always intriguing. Murray personally selects each wine and knows the family details of each winemaker. A trained pastry chef, she creates some of the most delectable sweets in town. Whether you start with the perfectly warmed currant and rosemary créme scone topped with crème fraîche, a cheese plate, or local oysters, it will all be perfectly paired with whichever sparkling wine is chilling below the pastries in the case.”
“A store on a wine bar list?! YES! Providore Fine Foods is one of my favorite late afternoon stops. If I’m heading home from work or errands and I want to grab a few fine foods and a glass of wine, this is my stop. This place has it all: artisanal cheeses and meats, an array of mostly local fruits and vegetables, bread, tinned fishes, pasta, seafood, snacks from around the world, and, of course, wine. I love to grab a glass from the wine shop to accompany me on my shopping. Pro tip: there is always a free tasting on Fridays. Perfection.”