A New Era at Liner & Elsen

Sam Ekstrom-Welch

My first glass of wine was a decent one, by the standards I was aware of. It was some sort of Cabernet Sauvignon from some part of California, with some kind of bird on the label. It was probably a family holiday dinner like Thanksgiving, and I was sixteen or so. 

The clearest impression that first glass left me with was how natural it seemed. It did not change my world, or open up endless horizons of discovery. It was a casual glass of red that went well with - probably - standing rib roast.

One day many years later, someone working at a gift shop at the Portland Airport quit his job because he didn’t want to start work at 5AM. That decision by someone - I think his name was Justin - is more or less why I am here now, writing this to you. I was the only person willing to wake up at 3AM to open that Airport wine kiosk. Equipped with little more than the vague sense that the Willamette Valley produced Pinot Noir, a book on wine by Jancis Robinson, and a lot of free time to read, I set out to chart those horizons of discovery.

That was the start of my mostly accidental journey into the wine trade, though I have begun to suspect that most people in this business have a similar story. My colleague Kevin Geller happened upon a bottle of LaPostolle Merlot one day in the nineties, and was so taken with it that he went out and found the Idiot’s Guide to Wine and pestered the wine shop down the street in Madison, Wisconsin to hire him for the better part of a year until they finally agreed to pay him for coming in all the time. My wife was burned out at her job at a tech company and essentially googled her way into a friendlier, more fulfilling job that would still use her degree in French. None of us really set out to choose this work, it is a vocation that chooses us.

There are four of us. Myself, my colleague Kevin Geller, his wife Olivia Schelly, and my wife Rae Ekstrom-Welch. Many of you know Kevin and me from the combined 27 years we have worked at the shop. With luck you’ll come to know all four members of what we call our “four-top”. While our separate paths toward owning this Portland institution have been diverse, have led from three corners of the country, and have all been pleasantly random, we have all arrived with a shared passion for wine and we’re excited to take stewardship of this grand old neighborhood shop. 

For those among you who have been with us for years or for decades, we expect the transition will be seamless. There will be some changes and updates to the shop that we’re very excited to show everyone, but at the end of the day we know we are only the latest chapter of a long story, and hope to build on and honor the legacy of the shop, and continue to be your neighborhood shop of choice.