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MJ Daspit

Wine Wednesday: Wine classes make it fun to learn

From time to time readers tell me that the subject of wine can be intimidating. I agree. After all, a discussion of wine typically touches on history, geography, agriculture, commerce, chemistry, cuisine and art — all in a worldwide context. It humbles everybody.

That’s why Oregon Wine University (OWU) is such a fantastic resource. Whether you’ve been in the industry your whole life or you’ve just discovered the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, there’s bound to be an OWU class that will pique your interest and fill in a gap or two.

The brainchild of Serra Vineyards’ assistant winemaker Liz Wan, Oregon Wine University began as a feature of the Oregon Wine Experience, the statewide event held annually in Jacksonville in August as a fundraiser for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals under the aegis of the Asante Foundation.

Response to classes on diverse subjects (such as Rogue Valley wine history, wine appreciation and Riedel glassware) was so positive that the curriculum was expanded. The irrepressible Wan joined forces with Lisa Sherrill of the Division of Business, Communication and the Environment at Southern Oregon University, to create a smorgasbord of classes offered year round.

With classes at venues all over the Rogue Valley, OWU is a movable feast — literally, in the case of “The Spice of Life; Cooking with Wine,” given this past March at SOU. The class was taught by Sherrill who, besides being an academic, is also a chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park.

Signing up is easy. Just go to the website (www.theoregonwineexperience.com/oregon-wine-university-discovery-series/) and reserve your space online. For small classes you have to be quick. Sherrill’s cooking class was limited to 14 participants and was already full by the time I tried to register. I had better luck with “Rosé in May; Become a Rosé Expert!” held May 13 at the Ashland Hills Hotel. For only $39 and with no prerequisites, except that you be of legal drinking age, it more than fulfilled my expectations. Really, how could an event that poses the question, “Isn’t life better with a glass of chilled pink wine in your hand?” be anything but totally fun?

“Rosé in May” featured an elegant and scrumptious hors d’oeuvre buffet and generous pourings of seven different Oregon rosés. Instructors Andy Myer of Handcrafted Wines in the Rogue Valley and Neuman Hotel Group sommelier Jennifer Williamson were on hand to explain all things rosé, including how it’s made. Red grapes such as grenache, syrah and pinot noir are typically fermented to dryness but pressed off the skins before they achieve the full color and character of a red wine. Alternatively, in the process known as saignée winemaking, some of the juice may be drawn off red wine fermenting on the skins to complete fermentation while only slightly colored. In both of these processes, the resulting pink wine is fermented to dryness, meaning it has no residual sugar. This distinguishes rosé from blush wines such as white zinfandel which retain a percentage of sugar.

The OWU schedule for the summer includes “Rogue Creamery Cheese & Wine Pairing” in June at Eden Vale Winery and “Brush Strokes among the Vines” at Belle Fiore Winery in July. While the slate for the rest of the year is not yet finalized, organizers anticipate classes on wine appreciation, and glassware will be offered as part of the Oregon Wine Experience in August.

Toward the end of the year, expect a class focused on harvest, another culinary event and a session on champagne-style wines just in time to help you add sparkle to your holidays. Check the website for schedule updates.

Since all materials and instructor hours are donated, 100 percent of ticket revenue goes to the Asante Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network. You can feel good about expanding your wine expertise while contributing to a very worthwhile cause.

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.

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