Wayne Clark was born and raised in Portland, Maine. After working here for 28 years, he took a job across the country in a suburb of the other Portland.

When he got there in 2008, he barely knew that wine was produced in Oregon or Washington at all.

Then Clark tasted a Pinot Noir from a tap at a local wine bar. With his partner, Kim Laramy, unable to leave work in Maine and join him on the west coast, Clark had some time on his hands.

So he began exploring the small wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and found many he loved. Usually, their production was so tiny – and their time for marketing so limited – that sales were limited to the tasting room, local restaurants and maybe an email list.

Clark and Laramy (who by 2010 had joined Clark on the west coast) started bringing bottles back to Maine on visits to share with friends. The friends loved the wines.

The partners started ORWA Wine Brokerage, which establishes relationships with the wineries. Devenish Wines, the Maine distributor, purchases the wines in Oregon and ships them directly to Maine to distribute here.

The five wineries ORWA brokers now sell their wines in their tasting rooms, in restaurants and via their wine club, and in Maine – and nowhere else.

Clark and Laramy want to break even, stay small, keep their day jobs, maybe find a New Hampshire partner. But Mainers can celebrate, because our access to Pacific Northwest wines is usually constrained to the larger producers who can afford to ship big quantities.

ORWA wines have different flavor profiles, but they share a spirit of delicacy, balance and moderation that so many domestic wines lack. (They’re also startlingly inexpensive.) The reds are silky and enduring rather than formidable and dominating. Many of the whites have the aromatic impact and focused acidity I associate with northern Italy and Austria.

The producers themselves farm and vinify with light hands. Some of them are only winemakers part time, measuring annual production in the hundreds of cases rather than tens of thousands.

Others have inherited their vineyards from grandparents. Our kind of people, and my kind of wines.

“One of the nice things about here,” said Clark, 57, “is that there are so many small producers. Frankly, I worry about them, because they’re producing so little wine.”

Land is generally cheaper in Oregon than in California, but “not as cheap as it was 10 or so years ago,” according to Clark. “There are dozens and dozens of small producers out here, but they won’t fit my model because their prices are too high The Grateful Reds of the world (see below) are proof that you can make a good $18 Pinot, but it’s not easy.”

However, the ORWA wines are inverse proof that so much of what determines wine prices is based on ego, marketing and other peripheral matters.

Clark and Laramy, by virtue of their commitment to what counts – people, land and honest and interesting wine – are worth following, and the wines they’ve worked to bring us (only some of which are mentioned below) are worth seeking out.

 

Illahe, Oregon: The Austrian-varietal Gruner Veltliner 2010 ($16) is just as bright and refreshing as in its native land, but also a bit more open and giving than the young, bracing shots for which Austria is recognized.

Illahe’s Riesling 2010 ($16) is eyes-wide dry, tart apples and incredibly focused.

After tasting the Germanic influences on their whites, I expected Illahe’s Pinot Noir 2009 ($22) to fall in line. Surprisingly, it’s quite ripe and fruity, but with that silky gown that Clark adores.

 

Redhawk Grateful Red 2009, Willamette Valley, Oregon ($17): You’ll either love or hate the label, but the wine is achingly pretty, shapely (my tasting notes read “hourglass”), with candy-rich strawberries and a smooth ease that are hard to dislike.

 

Angel Vine: Made in Oregon from grapes grown in Columbia Valley in Washington state. The Zinfandel 2009 ($19), with bantamweight 14.9 percent alcohol, is almost under-structured and introverted. It’s still unmistakably Zin – mocha, berries, spice – and is perfect for burgers or wet-sauce ribs, but with a smoothness and lean, taut texture that let you breathe easy.

Then there’s Angel Vine’s “The Hellion” 2008 ($22), a Primitivo/Petite Sirah blend that will kick you across the room while you beg for more. My excited tasting notes read “remarkably rambunctious,” except I didn’t use “remarkably,” if you get me.

It’s one of the manliest wines I’ve ever tasted – dark, tarry, super extracted, terribly intense. Earlier, I wrote that ORWA’s wines are not “formidable and dominating,” but here’s the exception. Hard to find, but worth tracking down if only just to be gratified that something this insane can be contained in glass.

 

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]