Welcome to a wine wanderer's world

If you look around at any wine event, you will find a scientist. In between swirls, he or she is contemplating the chemistry necessary to infuse a pinot gris with the scent of sweet pear and almonds.

Nearby, there will be a supertaster who can compare the tang buried in a sip of wine to the flavor of dew lingering on a nasturtium petal or something as equally esoteric.

There also may be a financial wizard who wonders how anyone can make money growing grapes, fermenting them, pouring that liquid into a bottle, then selling it for way less than the hours devoted deserve.

And in the crowd, you will find someone like me: a person who doesn't have a degree in enology but is geeky enough to listen to a vinohead. Someone who might not have the vocabulary of a seasoned enophile but who nurtures comparable curiosity. Someone who has never been on the business side of the wine industry but can understand the effort it takes to succeed.

I am someone, perhaps like you, who wants to taste, to learn, to experience wine.

I welcome you to join me on my wine wanderings. For this column, I will poke around tasting rooms, trek into vineyards and quiz decision makers about what the heck they are up to and how that will affect us.

Just as my predecessor Cleve Twitchell saw himself as a "citizen consumer," I have deputized myself to sidestep the hype (the Rogue Valley is not the new Napa) and the endless debates (can a region have 70 "signature" varietals?).

Instead, I want to take us all on an expedition to find out: Does the wine taste good? Does it feel good to be at this winery-sponsored concert, cooking class, singles meet-up? Does this retired accountant/pilot/software genius know what he's doing in a wine lab?

What qualifies me to be your guide? First, I have been a hobby grower and amateur winemaker's assistant for eight climatically challenging years. All of our estate merlot and tempranillo is shared with friends at our Ashland home.

Second, I'm a student at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute (one of my favorite test questions: Which country has the highest wine consumption per capita? The surprising answer: Vatican City).

Third, I'm a tireless journalist trained to ask the awkward question. For more than 300 stories about Oregon wines for various news organizations, I've interviewed everyone from liquor-control officials to sketchy interlopers hoping to cash in on Oregon's growing cash crop.

I've taken notes in conference rooms, on crush pads and while riding my bike from one Talent tasting room to another. Once, outside of LongSword Vineyard near Ruch, I buttonholed a hang glider seconds after she touched the ground. In a wine bar in Ashland, I witnessed a raucous, "swig and stitch" sewing class in which dancing needles came dangerously close to fingers clutching wine glasses.

I've twice crushed grapes with my toes. I've tromped through fantasy vineyard estates with overly eager real-estate agents. And I've interviewed nudists who view vines as inviting environments in which to strip. Yet there is still so much to explore.

That's my enofesto. Future columns will not be about me. They will be about "… well, the unpredictable.

NEW: Ashland Food Co-op has a different kind of wine club in which there are no automatic shippings but plenty of "edu-taining" events organized by Beverly McKenzie in the Community Classroom.

The annual club fee is $35 to $50 and includes discounts, a thorough, monthly e-newsletter and free entry to First Friday tastings that coincide with Ashland's art walk. This Friday, Sept. 2, the focus will be on zero manipulation.

For the club's first grand education event Sept. 23, winemaker Chanda Miller will conduct a blind tasting of wines made from the same variety grown in contrasting soil types ($35 to $45 for the class).

Free wine tastings will continue every Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Ashland Food Co-op store, 237 N. First St., Ashland; 541-482—2237; www.ashlandfood.coop.

TASTED: World of Wine Festival judges bestowed Best of Show honors to RoxyAnn Winery 2008 Tempranillo ($30), which has not yet been released, and Plaisance Ranch 2010 Ginet Rose ($25). The rose, made in the French style entirely of mourvedre grapes, has scents of guava and green apples and tastes of red fruits and citrus. There is a hint of cotton candy to match the slightly pink color.

Janet Eastman is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at janeteastman@mind.net or follow @janeteastman on Twitter

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