JPR Toasts 30
By Janet Eastman
Thirty years ago, the economy was hurting, Southern Oregon was a viticultural mystery and the region’s national public radio was starved for operating income. The crazy idea to rescue it all: an event where people bought a ticket for the privilege of drinking many, many small tastes of different kinds of wine.
Back then, a wine-tasting fundraiser was so out of the ordinary that when organizer Lorn Razzano approached officials at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for approval, he was asked, “You want to do what?’”
Fast forward: Jefferson Public Radio (JPR) celebrates its 30th Annual Wine Tasting on Dec. 9 at the Ashland Springs Hotel. More than 30 wineries will be participating, triple the number at the inaugural event. Chefs and food servers will be well stocked with sweet and savory bites, so they won’t run out as they did that first time. And some of those who worked the original, uncharted event will raise a glass to success.
In 1980, Gina Ing was the station’s overworked development director. She conceived the idea of a wine-related fundraiser with Razzano, who had just opened the Ashland Wine Cellar. Razzano says the two were flying by the seat of their pants. But after lots of cold calls, they persuaded Willamette Valley winery owners to drive south in a snowstorm and participate in what was then a hard-to-explain event.
The Newport Seafood & Wine Festival, sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, was only two years old. The Greatest of the Grape gathering had been celebrating Umpqua Valley wines since 1969. JPR organizers believe they were the first Southern Oregon nonprofit to offer tastes from around the state.
The first event packed a hall in what was then Southern Oregon State College — now Southern Oregon University — in Ashland and it made money for the public radio station. This year, 500 tickets will be sold at the larger venue. As in the past, proceeds will support station operational costs, including programming.
From the start, organizers invited only Oregon wineries. “We kicked around the idea of having California wines as well,” Razzano recalled. “But the economic times were as hard as they are now. There were empty storefronts. And we asked ourselves, ‘How best do we help the Oregon wine industry?’ We decided not to look south, even though we could have bombed without them.”
Memories are fuzzy, but Razzano and others remember Girardet, Henry Estate and Valley View Winery braving the unknown. Protocol was created on the spot, from how much to pour to who could legally pour.
Adding to the excitement, the station broadcasted live from the event, with Ing and Razzano interviewing the winemakers and supporters.
Razzano remembers he had a wine glass in one hand and a microphone in the other. He wandered to each of the booths, dragging cables behind him and begging people not to step on them. Then he “stuck a mic in people’s faces and asked them, ‘What do you think of this wine?’”
John Baxter was JPR’s program director back then and he worked the mixing console during the two-hour live broadcasts. “It was a way of promoting the wine tasting,” he said, “but I’m not sure it was very good radio. By the end of the evening, the interviews got less and less focused as more wine was consumed by those being interviewed and those like me behind the console.”
Despite the missteps, winery owners asked to be invited again in 1981. “Then we knew we had jumped the fence,” Razzano said. “We took everyone by surprise. Now these kind of wine tastings are everywhere.” News Brief by Janet Eastman.
Jefferson Public Radio Wine Tasting
Location: Ashland Springs Hotel
Address: 212 E. Main St., Ashland
Date/Time: Dec. 9, 6 to 9 p.m.
Tickets: $45 (members); $50
Phone: 541-552-6301 or 877-646-4TIX