Commuter cuvee: vin de soif, American style

good cheap pinot

American wine under $15 is a difficult category. And domestic pinot can be downright dicey. And charity wines often sacrifice quality for the good of the cause.

So it was with skepticism that I tried the Grochau Cellars, “Commuter Cuvee” 2010 recently. Sold in Portland at $14.99 with a portion of the proceeds going to a bicycle safety non-profit. It’s actually a gulpable pinot noir with good acidity and the bing cherry note often found in Oregon pinots. It glides in at 12.5% alcohol; if there’s a better pinot noir available in the US under $15, I have yet to try it.

I spoke with John Grochau about how he could offer a 100% pinot noir for a reasonable price. Grochau has cycled at a high level for about 20 years (he even won a race last year) but into the front-of-house in the restaurant business, which led him to make his own wine label, sourcing fruit from various sites around the state and making the wines in Portland. In 2010 he found a vineyard site with 22-year-old vines whose owner was suddenly looking to sell 20 tons of fruit. It was a cooler vintage, which John prefers, but enough for good ripeness (the grapes were 22 Brix). He made this wine in actual barrels, which is decidedly rare for pinots at this price point. He also added some of the wines that he selected out of his higher-end pinots. It’s a low-margin wine, he admits, but he’s doing it again: The 2011, also from a cool vintage, will be released soon.

Thanks to site reader Gabe for pointing out this wine in the comments of a previous post. A perfect wine for National Bike Month!

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14 Responses to “Commuter cuvee: vin de soif, American style”

  1. Hello this is Alex from the wine forum Washington is becoming an up and coming player in the wine industry. They are number two behind california and are slowly catching up. You can get a decent bottle of pinot noir for around 20-25 dollars. Ypu don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good wine.

  2. Does this wine have NY distribution? Doing a little research and can’t seem to track it down.

  3. I believe I was the first to recommend the Commuter Cuvee, although Gabe certainly was more informative about it! 😉

    I’ve only been able to get it once, but thought it was an amazing value.

  4. I was just thinking about burgandies and that I think that they’re somewhat bland until one gets into the 3 figure range which is awful pricey for a decent wine. I prefer California and Oregon pinots because I think they have more oomph. But the very inexpensive (Value) pinots tend to be so simple that they don’t even register on the palate. That’s so depressing. I just bought 3 Black Kite Cellars pinots and am hoping that they’ll raise my spirits, as it were.

  5. Dr.

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I just need to clarify two things:

    1. The average retail price in Oregon is $16 a bottle, closer to $19 on the east coast.

    2. While I still donate to the BTA it is no longer based on an amount per bottle, as production grew and grape pricing inched up profit margins are tight.

    I am not currently in The NY market but would love to be…

    Thanks again,

    John Grochau

  6. Doc – great write-up, glad you mentioned John’s experience as a semi-pro bicyclist. I have seen him close his tasting rooms on sunny afternoons to go for bike rides.

    Christina – I’m glad to share credit for this one with you. I’m actually a little sheepish about how often I mention this wine a a great value 🙂

  7. Hey John,
    Are you in the Chicago market?

  8. Christina – Sorry if you had mentioned it first. I just remember Gabe mentioning it along with the Guild wines. But thanks to both of you!

    Robin – I certainly hope that you can find some reds from Burgundy under $100 that aren’t “bland”! Try the wines of Michel Lafarge if you haven’t already; he has a great lineup from the passetoutgrain and bgne rouge all the way up to the Clos des Chenes.

    John G – thanks for stopping by and providing those clarifications. We strive for accuracy so appreciate the comment. Also, here’s one shop selling the wine for $14.99 so I think my under $15 comment can stand.

    Joe and Amber – good luck finding it in your markets.

  9. Doc,

    Yes, I have always appreciated your editorial integrity, please know I wasn’t trying to “knock” you for the price. I just wanted people to know that the price can vary depending on where it is purchased.


    No, not in the Chicago market although I have talked to a few people in the past, nothing has bore fruit. I will contact you later in the week as I am bottling on Monday and will be quite busy.

    Cheers to all!

  10. It sounds like good value wine, so this comment isn’t meant to knock it… but less than $0.40 a bottle goes to charity? Can you really call it a “charity wine” at that point? Seems like a stretch to put it in that category.

  11. Doc,

    Yes, but I am one step ahead of you…. The new label no longer has a statement declaring that it is a charity wine.

  12. Commuter Cuvee is indeed one of the best inexpensive Oregon PNs around. I wanted to share to your blog post for my customers to see, but unfortunately we’re selling the wine for $19 (in Seattle) and I don’t want to look like we’re gouging our customers. Sorry, maybe next time.

  13. It is normal depending on which wine country acquires a price to be distributed to another. I think a good American wine for that price is not high given origin since we distribute.

  14. John G – Thanks for the update on the back label wording. Too bad giving 40 cents a bottle was not sustainable…Just to clarify, that was another commenter who raised the issue.

    Dave E – Glad you enjoyed the post. As you know, prices frequently vary across state lines. For example, Charles Shaw became “two buck chuck” based on the California price; here in NY, it is $3.50.


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