A Mac Classic
Crowds take a Sip! of Oregon wine
Hillary and Kevin Dobbs were among the first people through the door to raise their glasses at the annual Sip!, formally titled the McMinnville Wine & Food Classic, March 13–15, at the Evergreen Space Museum.
Well, actually, Hillary raised more glasses than her husband. “I’m not really here for the wine,” Kevin Dobbs confessed. “I’m here for the space museum. She’s the wine person in the family. I am more into aviation and history. We were here a couple of weeks ago with our kids and decided this would be a good time to come back.”
Organizers of Sip!, the an annual fundraiser for St. James Catholic School, hoped for at least 6,000 visitors over the course of the weekend. This year’s 22nd event hosted tables for some 70 local and regional wineries as well as merchants offering everything from fudge to T-shirts to fine art.
Most people, however, come for the wine, which has become a major industry in the mid-Willamette Valley over the past 20 years or so, said Ivy Hover, the marketing director of Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall. The region is home to a majority of the state’s 600-plus wineries, she said.
Despite that, she added, winemakers are still more interested in stomping grapes than their competitors. “We are not really competitive,” Hover said. “There is something out there for everyone, for every taste. There is a great camaraderie, actually, among Willamette Valley winemakers.”
Selling wine is really about marketing, Hover said. “Everyone has a particular claim to fame,” she said. “Ours, for example, is that all our wines are estate-grown. We don’t bring anything in from, say, Douglas County. We market our wine heavily on the beauty of our region.”
Nonetheless, there is some competition in the wine business. Winery owners can submit their wines to the festival for judging. Left Cellars’ pinot noir, for example, took a gold medal.
Oregon wines are making a name for themselves across the country, Hover said. Left Coast exports to 29 states. “We are really big in states like Minnesota, Texas and Colorado,” she said. “They just don’t have the kind of market saturation we have here.”
Katie Selby, the marketing director of Cottonwood Winery in Hopewell, which has a tasting room in Amity, said she is excited about the growth of Oregon’s winery industry. Working in the industry has been a goal of hers for a long time.
“I’ve always wanted to own a vineyard of my own,” Selby said. “I’ve always loved wine. When I applied for my job, Phil Lieberman, the owner, asked me what kind of wine I like, and I said, ‘an open one.’ I think that’s what got me the job. (Just kidding).”
Like Hover, Selby said the key to the wine business is marketing. Cottonwood specializes in handcrafted wines -- releasing just 1,500 cases per year. The winery’s winemaker, Aaron Lieberman, was a soil scientist in Guatemala with the Peace Corps before joining the family business.
“I think that kind of experience makes our wine unique,” Selby said.
However, she admitted, it is difficult to define what makes a wine unique. “I guess you just develop a taste,” she said. “When I first started drinking wine, I just knew something was different between wines, but I didn’t really know how to identify it. Now I can say, ‘oh, that’s plum’ or ‘oh, that’s peach.’”
A lot more people say they have sophisticated palates when it comes to wine than actually do, said wine enthusiast Bob Burk of Albany. He said his own enthusiasm doesn’t result from any pretensions about wine. He just knows what tastes good to him.
“A lot of people think they know a lot about wine, but when it comes down to it, they can’t really tell the difference between expensive wine and the stuff they buy at the grocery store,” Burk said. “It’s all about individual taste.
“It’s how it sits in your mouth after you have sipped it,” he added. “Does it sit well in your mouth? Or do you say, ‘Gaaah! What was that?’ That’s really how most people judge wine -- no matter what they say.”
Jennifer McGill missed this year. She was there, but she was busy selling crafts.
“I love wine festivals,” she said. “I wanted to discover what life would be like on the other side of the booth. I’m usually on the other side sampling the wines. I can’t say I’m a big fan of missing out on that part of the festival.”