Imagine sampling the cream of Southern Oregon's wines under one roof. Now add food, live music, a silent auction and festive atmosphere. Stage it under an elegant tent with open-air sides surrounded by grapevines that stretch almost as far as the eye can see and you've got the World of Wine Festival, appropriately called WOW for short.
In 2003, only 30 wineries took part in the first WOW. This year there were 46, all from Oregon, of course — most from the south, a few from up north — as long as they poured wine made only with southern fruit. In order to qualify, a wine has to be made with grapes grown in Jackson, Josephine or Douglas County.
WOW takes place in late August at Del Rio Vineyards near Gold Hill, Oregon. The site is in the middle of the 210-acre vineyard, so you see vines in every direction. Del Rio sells grapes to over 30 other wineries as well as producing several wines under its own label. So, it's not unusual for WOW tasters to sample wines made with grapes that were grown just a few hundred yards away.
Attendance for the popular event is limited to 500 to avoid overcrowding. Wine lovers this year dined on local foods like soba salmon from the Jacksonville Inn, tri-tip steak and Tuscan vegetables from Bill Gallagher's Western BBQ and cheeses from the world famous Rogue Creamery. Live music drifted through the warm summer night from the band Backporch Swing and guests placed bids on silent auction items ranging from wine dinners and tours to artwork.
But it's really all about the wine.
"This is a perfect opportunity for serious oenophiles and casual fans to be among the first to taste new wines made exclusively with Southern Oregon grapes," says WOW chairman Lee Mankin, proprietor of Carpenter Hill Vineyard in Medford.
With so many wineries taking part and most pouring several wines, patrons face some tough choices. What to taste? A competition held about 10 days earlier offers some help. WOW brings in three professional wine judges each year and posts their decisions for all to see at the tasting.
This year, the judges were Wayne Belding, a master sommelier from Colorado; Dick Erath, an Oregon wine pioneer; and Karl Klooster, an associate editor and wine writer for the Oregon Wine Press.
They chose a 2007 Pinot Gris from RoxyAnn Winery of Medford as "best of show white" and a 2004 Claret from Cliff Creek Cellars of Sams Valley as "best of show red."
A total of 121 wines were entered in the competition, but only 50 earned medals. And, besides the top two winners, only six others of the medals were gold. So, if you wanted to be very selective, you could go for the golds.
Five of them were reds: Carpenter Hill 2006 Petite Sirah from Medford, Foris 2006 Maple Ranch Pinot Noir from Cave Junction, Misty Oaks 2006 "Stuckagain Heights" Pinot Noir from Oakland (Douglas County), Paschal 2004 Syrah from Talent and Velocity Cellars 2005 Velocity red blend from Medford.
The lone white earning gold was a 2007 Viognier from Schmidt Family Vineyards of the Applegate Valley.
The Schmidt table was a popular stop during WOW since it won six medals overall. Its Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Soulea (red blend) and Syrah, all 2006 vintage, earned silvers.
Velocity is the personal project of Gus Janeway, who is also winemaker at RoxyAnn, so both labels attracted much attention. Besides its "best of show white" Pinot Gris, RoxyAnn got silvers for its 2006 Claret and 2005 Tempranillo.
Don and Traute Moore of Quail Run Vineyard in Talent grew the grapes used to make eight of the medal winners, so their South Stage Cellars table also drew crowds.
Comparing notes with the experts can be enjoyable, but many tasters like the adventure of discovery. Poke around and you can usually find other new wines that have just come out, like Manu Aloha, a red blend from Rosella's of the Applegate.
And you're part of a significant celebration.
"World of Wine is one of the best things to happen to Southern Oregon wines in the past 10 to 15 years," says Carl Raskin, co-owner of the Elegance store in Grants Pass which stocks hundreds of Oregon wines.
Sipping lovely wines under a fluttering tent top on a warm Oregon summer night. It doesn't get much better than this for Northwest wine lovers.
By Lisa Bottjer
Once the wine judging is complete, the stage is set to enjoy provocative food and wine pairings.
At the 2008 event, The Jacksonville Inn of Jacksonville, OR complemented the wines of WOW with a unique and daring recipe, Wild Salmon with an Asian inspired Shitake Mushroom glaze. Catering Manager Platon Mantheakis, his team, and Drew Spencer, Executive Catering Chef, captured the flavors of sweet, earthy and briny in their offering. The stunning presentation of perfectly cooked wild salmon, mushroom glaze, and bright green onions begged for a taste. A sip of Roxy Ann's "Best in Show" 2007 Pinot Gris and the cares of the world slipped away. The Pinot Gris is bright, sharp, and crisp, with perfect balance, heightening all of the flavors involved, cleansing the palate for the next bite.
For all of the hearty red wine lovers, Bill and Pam Gallagher of Bill Gallagher's Western BBQ in Klamath Falls, OR, prepared their staple, grilled tri-tip. Bill flips the tri-tips with ease on his behemoth wood-burning grill. The recipe he uses is a 150-year-old family secret. The perfectly done beef is a testament to the deep, full-bodied reds being poured such as Devitt Winery's 2006 Precipice blend, a medium dry, fruity red blend of Merlot and Zinfandel.
Of course there was cheese, the best blue cheese in the world! Central Point, OR, home to the historic Rogue Creamery, created Smokey Blue cheese several years ago. One taste of this superb cheese and you are smitten. Cold smoked over a proprietary blend of Oregon hazelnut shells and alder wood, Smokey Blue is an essential ingredient at World of Wine. Paired with "Best in Show" 2004 Cliff Creek Claret, it is a daringly beautiful combination. Cliff Creek's Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot bring to the forefront the subtle flavors in the wine and the Blue cheese. The Creamery's bold, Sharp Cheddar stood well with hearty reds, such as Troon Vineyard's Silver award winning 2006 Reserve Zinfandel.
Outstanding cheese Tortas are the specialty of locally owned, Rising Sun Farms in Talent, OR. Presented in layers, their classic Mediterranean Torta starts with creamy mild cheese, topped with generous amounts of roasted sweet peppers and Kalamata olives. Rising Sun Farms has arrived on the wine scene lately with some very tasty varietals. Stephannie Collier, tasting room manager, recommends Rising Sun Farms 2002 Richard's Red Merlot as a perfect complement to the Torta.
A sweet ending to the evening included hard to resist Lillie Belle Farms Chocolate. Jeff Shepherd, Lillie Belle's founder and chocolatier, has a flair for mind-blowing flavors such as the Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese chocolate truffle. For the evening, Lille Belle introduced Red Velvet almonds, a perfect almond, dipped in caramel, coated with bitter dark chocolate powder spiked with Ancho Chile and Cayenne pepper. Not too sweet, the flavor is decidedly seductive. The heat builds slowly, making every taste bud tingle with pleasure. A sip of Daisy Creek Vineyard's 2006 Syrah and your weakened knees will need a place to rest.
Creamy, sweet and local, Rogue Valley Fudge and Fine Chocolates of Grants Pass, OR had the crowd mesmerized with Organic Pear Wine Fudge. Organic pears grown on their farm and locally produced pear wine give Cecil and Standra Waldron a tasty creation on their hands.
A night under the stars would not be complete without Pennington Farms fresh peach cobbler, a true taste of August in Southern Oregon. Crumbly, sweet and perfectly peachy, this Williams, OR based bakery, fruit and berry farm stands as a symbol of the Rogue Valley's prolific seasonal fruits.
A luscious evening of lingering flavors and superb wines, the World of Wine is a true Northwest experience.