Modern Adventure visits France
and Sunstone Winery. ##Photo provided

Curating Tourism

Portland’s Modern Adventure cultivates trips led by tastemakers

By Mark Stock

We want personalized experiences, and we want them now. It’s become a battle cry for today’s earthling, one that echoes across many, many platforms.

These days, people want to be treated like the individuals they are, whether they are dining at a restaurant, shopping at a clothing store or plotting a faraway vacation.

Consider the modern tasting room. Disappearing are the fixed menu options that focus solely on wine. Increasing are the highly curated affairs — the revolving mix of wines poured alongside a special batch of terrine or freshly roasted local hazelnuts. And they’re happening more and more in less-assuming spots in unexpected ways, like pop-up installations, backroom sit-down pourings and intimate bars. The most traditional tasting rooms, one could argue, are going extinct.

Much of this is, of course, borrowed from food culture at large. Much of it, too, is impacting the way we travel. How many travel agency ads do you see anymore? Those in charge of in-demand, highly specialized treks are focusing on key people, trending locales and familial experiences like meals and meet-and-greets to express unique geographic areas a bit more fully and honestly. It’s one or roughly a million ways we are actively defining popular words like “authentic,” and “immersive.”

One of those outfits, Modern Adventure, is based right here in the Willamette Valley. The Portland company started in 2017 by Luis Vargas and Scott McNeely. The two founders bring time spent at large, well-known companies like Disney, REI, TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to the relatively new travel start-up. Modern Adventure is a Certified B Corp and member of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund — Modern Adventure claims that one percent of its profits go towards the organization — with an office overlooking the river in southwest Portland.

The trips their team is creating are full of intrigue and tend to marry a specific gastronomical region with local producers along with tastemakers to inject a certain perspective. Several of the Northwest figures Modern Adventure has recruited are recognizable names, like Chef Naomi Pomeroy (Beast), Elias Cairo (Olympia Provisions), Bill Blosser (Sokol Blosser Winery) and Scott Lawrence (Breakside Brewery). The outfit utilizes these local celebrities to impart some expertise and familiarity throughout the adventure.

“Equally, we seek out experiences that allow us to interact with, learn about and support local communities and craftspeople,” says Laura Arneson of Modern Adventure.

The destinations are equally compelling, ranging from Argentina to Switzerland, Peru to Bhutan. One trip transports travelers to the Republic of Georgia during the thick of harvest. There, the group explores the Kakheti wine region, tasting at 16th century chateaus and investigating the winemaking process behind Bonnie and Israel Morales, founders of Portland’s popular Kachka restaurant. It’s a hands-on snapshot of one of the most coveted regions in global contemporary wine.

Another trip, set for January, showcases New Zealand wine country. Husband-and-wife team Bill and Dorinda Blosser play travel companions throughout, as visitors take in area wineries and fresh surf and turf. The similar growing climates and wine assortments make an Oregon figure an obvious choice for a kiwi outing. Accenting the wine side of the adventure are scenic picnics, bike rides and traditional Maori dance rituals. The eight-day, seven-night affairs spans Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Queenstown.

According to Modern Adventure’s website, a good number of the treks are already sold out. And while the tastemakers tend to have some kind of close relationship with food and wine, others do not. Modern Adventure calls on everybody from notable fitness coaches and authors to ceramicists and farmers. It’s a who’s who of people with a certain connection to the location, whether it’s trans-hemispherical love of Pinot Noir or an interest in health food that spans several oceans.

“Over the next year, we will be exploring many of the world’s greatest wine countries,” says Arneson. “We choose our locations in partnership with our thought leader that we are traveling with. We look for places that inspire us as travelers and craftspeople, and where we have deep connections and can offer exclusive access to one-of-a-kind experiences. We are wine lovers and are excited that in 2020 we are able to offer such a wide range of experiences in wine regions around the world.”

She touts the importance of the B Corp certification, adding that Modern Travel is one of the first fifty travel companies on the planet to achieve such a thing. “An average of 67 cents of each dollar we earn is spent locally,” Arneson says. “When you book a trip, your money is going into the hands of a local community, the travel and hospitality community, restaurants, hotels, chefs, mixologists, instructors, guides and the indigenous communities we visit.”

“A growing number of our trips include a giveback element,” she says. “For example, by booking our Argentina trip with Classic Wines Auction, you are directly supporting CWA’s Oregon-based nonprofit partners, which focus on important human and civil rights, health and educational causes — and helping those who need it most.”

Modern Adventure’s trips are not cheap but the brand of hospitality they and a growing number of companies are bringing to the table is different. It caters to a population more aware about the impacts and implications of travel and looks more for a memorable stint with locals than simply crossing a place of a life’s to-do list.

Sure, Instagram can be blamed for the element of “being seen” in exotic places. But it’s also fair that travelers are done with the status quo and want to live like locals, even if only for a week, somewhere special.

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