Party Politics

By Karl Klooster

What happens when you invite people to discuss politics in a relaxed setting centered around wine and food? Two key questions essential to ascertaining the answer would be “Who’s on the guest list? and “What’s the political agenda?”

Depending on one’s personal perspective in regard to such sometimes touchy, or perhaps even tedious affairs, two other questions would be, “Where’s the event being held?” and “What’s on the menu?”

All these criteria apparently found favor with a fascinating group of local folks who gathered Thursday evening, April 23 at Noah’s...A Wine Bar in downtown McMinnville.

Noah’s proprietor Jack Thornton and his wife, Bobbie Paris, are noted for putting on dinner parties with panache. It’s a knack that needs regular nurturing and their elaborately appointed, living room-like retail wine bar/bistro establishment provides the perfect setting.

Asking recently-elected McMinnville Mayor Rick Olson to speak to fellow citizens about the current state of the city and field a few questions, supplied all the excuse the couple needed to throw another of their splendid soirées.

That included a seven-course dinner created by Chef Erol Kanmaz of Timberline Lodge, Oregon wines and entertainment by local musicians Jonathan Swanson at the piano and Erick Fricke on bass.

All-Oregon wine offerings included Ken Wright Cellars’ limited-production Chardonnay, and Claret and Syrah under Wright’s second label, Tyrus Evan, plus Pinot Noir from Dukes Family Vineyards.

On this occasion, a large helping of solid substance was served up along with the satisfying sustenance. That substance came in the form of a very positive outlook from a guy by the name of Olson, whose glass is clearly far more than half full.

The longtime Oregon Mutual Insurance executive, former firefighter and veteran city councilor reaffirmed his commitment to the high level of volunteer service he has given the city over so many years.

In doing so, he pointed out, “I’m only the mayor. It’s you people who make McMinnville what it is. It all has to do with the people, and everyone must give back (to the community).”

 To cope with these tough economic times, Olson is throwing his full support behind the promotion of Shop at Home. “My pledge to you as mayor is to do my utmost to keep business here,” he said.

 “If we don’t take care of ourselves, nobody else will. Besides, everything we need is right here. Why would I want to leave McMinnville to shop?”

 He went on to mention the importance of taking care of the next generation through Kids on the Block and the ongoing financial support provided to it by the annual Mayor’s Ball as well as proper stewardship of the local school district.

After Olson concluded his remarks, Western Oregon Waste CEO Bob Emmerich said of him, “We’re fortunate to have a mayor so focused on McMinnville, so committed to the community, and we need to support him. We all have a role.”

Emmerich’s wife, Nancy, also played a crowd-pleasing role that evening when she sang an impromptu solo. She’s a professional opera singer and member of the singing trio Diva & the Dixies. She’s the “Diva.”  Her sister and a friend are the “Dixies.”

Moments such as this capture the flavor of a gathering that exuded the atmosphere of a very pleasurable private party. Just about everyone knew just about everyone else there and in a manner that obviously surpassed passing acquaintance.

But this didn’t mean they stood around in cliques, ignoring anyone they didn’t already know. During the hour or so before dinner was served, fluid mingling spawned a cross-current of interaction that spread throughout the room.

As a result, no one was left out and just about everyone greeted just about everyone else, often launching into relatively lengthy, if lighthearted, conversation.

Being seated for dinner only brought abatement to the interaction not cessation. Between courses, table hopping seemed the rule rather than the exception.

In fact, this may have been the only time this writer has attended a gourmet dinner—excluding ones held in private homes—where, as good as the food and wine were, they played second fiddle to the socializing.

For the record, Chef Kanmaz whetted diners’ palates with an amuse bouche from his native Turkey—a bulgar croquette accompanied by a reduced sauce of fresh tomato and pomegranate.

It was followed by an artistically plated “Salad Bouquet” employing radicchio, frisee, arugula and grape tomatoes on a Belgian endive, topped with a pomegranate lemon dressing.

“From The Valley” was a delectable red cabbage and apple soup. One could make a meal of such a succulent bisque with just some good bread.

“The Sea Breeze”—tiger prawns with parsley, garlic, pepper, savory toast and caper buerre blanc came next, followed by an Intermezzo granita or Italian-style sorbet of heirloom watermelon and cracked black pepper.

“Neighborhood Delight” was a perfectly prepared roasted Oregon rack of lamb with Sambuga shallot jus, creamy white grits with Oregon smoky blue cheese, fenugreek (a seed plant with Pakistani origins) and glazed root vegetables.

Completing the marriage between European and Middle Eastern flavors was “Delightest Delight,” a traditional Turkish baklava. The Oregon Pinots proved their food friendliness throughout, but I’d have loved an intense late harvest Gewürztraminer with that baklava.

Who was there? In addition to the mayor, his wife, Candy, the hosts and the aforementioned Emmerichs, included among the attendees were Joe and Jan Cook, Pat and Jackie Dukes, Sonia Bates and Judge John Collins.

Jeb Bladine, publisher of the News-Register and the Oregon Wine Press, brought his sister, Pam, who was in town from San Angelo, Texas. Yamhill Valley Vineyards’ Woody Woodcock invited his childhood buddy Richard Ligan, who now owns a seafood company in Waldport and that’s just for starters.

In fact, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say McMinnville movers and shakers dominated Noah’s that night. Only a short list, to be sure, but if they’re typical of the cohesiveness and congeniality among this town’s leadership, we’re in good hands.

Thornton said he plans to host more get-togethers spotlighting local-area politicos. Not that it’s his intention to put them on the spot but rather to give attendees an opportunity to get to know their elected officials better.

How better than in an informal environment where the social discourse is low key and one-on-one? The next person hasn’t yet been announced. But if this outing is any indication, non-partisanship will reign and a good time will be had by all. 

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