While visiting my daughter, her husband and our infant grandson in Austin, Texas, recently, I had the chance to educate local folks on Northwest wines.
I had gone out to gather what we needed for our meals. My little family lives within minutes of a top-notch food market that offers just about everything you can think of, including a nicely set-up wine department with two knowledgeable wine staffers.
The selections were solid if not overly inspired, and while watching the employees work the department, it was easy to see how well everything worked and how at ease the consumers felt with the employees.
Every time I went to the market, there was a wine tasting taking place. Folks gathered around a little bar area where the selections were poured. And every time, there was a Northwest wine represented. At one point, there were perhaps 10 people listening to the staff person talk about the wines. She was very keen about Northwest wines, yet it was clear she had spent little or no time in Northwest vineyards. She asked whether anyone was familiar with Northwest wine and, of course, I raised my hand. It was clear that I knew what I was talking about, and the woman graciously deferred to me on questions concerning Oregon wine in general and pinot noir specifically.
Here were some of the questions and statements I fielded about our region:
Isn't it too rainy to grow top-flight grapes in Oregon and Washington? This question was asked by a man carrying to the counter a $50 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. I took the opportunity to point out that the wine he held in his hand was grown in one of many wonderful and vastly different growing areas of California. It was also true, I said, that Oregon and Washington state have many fine micro regions and as a result, grape growers select carefully the varietals according to how well they grow in that specific region. I also cleared up the "rain" question quickly, and I think, to his satisfaction.
I hear all the talk about pinot noir from the Northwest. What else is the Northwest known for besides pinot noir? It became apparent that almost everyone there, whether originally from Texas or not, lumped Washington and Oregon together, either in a wine sense or in a larger sense. It was as if the two states were somehow a blend of each other. I pointed out very quickly, again, how different Washington state was viticulturally from Oregon and, again, explained the micro regions. I told them about the great, deep reds coming from Southern Oregon, specifically cabernet, merlot, tempranillo and syrah, and pointed to the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla, Wash., as well. I then spoke in general terms about pinot noir from the "south" versus Willamette pinot, and spun into the crispy white wines and dry, clean rosé selections.
It was occurring to me, at about this time, that I was giving a mini lecture and that my daughter was probably wondering why I hadn't come home yet. It was a fun half-hour diversion, and I left thinking that I might have just made a difference.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.