Jade Helm

Q&A: Jade Helm

Wine educator, spunky sommelier and much more

How in the world did this Georgia peach wind up in Oregon with vineyard dust on her boots? The short answer is through a passion for food and wine, curiosity about the places and people that produce them, and good fortune. Jade Helm is a book nerd, wine geek and locavore before it was cool, with farm girl dreams.  She took a break from her 15-plus career in sales and public relations to explore wine and dance, changing her life. She delved into wine study and eventually earned credentials from the Society of Wine Educators (Certified Specialist in Wine), the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (Diploma in Wine and Spirits), and Court of Master Sommeliers (Certified Sommelier).  Her love of Oregon wine is evidenced by a cross country move to put down roots in Willamette Valley.  Helm provides wine education through writing, speaking engagements and classroom instruction at Chemeketa’s Northwest Wine Studies Program.  As a board member of the Travel and Words Conference, she works with travel writers nationwide.  She is a real estate broker with Agribusiness Real Estate Services, helping people fulfill their vineyard, farmland and country living dreams.

How did you first become interested in wine?

It was an interest in food and farming that led me to wine. I love to cook and have long recognized the value of supporting local farmers and producers, joining a CSA back before people knew what that was. I was invested in the people and places that brought flavors to my table and how that benefitted my household and community. After a high energy career in sales, I decided to take a sabbatical. I expanded my home garden, began raising rabbits for meat and thought, “What else?” Wine was the natural extension. So I signed up for one wine class for kicks and giggles, and three years later earned my Level 4 Diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. I also became a “professional” — hey, I got paid — Middle Eastern dancer. I can teach you to taste, shimmy and debone a rabbit.

What’s your favorite part of teaching wine?

I have provided wine education in a number of settings: professional college classes, cruises, tasting rooms, conferences. My favorite part is people pay me to talk about a topic I love. Cruises are the best because the audience cannot get away, unless they are really excellent swimmers. I love the “eureka” moment. This happens when students put a wine in their mouths that perfectly illustrates the terroir we have studied. I see it on their faces, when the gears click into place. I see it when interest is piqued in a “non-wine person.” I had a conference attendee tell me, “I don’t even like wine and you just got me intrigued by dirt.” Teaching keeps me on my toes. One never stops being a wine student, and I learn right along with my students who make sure I am challenged. The very best part might be when I run into a former college student who has earned a job in the wine industry and they are excited to tell me about it. I hope I have played a small role in their success.

How did you get into real estate from wine?

It is kind of the opposite. I sold residential real estate in part to pay for my wine education before moving to Oregon. In Oregon, “my nose in a book education” changed to a “boots on the ground” format. While learning more about vineyard agriculture, I built a network of industry friends and contacts. Combining skill sets just made sense. I joined Agribusiness Real Estate Services specializing in vineyards, farmland and country homes. Now I get to spend time on the land I love so much, helping people find homes to take in Oregon’s gorgeous views and seeing a whole other side of the farmers’ stories.

Any advice for Southerners navigating Oregon wine or the industry itself?

Southerners are proud of their landscapes and countrysides. I think people visiting here would be amazed at how beautiful Oregon is. I have visited wine regions all over the world and Oregon might just be the prettiest. Southerners are very friendly. We love talking to strangers. Anyone outside their house (and the front porch counts) is fair game for an impromptu conversation. This really isn’t the case in Oregon where people seldom engage strangers — except in tasting rooms! Southerners should visit Oregon tasting rooms for a little splash of the extroverted friendliness we are used to. Also, lipstick marks on wine glasses aren’t cool or sexy, so feel free to contact me, all you Southern belles, for a full list of tried and true transfer-proof colors.

What’s the latest wine that super-impressed your palate?

Oh, that is like choosing a favorite child. In my glass most recently, I have enjoyed Bjornson Vineyard 2019 Auxerrois; Troon Vineyard 2017 Cuvée Pyrenees, a blend of Tannat and Malbec; Alexandria Nicole 2015 Little Big Man Petite Verdot (love everything from this winery); Sylvan Ridge 2017 Malbec. Plus, there is always a chilled bottle of sparkling from Treveri because you never know who might stop by thirsty.


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