Voluntary woman makes beautiful wine near the airport
The word “stubborn” is painted on the walls of Willful Wine Co. in northeast Portland. It means ‘relentless and stubborn’ and is the perfect adjective for winemaker Pam Walden. After overcoming all obstacles in her path, she crafts the finest wines in a former body shop near Portland International Airport.
Willful Wine Co. is best known for: making what Walden describes as “a feminine, artisanal Willamette Valley Pinot Noir with fine tannins and lively acidity.” She defines feminine as “strength with elegance,” comparing her Pinot Noirs to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character in the “Alien” film franchise.
Innovation: All Willful Wine Co. Pinot Noirs are made using a technique known as indigenous fermentation. Instead of adding packets of commercial yeast to turn sugar into alcohol, Walden depends on the tiny yeast beasts that live on the grapes in the vineyard to do the trick. She sees native yeast as a better expression of terroir.
Walden also said using native yeasts to initiate fermentation created more complex and nuanced wines. “Native ferments tend to be cooler and longer, giving the wine more contact with the grape skins and more time to develop a supple texture,” Walden said.
Current “must try” version: 2020 Willful Wine Co. Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($28). Walden describes this wine as “a good, solid Willamette Valley Pinot Noir that isn’t ridiculously expensive.”
I also highly recommend the Willful Wine Co. Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2019 ($35). It’s the kind of tart, red-fruity Pinot that makes people fall in love with wines from these famous red hills.
Biggest failure or success: “Let’s go successfully. How about the fact that despite the wildfires, I made wine in 2020, and people are drinking it and enjoying it? It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun,” Walden said.
Story: In 1997, Walden moved to Portland after a long-distance romance with a young winemaker named Aron Hess. At first, Hess worked in other people’s basements while Walden produced television commercials in Portland. In 2000, Hess and Walden launched their own Daedalus Cellars label.
Hess continued to work for other wineries, and his busy schedule soon required Walden to help with their Daedalus wines. When the couple amicably divorced, Walden took over the winemaking duties and operations at Daedalus Cellars. “It helped me to have a bloody mind and I was determined to give it a shot,” Walden said.
When Hesse died suddenly in 2013, Walden sold his Dundee Hills property and moved to Portland to be closer to the school attended by his two young sons. Daedalus Cellars was gone, but Walden launched his Willful Wine Co. label making wines at the SE Wine Collective in Portland.
In March 2020, Walden moved to its current location in Northeast Portland, where it makes Willful wines as well as wines for “everyday drinking” under its Jezebel label.
What we don’t know about Willful Wine: First, most people don’t know that Walden has a black belt in taekwondo. Second, calling it the best live show she’s ever seen, when she was a teenager, Walden watched singer Peter Murphy climb the curtains as the Bauhaus rocked De Montfort Hall in her hometown of Leicester, England. .
“I also don’t think many people know that I’ve been in the wine industry for over 20 years,” Walden said.
Last disc listened to: Thinking of You by Sister Sledge.
Biggest Inspiration: Volnay, commune of the Burgundy Côte de Beaune. Last summer Walden returned to Burgundy for the first time in 25 years. “I was so inspired by the textures of Volnay wines that I could have spent my whole week there,” Walden said. She now calls Pinot Noir de Volnay her “desert island wine”.
Or buy: Walden produces 5,000 cases each year between its Willful and Jezebel labels, making it fairly easy to find any of its wines at a store near you. It also has distributors in 12 states outside of Oregon and ships directly to consumers in about 40 states.
Elizabeth is 37 in Savannah, Georgia, Rumi’s kitchen in Atlanta and the Michelin stars Little Washington Inn in Washington, Virginia are just a few places where you’ll find Walden’s wines served in the rest of the country.
willfulwine.com or 503-577-8982.