WWC23 – Ed Paladino, by Ocean Yap Powell

Ed Paladino

In this, the final 2023 wine writing competition entry we will be publishing, Portland-based wine professional Ocean Yap Powell writes about wine-shop owner Ed Paladino. For the rest of the entries published in this year's competition, see our WWC23 guide.

Ocean Yap Powell writes Aloha! My name is Ocean Yap Powell and I live in Portland Oregon. I have been a part of the Oregon wine industry for twelve years doing a bit of everything from vineyard management, winemaking, retail, and volunteering on various wine boards. My mission is to redefine wine culture. Both wine creators and wine consumers who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) LGBTQ+, women, and folks with disabilities have been overlooked and underrepresented in the world of wine. Just like the hundreds of rootstock varieties, there are many communities and cultures that can strengthen the wine industry. My continued education in wine is powered by accessibility, representation, and empowerment.

The Existing Roots

I met Ed Paladino for the first time during the late harvest of 2021. I had just left my previous job at a wine shop due to an unhealthy work environment. My trust was low for working with another white person but the invitation into E&R Wine Shop was different, they found me. As a Queer woman of color in the Oregon wine industry, I’ve faced demeaning treatment by various white peers and bosses, experienced racism during daily tastings, discrimination at wine events, and have found myself in many toxic industry spaces that were not safe for me. When we internalize our experiences of mistreatment, it can be hard to see the way forward. The percentage of voices like mine is significantly lower in the world of wine. In the past, for me, and for many other people of color, we have had to enter quiet survival mode, never raising ourselves too high because if we did, it threatened the structure of what has been. Part of my work today is breaking down barriers and amplifying diverse perspectives within our space. For so long in this industry I was disillusioned of what my contribution could be because of the unsupportive places I kept finding myself in. That afternoon in late October, I sat down with Ed and the team at E&R for a conversation. Ed, shy and unassuming, poured me a taste of Barolo from 1996. Vintage sepia and goldish label with touches of rose red, I had no idea who Conterno Monfortino was. Later did I find out just what I was sipping after Ed sent me home with the bottle half full. This was my first example of how generous Ed is. His roots are deep with kindness and his cultivation for the future begins with compassion. He is highly invested in growing the next generation (rootstock) by using his platform (vine) to uplift others. His inner work is reflective of the commitment and respect he has for diverse perspectives. This is a story about an existing vine with new growth. 

When you walk into E&R Wine Shop, the first thing you will probably not notice is Ed sitting behind an old school computer monitor next to a strategically pile of books that hide him from view. Cozied up against eight Bob Dylan concert posters, his desk is like a conductor's podium before the symphony arrives. When he stands, we are all in tune contributing to our next composition. Before, Ed was a humble conductor; he was a composer. Opening E&R in 1999 with investment from his peers, his community of people believed and trusted in him to create one of the most unique shops in the world. Starting out, Ed fell deep into a career in wine with Hugh Johnson’s pocket guide to lead him to some of the bottles we currently have on our shelf. Writing has always been a passion of E&R. Ed established “E&R Wine Explorer” the first year the shop was open. The name was co-opted from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets “we shall not cease from exploration.” Today, we are a team of seven who share a core element of highlighting what we love most about wine; the people. I have never been in a space where I could gain so much with no attachment. Ed’s favorite way to experience wine is with others. The shop has become a source of education and wonder for all levels of wine drinkers. A sly smirk as we taste a mystery pour he brought in from his dinner last night, Ed’s expression of waiting is an open floor of non judgment. The energy of an open stage for exchange of concepts extends beyond our small team tastings. Oregon wine growers graze the shelves picking up bottles like picking out a book at the library. We are the reference desk pulling bottles and stories for each customer. With each person who walks in, Ed always uses “us” language, never “I” because here at the shop, we are a true team. Our continued work and program we call “Almost Direct Imports” (ADI) takes us all over the world finding wines we respect and love. Working with the wineries directly, we partner with a local distributor we believe will be interested in carrying the wines to bring them into our shop. This program has brought us to over 1000 wineries. Using wine guides, books, suggestions from local producers of the region he found himself in, and reliable paper maps, Ed was searching the world for good wine. In some cases, the wine we bring in is the first time it's been in the Oregon market and the rest of the United States. Some growers include Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Eric Rodez, Champagne Marguet, and Christophe Mignon. It’s pretty cool when you are in another city and you see an E&R ADI on the list. Today, we have over 150 producers in this collaboration. We have hosted growers from different regions at our shop over the years for a night of learning. Folks like Bernard Raveneau, Cedric Bouchard, Mathieu Deiss, Amélie Berthaut and local greats like Jason Lett and Kelley Fox. Ed is proud of the work we do because we do it all together, humbly. Learning, supporting, and growing together to cultivate a space that is comfortable for anyone who wants to know a little bit more about wine. It is our chosen responsibility to be as transparent as possible when anyone comes into E&R. At the end of the day we love wine and we are invested in showing up for our community.

Last year, Becky Wasserman & Company posted an opportunity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) folks from America to apply for a week-long symposium in Burgundy. I sat there, staring at the post, my mind was racing considering the possibilities for myself. Before my self doubt creeped in, I got a text from Ed, “Good time to chat?” The Wasserman trip was on his mind too. “I think you would be a good candidate for this- it would be good for you and it would be good for them”. This is just how Ed sees the world. Always thinking of others, the bigger picture. For example, back in 1983, Ed noticed that reggae artists featured in Beat Magazine were receiving three sentence reviews and he thought there was much more to be said. His passion for more justice towards Black artists pushed him to send a personal fax of heartfelt concern that the community of readers deserved a more honest, in depth review of these dynamic artists. Ed kicked the door down and highlighted perspectives that have been waiting for a space where their voices were actually heard. He does this for me everyday. The Wasserman team heard my voice and invited me to Burgundy. From there, Ed continued my education and supported my travels for the next two weeks meeting producers we work directly with in France. My first trip out of the country, Ed’s advice, encouragement, and interest carried me through new terriors of exploration. 

We have a compassion-based approach to confront challenges that work toward healing. This work is not easy but when you have a space the Ed has cultured, learning together is revitalizing. Ed is always down for the conversation. He truly values new concepts, gaining tools and doing his own learning outside of our conversation. As I self-pivot in a healthy work environment, revisiting some of my challenging experiences in the wine industry has become a source of radicalizing my pain into growth of how we can do better. In our twenty-fifth year of being open, E&R continues on its own road. We hosted BIPOC interns from Our Legacy Harvested whose mission is to empower and place Black, Indigenous, People of Color in the Oregon wine industry through a four month long harvest. During their time they explore all other areas of our wine industry, a fast track to see all the diversity of jobs there are. Seeing our shop inspired one intern to think about a career in retail. We held a fundraiser for that non-profit, hosting three BIPOC owned wineries and reserving tickets for our BIPOC community to attend for free. We hosted a Burgundy tasting following my travels in France with ASL interpreters, making it one of not many accessible tasting events in Portland. We offered free Champagne for Bob Dlyan’s birthday blasting our favorite albums through an amp all day. We continue to make wine tasting approachable offering free tastings on Saturdays where anyone at any level can continue their wine education from single vineyard Barolo to BIPOC winemakers in Oregon. Our hearts lay in curiosity leading us to the next taste. Being in an environment like E&R Wine Shop has empowered me to know my existence is valued. This is all possible when you have a person like Ed in your life. He stands up for you by taking a step back. With a passion to share, his leadership is powered by unconditional love. 

The photograph is by Alex Fortson, the author's co-worker.