NEWS / FEATURES

Counter Culture: Vol. 8

Anne Amie party plays on with food, wine and music

By Mark Stock

With a gathering as grand as the International Pinot Noir Celebration returning to McMinnville every year, it was only a matter of time until an offshoot appeared. Among the best and fastest growing of said secondary events is Counter Culture, an evening-long mixer of wines from near and far, and bites from some of Portland’s finest chefs. It takes place at Anne Amie Vineyards, whose sprawling Carlton grounds tout one of the greatest panoramas of the Coast Range in all Willamette wine country.

Established in 2010, the party began, as Anne Amie’s Matt Tracy explains, as a casual alternative to the relatively formal dinners associated with IPNC. Multi-course meals served with library wines set in vineyards and cellars appear quite common around the last weekend of July. Reflecting the industry at large, Counter Culture feels less exclusive but still determined to impress.

In fact, the event’s become its own gastronomical force; this year’s lineup included the likes of Tusk, Pizza Jerk, Bollywood Theater and Mediterranean Exploration Company, to name a few. Its evolution of food is a reflection of sorts. In the early years, most of the offerings came from popular food carts. As they transformed into brick-and-mortar establishments and the festival generated a growing buzz, more and more eateries wanted in. The style of food has been described as “street” since the beginning; in other words, the kind of creative, smaller plates you’d likely be served in one of Portland’s many mobile kitchen pods.

This year, the atmosphere was decidedly low key. Restaurants served from under tents peppered throughout the estate and attendees curated their own stops. With DJs spinning and a performance by Taiko drummers, there were plenty of worthy distractions, but the star of the show has always been the food, wine and breathtaking wine country sunset.

Tracy estimates attendance for 2017 increased by 100 people. He portrays the crowd as primarily local enthusiasts, club members, IPNC attendees and industry folks. “We hope that out-of-towners fall in love with Oregon, the Willamette Valley and Anne Amie Vineyards,” he added. “We hope that locals left feeling so impressed that they’ve already save the date for the 2018 event.”

One of the festival’s many positive traits is the mobile, cafeteria-esque format. Sit-down dinners can be magical, but Counter Culture encourages people to take the lead on their own pairings, whether a slice from Pizza Jerk with Syrah from Grochau Cellars or some Olympia Provisions charcuterie with a farmhouse ale from Wolves & People. There are no rules, just loose guidelines and unfettered access to two expansive food and wine galaxies.

“With wineries, we’ve rarely — if ever — repeated a winery. We have repeated importers, but they’ve always poured wine from a new producer,” explained Tracy.

This year included Analemma Wines from Mosier, Banshee Wines from Healdsburg, California, and Statera Cellars, a Willamette Valley producer focused solely on Chardonnay. A varied cast of importers included the New Zealand Winegrowers, Klima Weinhandler, and the French collective Terroirs Originels, among others.

The wines strayed beyond the obvious hero of the weekend, Pinot Noir. There was a pleasant mix of varietals, vineyard sites and blends on display, from domestic sites and those much farther afield. The portfolios from international importers were particularly interesting, as they often showcased small producers, hard to find in the States.

Those preparing for the perennial salmon bake and a debaucherous weekend powered by IPNC missed a genuinely satisfying event in Counter Culture. Its approachability alone is a direct representation of the Valley, its producers and its signature hospitality. The cast of purveyors at Counter Culture may conjure up white tablecloths, but the atmosphere is far more akin to a backyard barbecue: unhurried, jovial and without pretense.

As far as immersion and selection go, Counter Culture falls somewhere between the Uncommon Wine Festival — an annual gathering of area micro-producers — and the primarily winemaker-led, larger-scale Pinot in The City events presented by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. In short, whether you’re just dipping your toes into the local food and wine scene, or a seasoned professional after something a little different, this gathering is for you.

Mark your calendar for next year, July 26. Counter Culture will no doubt happen again, but as to what the cast of characters might look like, “It’s too early to say,” Tracy added.

Mark Stock is a freelance writer based in Portland. Discover more of his work at www.markastock.com.

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