Satyr Fire is liquid poetry. Winemaker and owner Paul Johnson is one of those few people who can combine creative stories and memorable art with equally compelling wines. Find these refreshing wines as soon as you are able.
Satyr Fire is known for: making dry white wines with elevated acidity, described by Johnson as “crystalline and mineral-driven.”
Don’t be alarmed if Satyr Fire wines transport you to another continent. “We’re inspired by Alsace to make agile, bright, refreshing wines with a strong mineral core,” Johnson said.
Innovation: Johnson said he aimed to appeal to customers and collectors eager to align themselves with a story, whether it involves a vineyard, the winemaker, etc. To make that connection, Johnson writes a piece of fantasy fiction to include with every wine club allocation.
Johnson’s ongoing story arc centers on a satyr that makes wine when not chasing nymphs and gamboling in the forest. Johnson showed me the most recent excerpt, and now I have to join the wine club to find out what happens next to Felix, Maria and Cyrus.
Johnson also gives every Satyr Fire wine a different name and label artwork every year. “Each wine is sincerely unique and collectable in that way,” Johnson said
“Must try” current releases: Johnson recommended a pair of white wines from the 2021 vintage: the Satyr Fire Wolf Trapper Riesling ($40) and the Satyr Fire Waxwing Chenin Blanc ($50).
These wines were just released, and I haven’t tasted them yet. However, I tried the 2021 Satyr Fire Nectar Flow ($24). It is a tangy blend of riesling and chardonnay musqué with a 12.8% alcohol by volume typical of Johnson’s wines. I can’t wait to try the others.
History: Johnson had a background in sommelier studies and wine retail when he and his wife, Barbara, moved to the Willamette Valley from Connecticut in 2014. “We had no jobs, but we knew this is where we wanted to be,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s first wine job in Oregon was a harvest intern position at Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee. The internship turned into two years of doing everything from working the bottling line and cleaning barrels to running numbers in the lab. “Fermentation science was pure alchemy to me, and I fell in love,” Johnson said.
Johnson channeled his love for fermentation science into his Satyr Fire label, which he launched in 2019. His first commercial wine was a single barrel, 25 cases worth, of riesling.
What we don’t know: Johnson does all of the artwork for Satyr Fire’s colorful and evocative labels. Barbara Johnson handles the winery’s photography.
Key insight: The unofficial motto at Satyr Fire is “revelry, camaraderie and reverence for nature.”
Biggest success so far: recently signing up the 100th Satyr Fire wine club allocation member.
Favorite Oregon “getaway” spot: Neskowin on the Oregon Coast. “We also really like the beach community scene and the restaurants at Yachats,” Johnson said.
Last book read: “A Movable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway.
Biggest inspiration: It was difficult for Johnson to narrow it down to one individual. Instead, he went with Vincent Van Gogh for art, Stephen King for literature and Walter Scott Wines for winemaking. “The Walter Scott wines are effortlessly beautiful, yet you know how much sweat equity and intentionality go into making them,” Johnson said.
Where to buy: Johnson sells 90% of his small-batch wines direct-to-consumer, so finding bottles on retail store shelves won’t be easy. Fortunately, I can tell you just where to look.
Head straight to Portland’s newest wine bar, the Backcountry Wine Tasting Room in Suite 117 of The Ford Building at 2505 S.E. 11th Ave. Backcountry is open noon-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon-8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Owner Jack Cranley has three Satyr Fire wines on hand, not to mention a nice assortment of other hard-to-find gems.
In the mood for a sip of Satyr Fire’s chardonnay? Then make a reservation at Huber’s in downtown Portland. You might even have it poured for you by Bloudek, who in addition to helping Johnson make wine, is a veteran Huber’s bartender and Spanish Coffee maven.