The Oregon Wine Experience under the big tent at Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville. ##Photo by David Gibb

Experience Matters

Celebration plans in-person, virtual events

By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

The 2021 Oregon Wine Experience (OWE) will be an Oregon wine experience like no other. Truly a cause for celebration, this year’s festivities, Aug. 23–29, will present a hybrid of small-group, in-person activities under the big tent at Jacksonville’s Bigham Knoll, and beyond, as well as live-streamed tastings, auctions and more, all benefiting children’s health and other health care programs supported by Asante Foundation.

“We’re so excited and optimistic this year that we can have the in-person event, whether that looks a little different,” says Desirae MacGillivray Myers, the event’s communications and marketing manager. “We’re very excited to see people again and wineries, and culinary partners. We’re really prepared to have the event in any capacity the guidelines allow.

“Last year, we had to make a very last-minute decision to pivot to all virtual with everything that was part of our reality with COVID,” Myers continues. “We learned a lot, so this year, we meticulously outlined four event plans and designed events for smaller groups over different increments of time, so we can have people safely together.”

Kicking off the 2021 celebration on Wednesday and Thursday is the Founders’ Barrel Auction, where participants can bid on exclusive wines contributed by some of Oregon’s finest winemakers. While bidding is entirely online, there will be a Collectors’ Tasting on Wednesday for previous bidders, sponsors and donors. A group-ticketed tasting is scheduled for Thursday.

The 2021 Oregon Wine Competition, July 11–18, represents almost every Oregon AVA. Two panels comprised of skilled judges: master sommeliers James Bube and David Keck; wine writers Tonya Pitts and Peg San Felippo; and two Masters of Wine: Robert Paulinsky MW and Sheri Sauter Morano MW.

During the annual Medal Celebration, winning wines will be announced via live stream on Thursday. One of the signature events of the OWE, the virtual experience is open to all to tune in at no cost. Sponsors will receive the exclusive “Medal Celebration in a Box” with winning wines and small artisan bites just right for two. While supplies last, the general public can purchase these, too. 

The Grand Tasting on Friday and Miracle Auction & Salmon Bake on Saturday will be presented in groups under the big tent in Jacksonville. Most tickets to these physical events have already been set aside for host sponsorship; as restrictions ease, some tickets may be available to the general public.

Saturday’s Miracle Auction & Salmon Bake program will be live-streamed to the public, showcasing the genuine need for medical care and the impact OWE has on the cause. The auction always garners strong community support with hundreds of contributed packages, vacations and specialty products. Mobile bidding for the silent auction will be open the full week of the OWE.

Last year’s lockdown resulted in an all-virtual 2020 OWE as event planners, winemakers and participants learned some vital lessons about celebrating at a distance. Watch parties and smaller vintners’ dinners brought together winery clubs for intimate, socially distanced events that had all the excitement and delights of more traditional years.

“We streamed the Medal Celebration onto a 14-foot wall and showcased the entire event for everyone in our tasting room and posted to Instagram while we poured the wines,” recalls Ben Martin, winemaker at Dauntless Wine Co. in Forest Grove.  Martin says it took absolutely no work to set up the event because OWE did it all. “Our guests were excited for us and excited to be part of the experience because the average consumer isn’t usually part of the award ceremony. Everyone stood up and cheered when they heard our name.”

Long-time CASA volunteer Jody Lennon, proprietor and owner of Fences Winery in Medford, does whatever she can to support children and children’s organizations, such as the Asante Foundation. For Lennon, participating in OWE is a win-win: “Anytime you can support the children in our community, it’s a home run, and the vintner’s dinner brings people to the winery who might not have been acquainted with my wines.”

Since its inception, OWE has represented the heart and soul of the community, working together to raise money for children’s healthcare.

“Last year, we raised $1.1 million in an all-virtual setting,” MacGillivray Myers notes. “We were really, really thrilled with the results and thankful to the wineries and sponsors who stuck by our side through the year.”

All live-streamed events are free and require no registration; simply visit the website. Restrictions on physical gatherings and mask requirements remain somewhat fluid in Jackson County, and OWE is ready to respond to the changing environment. As more people are vaccinated, logistics will be adjusted and more seats at ticketed events may become available. Get the latest on Facebook, or subscribe to OWE news at

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