As Good as Gold
Oregon Wine Experience a state treasure
The old mining town, Jacksonville, was founded in 1851 with the discovery of gold. Presently, it is the site of another gold rush, this time, in liquid form. In celebration of the community’s new wine frontier, the Oregon Wine Experience, Aug. 24–28, uncorked its 2016 event for an eager audience at Bigham Knoll Campus.
These days, gold is still coveted but not the sole precious metal known in these parts; silver was also presented during the OWE kick-off event, the medal ceremony for the Oregon Wine Competition. Featuring 68 wineries and more than 200 wines, all made from Oregon grapes — this is the first year the contest has been open to all the state’s wine regions — the winners were decided prior to the Wednesday event by an impressive judges panel: Masters of Wine Mollie Battenhouse, Adam Lapierre and Tim Hanni; wine writer Richard Jennings, and wine editors Bob Foster and Luke Sykora.
Under the massive white tent with beautifully swaying drapes of white gauze, tables and glasses filled up, and wine flowed as the conversation swirled around the winners, announced throughout the evening. Winemakers and winery owners, representing regions from the Rogue to the Willamette Valley, received medals for a wide range of varietals, styles and blends earning double-gold, gold and silver. One of the biggest winners of the night was not a winery but a winemaker, Bryan Wilson; he made two of the “Best in Shows,” Pebblestone Cellars 2015 Viognier and Cuckoo’s Nest Cellars 2015 Fizzé, Early Muscat. The other top winner was Plaisance Ranch 2013 Syrah crafted by Joe Ginet.
During the next two days, Thursday and Friday, guests could dine with winemakers at their homes, wineries and cellars in and around Jacksonville. Hosts included Rocky Knoll, Abacela, Belle Fiore, Grizzly Peak, Hellgate Cellars at Serra Vineyards, Folin, RoxyAnn, South Stage, Jaxon, TeSóAria at Celestina Vineyards, Troon, Steelhead Run, Pallet Wine Co., EdenVale, Schmidt Family Vineyards and Red Lily.
Back at Bigham Knoll, participants were ready for another magical tasting Friday afternoon at the Founders’ Barrel Auction. In its second year, this portion of the celebration encouraged guests to stroll, sample wines — straight from the barrel and made specifically for the auction — and purchase shares (in case increments) of the barrels they most enjoyed. Of course, well-matched food created by talented local chefs and artisan food purveyors rounded out the energetic event.
The following day, the party continued with the much-anticipated Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake. Under the softly glowing lights in the big tent at Bigham Knoll, white linens and gleaming wine glasses prepped ticket-holders for an evening sipping award-winning wines, amazing food and a chance to bid on a variety of lots, all for the sake of Asante Foundation and the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN).
Replicating a 10,000-year-old tradition of the Coquille Indian tribe, planks of salmon leaned over glowing coals of alder wood with smoke drifting upwards, encouraging revelers to enjoy the feast laid out before them. During the evening, a sweet girl — also a recipient of the services provided by Asante and CMN — impressed the crowd with an emotional song, reminding everyone the reason for the charity event. The evening ended with wines lined up for continued tasting, plus more live music and dancing under the stars.
Although the embers in the firepit had long faded, the excitement for the final day carried into Sunday’s event: The Grand Tasting. For three hours, approximately 600 ticketholders had the chance to taste a hundred wines made with fruit sourced from 13 Oregon AVAs and crafted by 50-plus winemakers. Thoughtful hors d’oeuvres accented the wines and satisfied the final crowd.
In addition, OWE presented “Oregon Wine University,” taking place in the weeks leading up to the four-day celebration with classes on various aspects of wine appreciation and production. Hosted at local venues throughout the region, participants experienced rewarding opportunities all month.
In its impressive totality, OWE has quickly become one of the top destination wine and culinary festivals in the region and beyond. Yet, it did not reach the level without the dedication and hard work of many people.
“This event took an army of volunteers to put it together,” said event organizer Liz Wan of Serra Vineyards, “and like a well-built wine, it has the complexity of layers with a long finish.”
Reinforcing Wan’s sentiment, Carol Fredrick of Stone Griffon Vineyard also recognized the OWE’s elaborate execution, “[The festival] was experienced in layers, like wine.”
More reflections on this year’s celebration brought raves from winemakers such as double-gold-winning Terry Brandborg, who offered, “The best that the Northern Umpqua has to offer is highlighted [at OWE].” Betty Tamm, owner of the Triple Oak Vineyard and gold medalist, said, “Being a small producer, events like this give me credibility.” Scott and Jennifer Henry of Season Cellars, the recipient of a double-gold, offered, “This event has set the bar high; it’s good exposure for a good cause.” Steve Simmons of Misty Oaks Vineyard, a silver medal winner, added, “Accolades from this caliber of an event mean something.”
According to Sue Mendenhall, an OWE executive committee member, this year’s event raised $700,000 for the two charities.
For more information about this event and 2017’s date, visit www.theoregonwineexperience.com.
Nancy Rodriguez is a freelance writer; she resides in Oakland, Oregon, in the Umpqua Valley.