Guests sample the many different wines offered during the festival.##Photo provided
Winery representatives await attendees at the opening of the 2015 Oregon Wine Experience.##Photo provided

Top-Class Festival

Education in demand at Oregon Wine Experience

By Sarah Lemon

Students, not wine-industry experts, supply the correct answers in Robert Trottmann’s “Wine 101” class.

“If you like a wine, that’s a great wine for you,” said the wine educator and brand ambassador for Ledger David Cellars.

“Don’t let somebody tell you what wine you should be drinking with what, where.”

Banishing “wine snobbery” is Trottmann’s goal for Oregon Wine University’s mainstay workshop, one of 10 comprising a diverse curriculum at The Oregon Wine Experience, a weeklong wine extravaganza. The 2016 event, set for Aug. 22–28, only promises further educational opportunities open to the public and industry professionals alike, said Liz Wan, chairwoman of Oregon Wine University.

“Next year, we’re going to be doing this a week before the festival,” Wan said. “We just need more days.”

The number of sensory classes doubled every year over the past four, starting with just two when The Oregon Wine Experience was known as the Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival. The new name reflects a partnership with Asante Foundation to benefit Children’s Miracle Network and other health care programs in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The Oregon Wine Experience raised more than $500,000 in sponsorships, ticket sales and live and silent auctions. More than 2,000 people attended the event, Aug. 17–23, at Jacksonville’s Bigham Knoll. 

The price per hourlong class, from $49 for “Wine 101” to $150 for a crash course in cult wines, is almost entirely profit for Asante Foundation, said Wan. Instructors, including Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor Haiyan Song, volunteered their time. And the region’s wineries donated the bottles sampled and evaluated in each session.

Abacela, Ledger David, Folin Cellars, Red Lily Vineyards and Cuckoo’s Nest Cellars represented the lineup of labels for Trottmann’s “Wine 101: How to Choose, Pair and Serve Wine.” Small bites prepared by Southern Oregon chefs accompanied each tasting portion of wine.

“And you can do this every day in your own home,” said Trottmann to the crowd of about 30 participants.

Beginning with briny shrimp ceviche in a crisp cucumber cup accented by Abacela’s well-balanced 2014 Albariño, Trottmann noted how complementary flavor pairings acknowledging a duet of contrasting flavors is the other basic approach to pairing food and wine. The texture and weight of a dish also affects how it plays on the palate with wine, said Trottmann.

“I knew I was having an out-of-body, religious experience,” he commented, recalling a seven-course meal that achieved perfection with its wine pairings. “You’ll go into a state of euphoria.”

The five-course menu for “Wine 101” progressed through phyllo shells of fromage blanc with pineapple relish. Crostini of prosciutto, ratatouille and Romano cheese paved the way for savory lamb meatballs with mushrooms, huckleberry gastrique and crispy shallots. With the final morsel of Gorgonzola cheese and candied hazelnuts sandwiched in a dried apricot, participants sipped 2014 Cuckoo’s Nest Fizzé Early Muscat. 

“Sip” is one of the five S’s that Trottmann cites for evaluating wine. See a wine, checking that it’s clear and clean. A wine’s color may suggest its age. Swirl the wine in a glass to oxygenate, which intensifies aroma. Smell the wine to learn the most about it; odor is most likely to reveal flaws in a wine just as its perfume hints at exceptional qualities, said Trottmann. Sip to accentuate both a wine’s aroma and mouthfeel. Lastly, swallow.

“It’s that simple,” said Trottmann.

As simple in subject matter as its title, “Wine 101” has been Oregon Wine University’s most popular class each year, said Wan. So beloved of festival participants, cheese and wine pairing broke off as a separate topic from the standard food-pairing workshop for 2015.

“That was something I would have never seen coming.”

“Bloom, Wines & Rinds … Oh, My!” also was a favorite at The Oregon Wine Experience, said Wan, not least for the expertise of instructor and certified fromager Tom Van Voorhees of Rogue Creamery in Central Point.

“Most emerging wine regions don’t tend to have a lot of educators who are certified,” said Wan.

Other class topics included “terroir,” vintage variation, cold and hardy grape varieties, Southern Oregon versus the Old World and a comparison of Southern Oregon with France’s Burgundy region, known as “Oregundian.” Two versions of Riedel’s perennially popular stemware class invited the public and industry professionals to taste medal-winning wines produced in Southern Oregon.    

Employed in the tasting room at Medford’s 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery, Autumn Reynolds enrolled in “Wine 101” at her bosses’ suggestion.

“If you’re not sure about wine … it gives you a little bit more knowledge of how to figure out your palate,” she said.

Trottmann’s lessons reinforced Reynolds’ recommendations for 2Hawk patrons, who drink its slightly smoky Pinot Noir with pizza topped with smoked meats. The 24-year-old said she also appreciated the depth of topics — from grafting grapevines to label design — in “Wine 101,” the only Oregon Wine University class she attended.  

“It was awesome,” she said. “I wish I could have taken some more.”

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Sarah Lemon is a regular contributor for the Mail Tribune, which hosts her blog, The Whole Dish. Follow @thewholedish on Twitter or see  

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