Fausse Piste (loosely meaning "wrong track" in French) is the brainchild of chef Jesse Skiles.
Jesse tells all about his beginnings: "I grew up in the northwest (Eugene, Seattle and finally in Portland) - where I was always immersed in good food and wine. My father still has many of the wines that he bought back in the late 70s from Kevin Chambers at his wine shop in Eugene (some notables are 77 Chateau Palmer, some Penfolds, lots of Riesling and some Oregon Pinots). My grandparents owned restaurants in Portland in the 40's & 50's, and my uncle owned a winery/vineyard down by Philomath in the 90's, planted to Pommard and Chardonnay.
So that base was there and my Dad is an outstanding cook, but never cooked professionally, so I was kind of groomed into becoming a cook. We traveled to Europe quite a bit, and did a lot of bicycle touring (including a 16 month bike trip around the world when I was 15) so when you are biking in Europe, you see a lot of vineyards - and get to eat as much as you can.
One of my most treasured memories from these travels is stopping at a small collection of caves in Hungary and trying Tokaji from an old man. He spoke no English but was very eager to take us down to his damp cellar and show his pride and joy off to us. Experiencing fermenting Tokaji, to a 15 year old, is life changing, it turns out.
After the trip I was hooked. I remember driving my dad to go wine tasting for the first time in 2000. We went to Domaine Serene, Domaine Drouhin, and most memorably Owen Roe & Sineann.
After high school I started working in kitchens. First washing dishes for a couple of years, then picking up the random shift making salads when the salad guy didn't show up. Then I got my first real cooking job, working at 750 ML in Portland. It was just myself, Jose the dishwasher and Micah Camden, who was the chef (DOC and Yakuza restaurants in Portland). What an eye opener to the wine industry. My second week on the job, Jim Brooks passed away - and we did the food for his funeral, It was a sad time.
After a while, 750 closed and I left my other cooking job at Gubanc's in Lake Grove, ending up at culinary school in Hyde Park, at the CIA. It was there that I first discovered the wines of the Northern Rhone. Reading Wine Spectator in the library, there was an article about M. Chapoutier, and how he was leading a revolution of sorts in the northern Rhone.
Up until this point I don't think I knew anything about the area or the wines produced there. I had just turned 21, and made my first educated trip to a wine shop. I bought 2 wines - an M. Chapoutier Saint-Joseph and a Condrieu from Cuilleron.
I dove into the Internet, reading about the region. Having been so close to the Rhone on our trips to Europe, I knew about Syrah. I had tried the wines from and been to Chatauneuf de Pape, but never imagined that Syrah could be so delicate and enjoyable. And I had never tried a wine like Viognier before, floral but strong.
I ended up at the Herbfarm for my Externship and got a great crash course on Washington/Oregon wines, as well as the great wines of the world, by befriending the HerbFarm's Sommelier Mark DuMez. It was there that I first tried some of the great Washington wines from Cayuse, Quilceda Creek, K Vintners - we'd try the wines that were left over by customers at the end of the night.
I was still a focused cook but really enjoyed reading and learning about the world of wine, and ended up working for Millbrook Winery in New York (whose real claim to fame is that the owner also owns Willams Seylem) on weekends, working in the warehouse - doing the random punchdown and tastings.
School ended and I came back to Portland and started cooking for Tommy Habbetz at Meriwether's. I left after a year and a half to travel to Northern Italy for a while, to eat and research food, ending up in the Piedmont.
After I came back I was trying to open a restaurant - and that wasn't really happening, so I needed a job. My best friend (also a chef) whose sister was working at Owen Roe, got us introduced to the winery and we were invited to cook lunch for an extra large crew.
"Shortly after taking the position of chef at Owen Roe, owner David O'Reilly encouraged me to make my own wine - as he encourages all of his staff. After thinking about it for a while I knew exactly what I wanted to try and make.
I decided on Viognier - and a co-fermented Syrah/Viognier blend. It just so happened that David had grapes for both wines available from Outlook Vineyard in the Yakima. But it was kind of off the cuff, so I tried to replicate the styles of the great wines I liked from each region - both the modern wines of the northern Rhone and those of the Columbia Valley, with the goal of making food friendly, lower alcohol Syrah, and Viognier.
So with lots of help from the cellar staff, my parents, a base recipe and great ingredients I made wine. It was a very fantastic learning experience, and I don't think I could have or ever would have done it had I not ended up at Owen Roe. I went back to the Rhone in March of 2009 to immerse myself in the area: meeting the people, trying the wines with the food from the area, and learning some great techniques that I couldn't have gotten here.
It's funny that what started as a little 150 case project (that would supply my one day restaurant with a true house wine), turned into a study of the Columbia Valley's great Syrah sites. I found vineyards and bought grapes from the Yakima and Walla Walla areas, as well as grapes from a very cool Grenache Block that I couldn't pass up in Royal City."
An excerpt from MIX Magazine:
We particularly like Jesse's answer as it's something we struggle with daily (and agree with his approach).
Q [MIX]: You tend to avoid using certain adjectives to describe the wines you pour. Things like "leather," "tobacco" and "forest floor." Why do you avoid these descriptors?
A [Jesse Skiles]. Wine can be very complex. Look at the dedication that it takes to understand the industry and production -- the service hows and whys of wine. People take classes just to understand how to describe, serve and sell wine. Often I think this knowledge is used in the wrong way, and often it overwhelms the customer, actually scaring people away from trying new things. Pouring a wine for someone and saying this wine has "overtones of quince and freshly peeled whatever" is a lost cause. I don't want to tell people what they should taste. It's much more rewarding to pour for someone and bring the human element into the conversation, or talk about the culture and climate it came from. Those connections make it easier to understand what's going on. People taste things differently. I don't want to discourage someone because they can't taste the red currants in a wine. I think it should be a simpler conversation. Do you like it or not? We're trying to leave the pretension of the wine industry at the door and make wine fun and approachable.