Adventure with wine: Minimalist winemaker seeks authentic tastes

November 2016 Posted in Food & Drink, People
Franchere Wine Co. owner and winemaker Mike Hinds

Franchere Wine Co. owner and winemaker Mike Hinds

By Kristine Thomas

It wasn’t in Oregon, where he grew up, where it happened. Or California, where he went to college. Both states well-known for their wineries and vineyards. Instead, it was Chicago where Mike Hinds tumbled down what he describes as the “wine rabbit hole.” Working as a website developer for the University of Illinois, Chicago’s School of Public Health, Hinds recalled the night he went into a wine store and purchase a bottle of wine to go with some Humboldt Fog cheese that he was taking to a gathering.

“When I bought that bottle of wine in Chicago, the wine clerk told me it would change my life,” Hinds said. “I didn’t know how quite literal that would be.” Hinds, 46, recalls the wine he chose was a Vouvray.

“It was unlike anything I had ever had and it captivated me,” he said. “It was a complete mystery to me how the wine got this way.”

He wanted to know how a wine could be so magical with food. That wine launched his passion to study wine, including working at wine shops in Chicago during his evenings and weekends.

“I followed my own palate and found out what kinds of wine I liked,” he said. “I tended to like wines that had native, indigenous yeasts. I gravitated to wines that spoke to me.”

In 2012, after four years in Chicago, he decided it was time to return to Oregon and pursue his interest in wine and winemaking. He landed a job at Oregon State University and started taking viticulture classes at Chemeketa Community College. He also began working at Illahe Vineyards to learn about winemaking and growing wine grapes.  In 2013, he made his first wines and in 2014, he started Franchere Wine Co., where he is the winemaker and owner.

Inspired by the adventurous spirit of his great, great, great grandfather Gabriel Franchere is how Hinds chose to name his winery and how to design the labels.

A native of Montreal and a clerk in the John Jacob Astor’s fur empire, Gabriel Franchere voyaged to Oregon in 1811 on the ill-fated ship, Tonquin; helped establish the original Fort Astoria and spent three years exploring Oregon before returning to Montreal.

“My grandparents settled in the Willamette Valley in the 1940s and I now make wine here using artisan, traditionalist techniques,” Hinds said. “My goal is to make wines that are as pure as the Oregon landscape itself.”

Making wine is quite different from the adventure he began after graduating from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., with a degree in English literature. After college, he started a record label, something he did for 10 years. He’s worked as a website developer, something he still does as a freelancer.  Making wine uses both his creative and science interests, he said, adding he makes notes on what wines he likes and what works and doesn’t work when making wine.

“Making wine is part science as you have to know the grapes sugar and Ph levels,” he said. “From there, you have to know how safe it is to take wine down certain paths.”

Spending some time talking with Hinds, it’s clear he has a vast knowledge of growing wine grapes and making wine. He enjoys sharing his knowledge in a way that makes it easy to understand.

“I tell people not to be afraid when picking out a wine and to be adventurous,” he said. “Try different varieties.”

For Hinds, the vineyards is where the character of his wines begin.

“I believe that people these days want less-mediated experiences generally and less-processed food specifically,” Hinds said. “And wines must express their site, their variety and their vintage authentically.”

Hinds describes his winemaking as minimalist, using native yeasts, low sulfite additions and a preference for nuance over extraction.

“I want the wines to show good fruit expression, but they favor texture, freshness and savoriness, these are wines for the table,” Hinds said.

He works with four different vineyards along the 45th parallel from Havlin Vineyard west of Salem to Hanson Vineyards northeast of Salem. The wines he makes can be broadly classified into three categories: a savory Pinot Noir, emerging Willamette Valley varieties and esoteric cuvees.

“I think it’s important to explore and see what else grows here,” he said.

For Hinds, making wine is an adventure, which is evident in his last two categories. While Oregon is well-known for its pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, Hinds said it is an exciting time in the Willamette Valley as wine lovers are open to and actively seeking to try other varieties. “I believe that Syrah and Gruner Veltliner in particular have an important future in the Willamette Valley,” Hinds said.
Starting in March of 2017, he is introducing two esoteric cuvees for people who want something different. One is called “For Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Move Here,” a tribute to Oregon’s “legendary Gov. Tom McCall.”

John Gilman wrote in a View from Cellar #62 that he tasted three wines from Franchere, two 2014 pinot noirs and one syrah and was impressed with the wines he tasted, especially since it was Hinds’ second vintage.

Franchere Wine Co.
Winemaker and owner Mike Hinds invites guests to taste his wines at his open house Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4, noon to 5 p.m. at Hanson Vineyards, 34948 S. Barlow Road in Monitor.
There is a tasting fee of $10 per person, but each tasting fee is waived with the purchase of one bottle purchased.
For information, visit or call

“Franchere Wines is off to an excellent start and is a name to watch in coming years,” Gilman wrote.

What’s common for many new wineries is sharing space with an established winery. Hinds is making his wine at Hanson Vineyards.  

“It is become quite typical to find several winemakers working in one facility,” he said, “as costs can be more manageable for both the host winery and the tenant winery.”

In the October 2016 issue of Portland Monthly magazine, two of Hinds wines were named in the “Top 50 Wines of Oregon.” His 2014 Franchere Havlin Vineyard Gruner Veltliner received #28 and his Franchere 2014 Havlin Vineyard Syrah received #49.

Hinds is looking forward to 2017 as he has a distributor that will be selling his wine in California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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