Originally from Chicago, James Rahn moved to Seattle to attend college at the University of Washington. While putting himself through school waiting tables at Seattle’s iconic Café Campagne, the restaurant’s wine director took him under her wing and taught him all about wine. Rahn was hooked.
“I got bit by it,” recalls Rahn of how his love of wine developed. When he returned to Chicago, he was certified as a sommelier and became wine director at a French restaurant.
Rahn and his wife, Anjanette Matsui-Rahn, returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2012, and today he is the sommelier at The Heathman Hotel in Portland, but he is also a winemaker. This year marks his label’s second release, with a 2014 vintage.
Of wine, Rahn says, “I like the fact that you can memorize everything one year and the very next year, it’s all for naught. Whatever you thought you knew about that wine is now gone. Of course that’s kind of oversimplifying things. Stylistically, winemakers have their way, and the place has its importance, so there are constants, but it is a different wine from year to year.”
While he loves the intimacy with wine that being a winemaker provides, he admits, “In retrospect, there are days that I wish I had gotten bit by the beer bug, and if a batch didn’t go well, I could just go back to the store, get some new ingredients and start over. ... You know, wine evolves so quickly and so drastically in the tank, in the bottle and the barrel, so you just have to trust in yourself and your abilities and maybe pray to luck a little bit.”
Under the label James Rahn Wine Company, bottles of his wine—which include two rieslings and a gamay—are available at locations throughout Portland, including SE Wine Collective (where he produces the wine), 10th Avenue Liquor and World Foods Market.
He suggests when ordering or purchasing wines, don’t obsess with only trying high-priced vintages. “Try newbies,” he says. “They have a vision that comes from managing a 100-case production rather than a 100,000-case production, so that’s their baby. And that wine, for better or worse, has more personality than the majority of large-production wines. I believe that wholeheartedly.”