Winter 2019

The Oregon Wine Experience combined adventure & wine

Ellen Landis
Ellen Landis

To judge the Oregon Wine Competition at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel and Ashland Hills Hotel is to participate not only in an incredible wine competition, but also to experience adventure on the Rogue River, savory a multi-course wine tasting luncheon on its banks, and be otherwise educated, entertained and well cared for by the competitions’ warm and wonderful hosts. It’s a tough job!

Widely known for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland sits adjacent to the Cascade and Klamath Mountain Ranges, not far from the Rogue River, surrounded by numerous noteworthy wineries in the southern Oregon AVA. It’s a great setting for a weekend of adventure and wine.

Morning one started with a judges meet-and-greet along with the competition leaders, who included Bruce Nicholson, Ashley Myers and Sarahanne Driggs. Together we ventured off to an unforgettable Hellgate Jetboat outing on the clear, sun-dappled waters of the Rogue River. The adventure was not for the water shy, nor reserved personalities. Assertive maneuvers by the jetboat operator (egged on by his willing passengers) drove waves of water across the boat. The invigorating sprays were met with laughter and cheers — and kept us cool and alert on a warm, sunny day.

Our destination was a seated lunch up the banks of the river, where a host of local Oregon wines were presented with a multiple courses. We enjoyed delectable cuisine and excellent wines along with the Oregon Wine Competition staff, local vintners, Hellgate Jetboat Excursion staff and Asante Foundation members. Executive Director Floyd Harmon enlightened us about the Asante Foundation, which organizes this annual event to raise money for The Asante Children’s Miracle Network, among other Asante healthcare programs.

With no time to spare, we headed back to the Ashland Springs Hotel for an Oregon Wine University event, “Good Wine, Good Tilth, Good People” — an educational program, this one featuring wines from southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA. Sharing details about their vineyards, sustainable grape growing, and winemaking practices were presenters Joe Ginet, Plaisance Ranch winemaker/co-owner with wife Suzi; Bill Steele, co-winemaker/co-owner with wife Barbara at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden; and Craig Camp, general manager of Troon Vineyard. Wines from this session included Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden’s 2014 Reserve Syrah ($75), Troon Vineyard’s 2016 Cuvée Pyrénées (62% Tannat and 38% Malbec blend), and the Plaisance Ranch 2017 Chardonnay.

After the presentation, the pace of the day’s adventure continued with scrumptious tapas at Ashland’s Ostras! restaurant and a carefree walk to the Angus Bowmer Theatre, where we took in a well-casted and very entertaining production of Hairspray.

That was just the first day! The next two days were devoted to the heart of the Oregon Wine Competition, a rewarding judging experience. The organizers purposefully limit the total number of entries to ensure that judges have plenty of time for thoughtful analysis, discussion and scoring, without taxing us with too many wines.

Each panel consisted of three professional judges. Master of Wine Peter Marks, and Master Sommelier Andrey Ivanov joined me on Panel A. Panel B consisted of Master Sommelier Max Kast, Master of Wine Ashley Hausman, and Journalist Debra Parker Wong. Among personal favorites my panel judged (in addition to the Best of Class Trium Wines 2018 Viognier and Valcan Cellars 2015 Syrah, which we also judged) were these brilliant Double Gold Medal winners:

Abacela 2018 Grenache Rosé; Umpqua Valley;

Dauntless Wine Company 2016 “Trébuchet” Pinot Noir; Willamette Valley;

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Syrah; Umpqua Valley;

Weisinger Family Winery 2016 Tempranillo; Rogue Valley.

After a full day of judging on Saturday, the evening closed with an exquisite dinner at Larks Restaurant adjacent to the Ashland Springs Hotel lobby. Following the final judging session on Sunday, the lively, well attended Judges’ Reception and Forum was held at the Ashland Hills Hotel for judges and wineries participating in the event.

Anticipation mounted as judges, vintners and winemakers near and far await results a few weeks after the competition at the lively Oregon Wine Experience event. This four-day extravaganza includes the Medal Celebration, Founders’ Barrel Auction, Miracle Auction & Salmon Bake, and a Grand Tasting of award-winning wines along with fine cuisine. The Asante Children’s Miracle Network, and additional healthcare programs that the foundation supports, directly benefit from 100% of the proceeds. This year an impressive $1.69 million was raised.

Congrats to all the award winners, including the 2019 Best of Show awardees:

Specialty Wine: Maison Jussiaume 2016 Blanc de Blancs, Rogue Valley: This vivacious and refreshing traditional method sparkling wine is crafted of 100% Chardonnay. Florals and leesy notes on the nose lead to brioche, lemon drops, peach, and crisp apple flavors enlivening the palate. The spirited tiny bead persists through the upbeat finish.

White Wine: Trium Wines 2018 Viognier, Rogue Valley: Clearly displaying Viognier characteristics with its perfumed aroma, this wine Is irresistible. Fresh and bright on the palate, it unveils layers of juicy summer peaches, citrus blossom, and hints of honeysuckle. The heavenly mouthfeel carries the wine to a memorable finale.

Red Wine: Valcan Cellars 2015 Syrah, Willamette Valley: The fragrant floral scent Is the perfect Intro to this dazzling Syrah. Bing cherries, huckleberries, crushed herbs, and well-Integrated oak notes flow seamlessly across the palate. Refined tannins and tingling acidity support the pleasing core of fruit, and the finish is everlasting.

The beautifully orchestrated Oregon Wine Experience is one not to miss. It is not only a sensory delight for attendees, but will leave you with a heartwarming feeling about generous contributions made to worthy causes—kudos to the Asante Foundation and sponsors.

For further details of all the Oregon Wine Competition award winners, visit To learn more about the tremendous impact their efforts have across the state, visit

This story was originally published December 23, 2019 4:56 PM.

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