Saul Mutchnick makes small batches of stellar white wines at a corrugated tin outpost in the Eola-Amity Hills. For me, they are among the best in Oregon. Fellow fans of dry white wines possessing structure and brisk acidity need to join the winning team that is Championship Bottle.
Championship Bottle is known for: age-worthy white wines similar to those from Italy’s Friuli region or Alsace and Burgundy in France. Much like high-fidelity in records, Mutchnick wants the grape’s best qualities to shine through with little distortion from his hand or too much oak.
Key insight: Championship Bottle is named in honor of Championship Vinyl, the record store featured in the John Cusack movie “High Fidelity.”
Mutchnick once worked at a retail wine store with such a “High Fidelity” vibe he and two colleagues agreed they would one day name a store of their own Championship Bottle.
Mutchnick is the only one still in the wine business, so he nabbed the name for his label. “I still believe that ‘High Fidelity’ is the best movie ever made about working in a wine shop,” Mutchnick said.
In true Rob Gordon style, Mutchnick refuses to reveal his Top Five all-time favorite records. Luckily, his wine labels provide clues. Each Championship Bottle wine is named in honor of a song made by bands ranging from Plumtree to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
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“Must try” current release: 2020 Championship Bottle “Gravity’s Pull” Chardonnay ($35).
Made with grapes plucked from ungrafted Dion Vineyard vines that are more than 30 years old, this is Mutchnick’s homage to R.E.M., Burgundy and the chardonnays from the Colli Orientali del Friuli in Italy. He calls it “bracing, mineral and sharp, with a sheen of reduction that delivers a flinty nose and nervy palate.”
And no, the wine does not smell of patchouli.
Innovation: Mutchnick likes working with grapes that too many people don’t take seriously enough. He uses various techniques, such as extended elevage, to make wines with intention. According to Mutchnick, “Too many wineries think of pinot gris and pinot blanc as ‘cash flow’ wines meant to be made quickly and rushed out onto the store shelves.”
History: Mutchnick has worked almost every job in the wine industry, from cellar rat and sales to production and distribution. At one point, he was also involved in gin production – legally – in Washington, D.C.
After working for California wineries such as Silverado Vineyards in Napa Valley, Mutchnick and his wife Sonya moved to Oregon in 2016. Mutchnick worked for Goodfellow Family Cellars in McMinnville and Vincent Wine Co. in Amity before launching Championship Bottle in 2018.
Mutchnick makes his wines at John Grochau’s G.C. Valley facility in Amity. He shares the space with Vincent Wine Co., Mijita Wine Co. and Fair Moon Wine. This group of winemakers shares a healthy respect for pinot gris, which is why I dubbed their winery building the “gris garage.”
Grochau recently changed his winery’s name from Grochau Cellars to G.C. Wines.
Key insight: While Mutchnick counts 2018 as Championship Bottle’s official starting point, there is a mysterious chardonnay out there that he made in 2017. Only 24 cases were produced, so it’s as rare as a Barry Judd compliment on your album selection.
What we don’t know: Mutchnick is pretty good at fly fishing.
When Mutchnick was 17 years old, he joined his father in landing and releasing 29 redfish, including a 29-pounder, in a single day. The redfish swimming near the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Florida that day could not resist Mutchnick’s black-colored Clouser fly.
Biggest success so far: Making better wines than he initially thought possible. “We budgeted with the idea that we might be declassifying or getting rid of some wines and writing them off in the first few years as a learning experience. But so far, we sell out quickly, and demand has always been higher than supply,” Mutchnick said.
Last book read: “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” the third novel by Jamaican author Marlon James.
Favorite getaway spot: Mutchnick said that he and Sonya loved heading to the Oregon Coast, adding, “We don’t really have a favorite town yet, because we’re always exploring new ones.”
Biggest inspiration: other people’s wines. Mutchnick said he’s constantly exploring wines from all over the planet and never fails to find something interesting to inspire him. “Especially in Italy,” Mutchnick said.
Where to buy: Championship Bottle makes such homeopathic amounts of wine you better email Saul through the winery website.
Your best bets in Portland are long-time Championship Bottle supporters Vinopolis Wine Shop, World Foods-Portland and Mt. Tabor Fine Wines.
Tastings by appointment, championshipbottle.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at email@example.com. To read more of his coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.