With a goal of seeing 10,000 festivalgoers making their way through the doors of the Evergreen Space Museum from March 10–12, festival cochairman Steve Bernards announced the 24th annual McMinnville Wine & Food Classic a few months ago with the release of a new promotional video. As former mayor Ed Gormley and others point out in the piece, this year’s event will be the 10th straight held under the spacious ceiling of the museum, making it not only one of the largest indoor wine-focused events in the state, but the only one with rocket boosters and spacecraft suspended above the fray.
More than 170 vendors will be on hand to display their wares, including 73 wineries from across the state who offer pay-per-taste samples of their bottles, with a streamlined system for attendees to buy bottles and cases of wine that are delivered to a staging area and then transported by volunteers to customers’ cars. Other exhibitors include distilleries, breweries headed by local brewer Golden Valley, artists and several food booths, including a popular oyster, shrimp and crab stand that has long been a hit with attendees, with seafood donated by Pacific Seafood and other purveyors.
That stand is staffed by volunteers, said Jon Johnson, a local commercial loan officer who will be working his 23rd festival. As he and Bernards pointed out, the Classic — which has been called SIP! in the past, a nickname that organizers are trying to phase out — continues to be a major fundraiser for the St. James Elementary School of McMinnville.
The celebration is entirely staffed by volunteers who have long, deep connections with the church and school. Steve Bernards’ father attended the school, for example, as did he and then his three children.
“Without the money we’ve raised over the years, I don’t believe the school would have been able to continue,” said Johnson, who pointed out that with volunteer organizers and staff, the event turns nearly all of its proceeds over to the school.
Winemaker Todd Hamina of Biggio-Hamina Cellars echoed the sentiment. His two children attended the St. James elementary program, and this year will mark the 12th straight festival for him.
“It’s the only event like this that I do,” said Hamina, who will be pouring his 2016 Gewürztraminer, 2009 Syrah and a surprise 2015 Pinot Noir at the festival. “It’s a great event, and a great way to support the community.”
“It’s a great festival,” agreed Rich Washburn, vice-president of Eola Hills Wine Cellars, a longtime Classic exhibitor. “We get a lot of wine-savvy customers who come not only from across the state, but from across the country. It’s a great way to spend a day or more.”
The festival started in 1993 at the McMinnville Armory, with a small showing of exhibitors and curious attendees.
“We probably saw 800 to 1,000 people,” recalled Johnson, “but even then we turned a profit.”
The festival moved to the Evergreen Air Museum in 2001 to coincide with the unveiling of Howard Hughes’ mammoth Spruce Goose aircraft — a year that saw record attendance of nearly 10,000 — and then moved to Linfield College for several years before beginning its present run at the Evergreen Space Museum, in an adjacent building to the Air Museum, which still displays the Spruce Goose and other military and commercial aircraft.
Among the wineries in attendance this year will be big players like Willamette Valley Vineyards and Troon Vineyards, alongside smaller boutique wineries like Varnum Vintners, Denison Cellars, Samuel Robert Winery and J.L. Kiff Vineyard. Those valley wineries are joined by many wineries from the southern part of the state, such as Melrose Vineyards and Misty Oaks Vineyard, allowing attendees to taste a wide selection of wines and styles, from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. As Johnson pointed out, 168 wines from all corners of the state were entered in the festival’s wine competition in a judging that took place in January.
Hours for the event are Friday, March 10, 3 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Ample parking is available on site, and there will be shuttles from downtown McMinnville to the event. General admission price is $17 per person, with discounts for seniors and deep discounts on 3-day passes.
For information and to order tickets online, go to www.sipclassic.org.