By Greg Stiles
Oregon Wine Experience became a truly statewide competition two years ago when entries were solicited from all state-licensed wineries.
This year, the event will take place in multiple cities with the Aug. 4-5 judging in Ashland before returning Aug. 20-26 to Bigham Knoll in Jacksonville, Oregon Wine Experience’s home since 2011.
Neuman Hotel Group will host the two-day judging, highlighted by a forum for entrants Sunday, Aug. 5, at Ashland Hills Inn.
Proceeds from the event go to the Asante Children’s Miracle Network and other Asante Foundation health care programs.
Competition Chair Bruce Nichols said Wednesday there were 352 entries from just under 100 wineries.
“It’s quite amazing that we came in almost exactly where we were last year,” Nichols said, noting there was one less entry. “We had some participants drop out and we have some new ones, so it was a wash.”
About two thirds of the entries are from Southern Oregon, and the rest are from the Willamette Valley and other parts of the state.
“It’s quite unusual that you can go back-to-back years and end up with the same split,” Nichols said. “Looking ahead over the next five years, I think we’ll see more participation from the rest of the state and eventually see a 50-50 split.”
In some cases wineries may want to participate in other competitions, where their wines are not as well known, Nichols said. Others may not have enough production to warrant entry that may create too much demand.
“There are wineries with new products they want to get known,” he said. “So they enter a competition hoping to win a medal so they can promote their wine.”
Judging takes place three weeks ahead of the culminating Grand Tasting.
“We’ve tinkered with the judging, trying to push it closer to the event, hoping the judges could participate in the Oregon Wine Experience itself,” Nichols said. “But it created logistical issues for obtaining the winning wines to match up with the events. So we reverted back to judging three weeks before the event, and that’s better for the culinary staff, servers, wineries and everybody else.”
Bree Boskov, the Oregon Wine Board’s education manager and a 2017 OWE judge, will moderate the judges forum Aug. 5.
Winners will be announced at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Medal Celebration at Bigham Knoll. The Founders’ Barrel Auction begins at noon Aug. 24; the Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake are at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 25; and the Grand Tasting begins at 2 p.m. Aug. 26.
Two Oregon Wine University classes are slated at 6 p.m. Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 at Bigham Knoll, and a third at Cowhorn Vineyards & Garden at 10 a.m. Aug. 23, while multiple ultimate vintner dinners are held at local wineries throughout the week.
OWE has made a point of obtaining a fresh panel for each year, Nichols said.
“When we talk with people from other regional competitions, they are very surprised at our rotating schedule, where judges don’t come back for maybe seven or eight years,” Nichols said. “We don’t want the people judging the same wines every single time. It keeps judges from getting real comfortable with the wines, and we get fresh results.”
There is another reason for pulling in new panelists, he said. After judges have spent a few days tasting Oregon wine and seeing the region, they tend to pass along favorable impressions in their travels.
“We want to promote the entire state, and the best way to do that is to get people from outside Oregon to taste our wine and tell others how great an experience they had.”
This year’s six-judge panel, which convenes the first weekend of August, reflects OWE’s growing significance:
Joe Roberts founded 1WineDude.com in 2007, which has become one of the most influential and popular wine blogs in the country. He holds the Level 3 advanced certificate in wine and spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and the certified specialist of wine qualification from the Society of Wine Educators.
Ashley Hausman teaches for the Wine Education Institute and conducts many private and public events through her own education and consulting business — Mistral Wine Co., formed in 2014. She chairs the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board Legislative and Business Development Committee.
Joel Butler became one of the first two resident American masters of wine in 1990. Butler has been a retail and restaurant wine buyer/manager, an importer/distributor for a small San Francisco wholesaler, the national manager and director of education for Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines and Ste Michelle Wine Estates respectively, and now a partner in WineKnow LLC, a Seattle education and consulting company.
Patrick Farrell completed his master of wine credential 1998, being the first physician in the world to gain this distinction. He has since been involved in the Institute of Masters of Wine as an educator, examiner, mentor and board member of the institute’s North American entity. He has taught master of wine seminars on three continents.
Liza Zimmerman has been writing, educating and consulting about wine and food for more than two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Searcher, Wine Business Monthly, Decanter and Wine Business International.
Nigel Sneyd joined E & J Gallo’s International Winemaking group in London 12 years ago and now leads the division in California. He earned an MBA from Monash University before settling in France, where he was director of BRL Hardy’s Domaine de la Baume and later as director of a business specializing in high-end appellation wines from the Languedoc.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.