Silverton on Stage

at the Willamette Valley Wine & Jazz Festival

By Neil Zawicki

We don’t get out much. We have young children. But the Willamette Valley Wine & Jazz Festival was our destination. Taking them along seemed a great way to check in on the efforts of the winemaking community, enjoy the Oregon Garden and a trip to Silverton.

Several things were clear when we arrived at the event, which took place March 12 inside the pavilion at the garden: There was wine and there was jazz, and tables filled with people enjoying both. As we wandered the room, corralling the kids while navigating the crowd, the fact we really couldn’t consume all the wine we wanted to — my wife is pregnant, and I was driving — might have contributed to our conundrum: How to exact a proper story from this event.

Certainly, the collection of wines offered here would make not only a great activity, but a solid theme for the article, but as we were in a different mode altogether, that thread was not an option. Meanwhile, in one far corner, over the sounds of lively jazz, a woman at a booth tried to sell us some windows for our house.

The angle was not presenting itself, and as my wife took the girls outside to explore the garden, I handed my tasting tickets to a surprised couple. “I’ll never get around to it, but here you go,” I said, handing them the tickets almost without breaking stride.

I ended up at the Hanson Vineyards booth, and the situation improved straightaway. The real spirit of the thing had revealed itself. Winemaker Jason Hanson greeted me. He and his dad, Clark, started the vineyard in 2005, after the retired grade school principal took his hobby of winemaking to the next level, at the behest of his family. Jason decided to take his master’s in Political Campaign Management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and put it to good use making wine with his dad.

And now, along with 10 other vineyards in the association known as the Cascade Foothills Winegrowers, he’s campaigning to make the festival an annual destination. What used to the be the Silverton Wine & Jazz Festival — an event that had been in mothballs for the past five years — was just last year resurrected by Hanson and his fellow foothills winegrowers.

Visitors enjoyed the work of Aurora Cellars, Christopher Bridge, Hanson Vineyards, Forest Edge Vineyard, King’s Raven Winery and Pheasant Run Wine. Also featured were Silver Falls Vineyards, Saint Josef’s Winery, Whiskey Hill Winery, Villa Catalana Cellars and Wooden Shoe Vineyards.

Partnering with the Oregon Garden, the rebooted annual event is designed not just to showcase wineries surrounding the town, but to attract visitors as well. This, for us, is where the party found a direction. Hanson introduced us to Manny Rodriguez, owner of Creekside Grill in Silverton, and both let us know that the real festival existed in the form of a walk through downtown Silverton that evening, where several night spots would host jazz acts. We told Manny we’d see him later, bought the girls some juice boxes, and made our plans to have dinner in Silverton and enjoy the evening phase of the festival.

And there it is: the value. The Willamette Valley Wine and Jazz Festival could be named, “The Cascade Foothills Winegrowers clever ploy to get people to come out and discover how perfectly their wines compliment the casual and happy scene that is Silverton after dark,” which would be a nightmare to fit on a poster.

For us, the ruse worked. We had a great dinner at Manny’s place, with kids’ menu items that weren’t made of kid’s food: always the mark of a quality kitchen. Our server raved about Hanson’s Riesling, and made some great suggestions for our walk. So we strolled over to a place called Gather, where the venerable Devin Phillips filled the high ceiling brick box with his saxophone, accompanied by stand-up bass. The girls enjoyed giant cookies and cupcakes while we checked out live music. And Manny appeared as well, making the rounds to show his support for the denizens of the festival.

In the end, a wine-themed event introduced us to Silverton and its food — and pastries — and music. Okay, so maybe such noted musicians as Devin Phillips were there because of the festival, but the kids play area at Gather, with its high, corral-like walls, will always be there. And in that, for parents of young kiddos, lies all the difference.

In the years before Neil Zawicki landed in the Willamette Valley, he spent his time as a reporter in Alaska, and a sailor with an address in a California marina. In his spare time, he’s a student of history, a painter and a guitar player.

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