In the spring of 2018 our coffee website produced a pretty great event here in our home base city of Portland, Oregon. From creative director Michelle Johnson, the event—Black Coffee—drew a packed crowd of 200+ to the historic Clinton Street Theater for a thought-provoking, poignant, and frequently hilarious live interview event. You can watch the full video presentation of Black Coffee here, or listen to it as a special podcast presentation on the Sprudge Media Network podcast channel.
This event was big for a lot of reasons—feel free to dive further into all that here on Michelle Johnson’s website—but we especially loved having guests in from out of town, and getting to plan for that before and after the event itself. Of course that meant good wine! From splashes in the mezzanine of our event partner (Ace Hotel PDX) paired with pies from Red Sauce, to a deep dig through the crates at the after party wine bar (to the sounds of DJ VNPRT), we had a chance to serve wines from some of our very favorite producers, including Les Foulards, Yahou Fatal, Patrick Sullivan, Joe Swick, Brianne Day, Paltrinieri, Cantina Giardino, and many more.
A couple of days later a unique opportunity was presented: the chance to pair wines with the cuisine of one of Portland’s hottest, most in-demand chefs of the moment, Kiauna Nelson of Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen. Winner of the WIllamette Week’s 2018 Cart of the Year award, Nelson’s food cart is nothing short of a phenomenon here in PDX, boasting 30k + Instagram followers from around the world, and resulting in daily long lines and sold out lunches, all from a little food cart pod on NE MLK and Wygant.
Taking advantage of Portland’s laissez-faire cart pod liquor laws, Sprudge was joined for an epic lunch by Black Coffee’s own Michelle Johnson and Ezra Baker (Share Coffee Roasters), as well as Tiara Darnell, Leafly’s 2018 Oregon Budtender of the Year and the host of High Good People, a lauded new cannabis podcast.
Kee brought the #Loaded plates, stacked high with perfect smokey hot dogs, bbq pork, beans, corn, buttery rolls, and just about the best potato salad you’ve ever had. We brought the wine—four bottles from near and far—and rolled tape on the conversation.
The best bits of our conversation are presented below, edited and condensed for clarity.
Maysara Vineyards NV “Oregon Sparkling Wine” — McMinnvile, Willamette Valley
Sprudge: So to start, some fizzy bubbles. This wine comes from a guy called Moe Momtazi, who has these beautiful Biodynamic vineyards down in McMinnville, in the Willamette Valey. He came to America from Iran after the Iranian revolution back in the 80s, and had a whole career in construction, but now runs this family wine business with his three daughters. One of the daughters makes the wine, one of them does the marketing, and the other runs the tasting room, which is also like a wedding venue, down there in the Valley.
Michelle Johnson: Oh shit. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I haven’t had food like this in so long…
Ezra Baker: Oh, you don’t have this in Australia? [laughs]
Sprudge: Ezra, before we came to lunch you were looking at Kee’s Instagram, and you called this “auntie food”—can you talk about that little bit?
Baker: Yes, absolutely. I feel like every Black family has the one aunt who can really cook. And so for family gatherings, that’s who’s cooking—or sometimes it’s multiple aunts.
Johnson: I have on both sides of my family.
Baker: But there’s so many different kinds of soul food. My family and I always talk about this. Most of the soul food in the north is really Caribbean influenced, but in Georgia, where I’m from, there is more of a Senegalese influence.
Johnson: This wine. It has like a whole peach iced tea thing going on. There’s a sweetness there.
Sprudge: Definitely some residual sugar, for sure. Maysara makes a lot of kind of serious, comparatively expensive Pinot Noir, and their fruit is really in demand by other winemakers here in Oregon. But this is their party wine, for when they host weddings out on their property.
Johnson: That’s a day drinking wine for me. That’s like Palm Springs wine.
Weingut Rietsch 2016 Gewurztraminer “Demoiselle” — Mittelbergheim, Alsace
Sprudge: Here’s some skin contact Gewurztraminer from Alsace, up in the mountains between France and Germany. We just brought this back home from a nice wine bar and retail shop in Amsterdam called 4850.
Baker: It’s almost kind of rosé-y. This potato salad is right too.
Johnson: Wild. This is a mood. This is a vibe. Nice ass wine. Good ass soul food. And I like that the wine is light, because the food is so heavy. So where is Kee from?
Sprudge: She’s from here. This cart is really in demand, but a lot of what Kee does is catering for brands like Nike, and for funerals and birthdays.
Baker: I would definitely have this for my funeral.
Johnson: That shit is real. This is exactly what you would eat at a Black funeral.
Tiara Darnell: This wine with the peach cobbler…they’re kind of the same shade of orange.
Johnson: It tastes like peaches.
Darnell: This is a great way to spend an afternoon. I like this label, too…
Sprudge: You know it’s a good sign when there’s an email address on the label.
Le Petit Gimios 2015 Muscat Sec des Roumanis — Saint Jean de Minervois, Languedoc
Sprudge: So the third wine is Muscat, grown by Petit Gimios in the Languedoc. These winemakers have just about 10 hectares of totally hands off, real wine from one of these old growing regions in SW France. We bought this bottle at a place called The Laughing Heart in London. Kee’s #Loaded does a really wonderful homemade frozen lemonade, and we thought this would work as kind of a lemonade-y wine.
Johnson: I don’t even think anybody in my family can cook like this. This food is so good I’m breaking into song.
Baker: This plate is really, really good—that’s real, Michelle. But on Instagram, did I see there’s people doing Nashville hot chicken down in Australia now, is that right?
Johnson: Yes! At Belle’s Hot Chicken in Melbourne.
Sprudge: They have good wine at Belle’s!
Johnson: Yes, definitely. It’s all so good! That reminds me a little bit of what we’re doing here…but this food is just…it’s so real. I kind of want to cry.
Darnell: I know. It was so funny seeing this on Instagram and then getting here and having it in front of me.
Jacques Selosse NV Demi-Sec “Exquise” — Avize, Champagne
Sprudge: Our last wine is from a Champagne maker called Jacques Selosse. The guy who makes the wine, Anselme Selosse, is one of the real fathers of the grower Champagne movement, where growers produce these single origin expressions of their grapes, as opposed to selling them to large blending houses. This is his demi-sec, where the Champagne is made with adding a higher dosage of sugar. He makes around 1000 bottles a year, and it was sourced for us by Grand Vin Wine Merchants up in Olympia, Washington.
Baker: Exquise? Exqueeaze me?
Johnson: It tastes like blue cheese!
Sprudge: We had planned to pair this with the dessert, but it really doesn’t come across as all sweet—more creamy than anything. This is not silly flute Champagne; it is a wine.
Johnson: That is just super interesting. Take a bite of this [gestures to the cobbler], then have it with the Champagne. It’s so…it pulls out that savory note. The sweetness pulls back.
Baker: I think this is the best one, but you know, I really like the first one. The first sparkling.
Sprudge: Yes that Maysara—that one has more of a sweet easy drinking vibe. We almost could have reversed the order.
Darnell: I am feeling fed. And then some.
Johnson: This should happen more. Good wine and soul food deserve to elevate each other. I can’t wait to do this again.
Special thanks to our guests Tiara Darnell, Ezra Baker, and Michelle Johnson, and to Grand Vin Wine Merchants (Olympia, WA), The Laughing Heart (London), 4850 (Amsterdam), and Maysara Winery (Oregon) for help with procurement.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder of Sprudge. His writing has appeared in T Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, and Willamette Week.