The Industry’s Pro Show

Lonnie Wright, of the Pines 1852 in the Columbia Gorge, receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oregon Wine Board at this year s Oregon Wine Symposium.  Photo courtesy of OWB.

By Karl Klooster

Now in its eighth year, the Oregon wine industry’s annual trade show has evolved over time, integrated some angular edges and reached the point where it is now a mature, first-class act.

Called the Oregon Wine Symposium, this gathering of wineries, viticulturalists, vendors, marketers, media and other associated businesses is a combination convention and seminar series.

It has settled into a well-suited home at the Eugene Hilton Hotel and Conference Center and adjacent Hult Center for the Performing Arts. The eighth annual edition took place from Monday, Feb. 21 to Wednesday, Feb. 23.

The annual Symposium is, as longtime winery owner and industry leader Harry Peterson-Nedry put it, “an opportunity for us to get together and put it all in the same place.”

Nedry, who established his widely known Chehalem winery just east of Newberg in 1990, has probably been as active in helping chart the current course as any single individual in the Oregon wine industry.

He appreciates the value of being able to meet with vendors and see the latest in supplies, equipment and services. But most of all, he said that he looks forward to the seminars.

Growers attended technical sessions on harvest parameters, pesticide reduction and dealing with differing conditions in the vineyard; while winemakers were presented with the many faces of malolactic fermentation and heard all about filtration. 

Greek to the uninitiated, a gourmet feast for professionals who were also given advice on how to engage the press, told how to chart a course in challenging times and the fact that there are, indeed, world-class Oregon white wines.

The white wine session was of particular interest to this “exhibitor” as media and other vendors were generically called.  It’s reassuring to reconfirm that we can make Rieslings to rival the best anywhere and I think we can do the same with Pinot Gris.

But we really have to choose our spots with Chardonnay and, although the potential for Viognier wasn’t mentioned in this session, I’m very big on its future in Southern Oregon. 

However it will ultimately work out, at least white wine grape planting appears to be on the rise led by Pinot Gris, which has seen 43.6 percent planting increase over the past five years.

The Symposium’s first-ever “Inspiration Session” was titled “The Burgerville Story,” and it proved to be the hit of the series. Though successfully flipping burgers has nothing to do with fermenting quality grape juice, accentuating the positive is a universal message.

Burgerville executive Jack Graves told the audience how his company is succeeding in a fiercely competitive marketplace while holding true to its core beliefs.

Innovative business decisions, risk taking to implement change, Graves emphasized, were what allowed the local burger chain to achieve double-digit growth over the last two years while adhering to sustainable practices.

People came away from the session both inspired and impressed by Burgerville’s ability to marry innovation and audacity.

The shrewdest of all their moves appears to have been an unprecedented supplier/purchaser relationship with Country Natural Beef, a sustainable cattle raiser in Eastern Oregon.

What attendees get out of a show is its real mark of success. In that regard, the winegrowers and winemakers are the ones who count at this annual event.

Daniel Fey of Results Partners Vineyard Consultants raises Texas Longhorns outside Yamhill; he couldn’t help but be impressed by the Burgerville session.

Trudy Kramer and daughter, Kimberly, felt the lees aging of Chardonnay for longevity was right on, since it’s been their practice for years — but get the Pinot Gris off as quickly as possible.

Scott Neal of Coeur de Terre, who had just returned from a Pinot fest in San Diego, where his was the only Oregon wine, got some good advice from the business operations session.

Honoring one’s own is a time-honored tradition of any industry during a convention, and the Oregon Wine Symposium is no exception. In that regard, Tuesday evening’s Guest Chef Dinner and Industry Awards is self explanatory.

“We are pleased to honor those people who have significantly impacted Oregon’s wine industry, as well as the partners who have helped take us to the next, great level,” said Jeanette Morgan, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, Oregon Winegrowers Association and the Trust for Oregon Wine Education and Research (TOWER). “The evening was a celebration of achievement, dedication and passion.”

The awards dinner featured guest chef Jenn Louis of Lincoln Restaurant, a new superstar on the Portland dining scene. And as anticipated, top-end wines galore from the very people who made them, sitting amongst the other diners.

The 2011 Industry Awards went to the following:

Lifetime Ach--ievement Award: Lonnie Wright of The Pines 1852 in the Columbia Gorge. This award is given to a person or couple whose work was pioneering and spans not only a personal lifetime but the lifetime of the Oregon Wine industry.
Founders Award: Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge Winery, Seven Hills Vineyard, Sevein Vineyards and North Slope Management in the Walla Walla Valley. This honor is given to a person or couple whose long-time work in and for the industry has laid the groundwork for the direction and accomplishments of the industry and whose efforts have helped foster cooperation among growers and winemakers.

Outstanding Service Award: Dr. Patty Skinkis of Oregon State University and Joel Myers of Vinetenders and Siltstone Wines in the north Willamette Valley. This award recognizes an individual who has shown exemplary commitment, leadership and service to the industry.

Industry Partner Award: Chris Hermann of Stoel Rives LLP in Portland and Mark Freund of Silicon Valley Bank. These awards recognize vendors or service providers who have significantly assisted the growth and success of the industry and its members.

Additionally, Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem was recognized by David Adelsheim for his years of service as a founding board director for the Oregon Wine Board and Oregon Winegrowers Association.

Nedry noted the planning for the next year begins within weeks after the previous event has ended. “We brainstorm what’s important, what will be of greatest interest to attendees,” he said.

“In the end, it’s all about keeping on top of things and adapting. We have a great industry and I think this event shows that.”

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