The People's Party

By Christa Spencer

As summer approaches, more and more wine enthusiasts are out and about in the warmer weather, enjoying the nectar of the gods at their favorite tasting room. And there's nothing better for us, the people behind the bar, than to pour them a glass.

"I've always loved the people aspect of this business," said Tom Johns, owner of Emerson Vineyards in Monmouth. "The bottom line at the end of any day - busy or not - is our customers. But busy is always better."

People who walk into the Emerson Vineyards tasting room can't help but feel the family connection. Tom, along with his vivacious wife, Jane, live about 20 feet from the tasting room; their son, Elliot, is the winemaker.

The Johns incorporate their family's lineage into the business as well. The winery is named after Tom's grandfather, Emerson Waldo Fisher, along with Avelina, their award-winning estate Pinot Noir, which shares its name with Jane's mother. Many names of the wines, along with the process of making them, have stories behind them, which Tom manages to tell in a way that leaves customers rolling with laughter.

For this year's Memorial Day Weekend, we are ready to engage even more customers with our collective wit and, more importantly, our award-winning wine.

We will start setting up on Saturday morning around 9 a.m., about three hours before doors open for business. Depending on Oregon's ever-changing weather, Tom will decide whether the event is inside the tasting room or outdoors. Emerson Vineyards sits atop a hill with a panoramic view of the incredible Willamette Valley; with its blue mountains and glowing green fields, there's no better or more impressive backdrop. So, needless to say, outdoors is the preference.

Inside or out, set-up is relatively simple.

Glasses are cleaned and bottles of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling (grape juice for the kiddos) are uncorked. Hors d'oeuvres, ranging from local breads and cheeses, to chocolate, strawberries and shrimp cocktail, are prepared and arranged on a table near the wine. The band sets up, and tables and chairs are placed nearby so soon-to-be guests can relax and enjoy the experience.

As we get ready, it definitely feels like we're throwing a party. Excitement fills the air, as well as anticipation in hopes that we'll have a full house.

Customers, who can't wait for the party to start, usually show up a bit early, which we welcome. Once the clock strikes noon, the driveway fills with cars fairly quickly. The music begins and the wine starts flowing.

People mingle and sit with others whom they've never met, and everyone seems to relax as though they're surrounded by family. Kids dance, and if you're lucky, you may even see Tom with a little hop in his step.

Tom says events aren't about raking in the dough, but about the experience.

"Events at our winery are really important for business, and they're what bring many people back. If we show customers a good time, then they'll most likely want more, which in turn, leads to repeat business." 

Christa Spencer works at Emerson Vineyards.

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