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FEATURES: Intro | the Mt. Hood freeway | city hall of fame | architexture | rhymin' rogues | some of our favorite Portlanders | 25 years of statistics | what ever happened to...| Nike's marketing muscle | The Oregonian's big oh's

1979: Grape expectations: the birth of Oregon's wine industry | Doom town: punk stomps into Portland


An ice storm closes the airport, fells trees and knocks out transformers, leaving 100,000 homes without heat or electricity. The National Weather Service can't predict when the freeze will ease, because the storm cuts power to its Portland computers.

A solar eclipse darkens the Pacific Northwest for two minutes beginning at 8:13 on the morning of Feb. 26. Predictably, the skies over Portland are overcast, forcing most Portlanders to watch the event on TV instead.

Ominous signs of economic trouble on the horizon: Unemployment is inching upward, gas prices are soaring, tourism is down, and inflation climbs to 15 percent.

After 123 years of local ownership, the Blitz-Weinhard brewery at Northwest 11th Avenue and West Burnside Street is sold to Pabst Brewing of Milwaukee, Wisc. Things get blurry afterwards: Pabst will sell the brewery to G. Heileman Brewing, which will eventually merge with Stroh Brewery Co., which will, in turn, sell the Henry's brand to Miller.

A new technology--the color copier--reenergizes a flagging art form: Xeroxing your naked body. WW views the resulting images, on display at Marylhurst's Mayer Gallery, with a certain disdain.

Retired painting contractor and carpet-layer Walter Powell teams up with his son Michael to set off a bookselling revolution--juxtaposing new and used titles on the same shelf. From a derelict storefront in Northwest Portland, Powell's Books will grow to employ 430 people and carry an inventory of more than 1 million titles.

The Oregon Dairy Products Commission defends its failure to use black models in its billboards by claiming that "blacks can't digest milk."

Portland historian E. Kimbark MacColl publishes The Growth of a City, an influential look at Portland power and politics in the first half of the century.

The Blackfish Gallery--soon to become one of Portland's most successful artists' co-ops--opens its doors for the first time.

After asking for the resignations of his entire cabinet, President Carter appoints Neil Goldschmidt as his new Secretary of Transportation. Following weeks of speculation, political
wrangling and tied council votes, Commissioner Connie McCready is
ultimately appointed to succeed Goldschmidt as mayor.

WW says the Lotus Cafe and Card Room "has a forbidding façade with a reputation to match. A gaping hole in the plaster by the door stands above a littered stairway leading to a now-defunct hotel. Tired old men with sunken cheeks stand outside the card room entrance smoking cigarettes.... Beer is only 30 cents until 10 am."

Floods, Prohibition, two world wars--nothing, it seems, can dent the charm of Huber's, Portland's oldest restaurant, which this year celebrates a mind-boggling century in business. Originally named for scholarly mixologist Frank Huber, the saloon hit its stride with the arrival of Jim Louie, a Cantonese stowaway who cooked and carved up turkey sandwiches for Huber (originally given away free with each drink) and took the helm in 1911. His descendants still own the joint, renowned for its turkey and signature flaming Spanish coffees. In 1990, Huber's earned the dubious distinction of selling more Kahlua than any other bar in the nation.




  As far as the rest of the world was concerned, the Oregon wine industry began in Paris, France, in 1979.

Of course, vineyards had been planted in southern Oregon 20 years earlier, and in the northern Willamette Valley since 1966, when a textbook salesman named David Lett edged the Eyrie Vineyards in among the fruit and nut orchards of the Dundee hills. But even though a hardy band of pioneers had been growing grapes and fermenting them quite successfully, that didn't mean they were making fine wine: To do that--in the '70s, at least--you needed a French address.

That all changed in 1979, when Lett entered his '75 South Block Pinot Noir in the "Olympics of the Wines of the World," a special tasting in France conducted by the prestigious food and wine magazine Gault-Millau. In those Eurocentric times, he could expect better odds sending a box of rocks. Nevertheless, he says now with curmudgeonly certitude, "I'd always thought that we could do better than Burgundy. This was my chance to give it a try."

Working in his favor was undoubtedly the fact that the wines were tasted "blind," so judges had no idea who produced them. Stunningly, Lett's wine finished third in a field of illustrious Burgundies from top vineyards, and the French whipped themselves into a mousse of outrage at the results. Here was an entry made--for all they knew--by savage cowboys clad in the skins of woodland creatures, and it had slipped past wines representing literally centuries of French expertise. Surely this was un erreur?

Robert Drouhin, scion of the powerhouse Burgundian négociant Joseph Drouhin, certainly had his doubts; he organized a rematch the following year in which he substituted his best wines for those he deemed inferior in the Gault-Millau tasting. "Drouhin felt that if his wines were shown, the honor of Burgundy would be preserved," Lett jokes.

Naturally, the results were different, but probably not as the French had hoped: The Eyrie now came in second, a whisker behind Drouhin's redoubtable '59 Chambolle-Musigny.

Lett was still glowing from the '79 tasting when he heard the results of the event, which had been conducted without his knowledge. If the previous year's outcome signaled victory, this was the ticker-tape parade, triggering international press coverage and a sudden interest in wines from the west. "All of a sudden, Oregon got credibility," Lett remembers. "Before the tasting, I had to beg for distribution. Afterward, I not only got calls from individuals from around the world, but from distributors around the country, too."

Oregon is still feeling the aftershocks from these epicentral events. "What the Gault-Millau and Drouhin tastings did was set Oregon as a place where pinot noir could be produced in the U.S. that could rival Burgundy," Lett says. Winemakers immigrated to Oregon for a variety of reasons over the next 20 years, but the idea that this was even an option, to say nothing of a sound business move, was established in France in 1979 and '80.

One of those profoundly influenced by the outcome of the tastings turned out to be Drouhin himself. Even though he had visited Oregon before Gault-Millau, he now unequivocally understood the potential of the region, and his reaction in turn had a major influence on the growth to follow. By 1987, he'd established Domaine Drouhin Oregon just a few miles from Lett's vineyards. In a world where the French made Wine and everyone else made wine, this was an endorsement of incalculable value.

Since then, the number of Oregon wineries has exploded to 136 today, bringing an estimated $100 million into the state's economy each year. Oregon now attracts top winemaking talent from around the world, and well-heeled investors who see sound investment and prestige in its vineyards. Fine wine now comes from Oregon, and thanks to the French, the world knows it.


Punk Rock's RDX Genesis

  A musty old walkup on the lower Southwest side is packed with the cream of Oregon's New Wave elite, all dressed in the height of 1980s mondo bondage fashion: lots of leather, short hair in every crayola hue, chains and tight, tight pants for everyone.

--Mark Christensen on the punk club Revenge, Oregon Times, July 1978

John Shirley remembers the short, sharp shock to Portland's civic nervous system well.

"People were afraid civilization was creaking to an end," recalls the seasoned hell-raiser who led the chaos-sowing bands Terror Wrist and SadoNation through the heart of Portland's first punk insurgency.

Malaise-ridden '70s music sat up in a cold sweat as the undercurrent of hard, arty noise that burbled beneath the granola crust of American rock--Iggy and the Stooges, the MC5, the Velvet Underground--mixed with alienated British venom in a new, highly unstable brew. Disaffected kids across the Western world seized on punk rock's confrontational, intentionally ugly styles and bracing noise. In Portland, then a depressed, terminally unhip, third-tier West Coast burg, the challenge to the status quo rang loud and clear. While the surge hit its high-water mark as the '70s bled into the '80s, the roots of rebellion reached back a few years.

"It was sometime in '76, and I went into this import-record store and asked them if they had any Sex Pistols EPs," says Shirley, now a successful avant-garde sci-fi writer who is widely credited with inventing the cyberpunk subgenre. "And the guys working there just looked at each other and said, 'My God, another one!' People had been coming in all day, asking about this British band they'd never heard of.

"What happened was, Parade magazine had run an article warning parents of the dangers of this stuff called 'punk rock.' To me that was like, 'What, they're warning my parents? Must have.'"

Today, when even the most cosmic space brother ambling down Hawthorne sports aggro piercings and hi-fi tattoos, it's hard to imagine the horror inspired by punk's S&M-clad pioneers. "The town was hostile," Shirley recalls. "I mean, people were just getting used to hippies."

"Portland was considered a logger's town," says Greg Sage, the lead singer of the Wipers, a band still cited as a pillar of Northwestern rock. "It was a very uncool place. In that era, if you weren't from New York, L.A. or London, you didn't exist. It was considered prehistoric, some place you just didn't want to be."

Isolated from the more cosmopolitan centers of the global avant-garde, Portland attracted local style exiles like Shirley, who'd been kicked out of Salem's McNary High School for locking a teacher in a closet. They put on neo-Beat poetry readings, all-ages shows and Dadaist costume balls holding more than a hint of the city's subcultural future. The resulting noise filled Shirley's short-lived Revenge--a rented lodge hall which he stocked with popcorn and soda stolen from a Salem movie theater--and the Earth Tavern, Urban Noize and Long Goodbye.

As alien as the young punks of PDX may have looked then, fuzzy old videos reveal scenes that anyone who's spent time around do-it-yourself rock, then or now, would recognize. Neo Boys--four wholesome young ladies who could step comfortably into a modern indie-rock show--bash out skeletal pop, stiff with rookie rocker nerves. The Kinetics aren't. The Fix smashes through rudimentary rebel anthems for a half-interested party crowd.

Bands played in dingy basements, neglected living rooms and fetid clubs. Fanzines came hot off the Xerox, glued together and rife with spelling errors. The kids played too loud and too fast, recorded 7-inch singles and sometimes whole albums, switched from band to band, broke up, reunited, moved away, came back. In other words, punk spawned a tradition of underground rock that is still in rude health today. Though the initial wave had broken by the middle '80s, new standard-bearers like Poison Idea and Dead Moon emerged, playing venues like Satyricon, the X-Ray Cafe, EJ's and LaLuna.

The young rebels of two decades ago have, for the most part, moved on. But the energy they unleashed, in all their ripening enthusiasm, still buzzes in the Portland air, a testament to the visceral charge of raw rock and a taste for adventure that, for all its avowed misanthropy and rebellion, was and is sweetly naive in its own way.

"We were just sort of trying this on for size," Shirley says. "You know the early punk thing where people would spit on bands? Well, if you look at videos from that era, you can see people sort of tentatively spitting. It was like that.

"Our scene was small," he says, "but for some people, that's all there was. For a few, it was that or suicide, y'know?"


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