There’s nothing like chocolate to shake you out of the winter blahs. And all things chocolate will be center stage in Ashland at the 13th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival Friday through Sunday, March 3-5.
Sponsored by Neuman Hotel Group (NHG), most events will be held at its Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, 2525 Ashland St. The group has selected Children’s Miracle Network/Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford as the 2017 festival’s beneficiary charity.
New this year is a kickoff event, a social hour in the Stardust Lounge at the hotel from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“There will be live music, beer, wine, a chocolate fountain and more,” said NHG sales and marketing director Karolina Lavagnino. Tickets are $10 per person, available online at oregonchocolatefestival.com or at Ashland Hills and Ashland Springs hotels. You can find information about all the events on the website.
Most events will be held on Saturday and Sunday. Spectators can buy a one-day pass for $20 or a two-day pass for $30. Children 8 and under are free. The passes do not cover specially ticketed events.
Also new this year is a hands-on truffle-making workshop at Branson’s Chocolates in Ashland on Sunday (it's already sold out). “Participants will learn how to make truffles and will take home their chocolate creations and a gift bag of tools for chocolate dipping,” said Lavagnino.
One of the big events is the Chocolate Makers’ Wine Dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at Ashland Springs Hotel, downtown. Ticket price for the four-course dinner with wine pairings is $75.
“Our chef, who created the dinner menu, is Franco Console. He will be speaking before each course,” Lavagnino said. “Our food and beverage director, Ava DeRosier, will talk about the wine paired with each course.”
At the festival’s Spa Chocolate Cocktail Party, you’ll learn that chocolate is not only for eating, but also for drinking and scrubbing. It takes place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Stardust Lounge of Ashland Hills Hotel.
“It’s the perfect girlfriends’ time out,” Lavagnino said. “You can learn how to make your own chocolate sugar scrub while listening to live music by jazz musician Mark Hamersly and sipping on a creamy chocolate cocktail served with appetizers.”
The Waterstone Spa team will demonstrate how to make and apply the scrub as well as provide product to take home. Cost is $30 per person.
A popular attraction is the culinary kitchen stage where local chefs will prepare their favorite chocolate recipes — from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. An overhead mirror allows spectators to see the chefs work their magic.
All chocolate vendors are invited to submit chocolate creations in a competition sponsored by the festival from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Saturday.
They will be judged in seven different categories, and a people’s choice award will also be given.
Other events include panel discussions, classes, chocolate and beer pairings, a chocolate-themed First Friday Art Walk, Charlie’s Chocolate 5K walk and run Sunday at 10 a.m., and vendor expos from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The festival had its genesis 14 years ago.
“We were sitting in the office, brainstorming about what we could do in March, when things are a little slow,” Lavagnino said. “We came up with the idea of a destination event, one that would be fun for all ages.”
The festival has grown from 14 vendors that first year, mostly close by, to nearly 50 this year.
“We opened it up to vendors from the West Coast. We even have a vendor from Utah,” she said. Amano Artisan Chocolate, headquartered in Orem, Utah, has a world-wide reputation for its chocolate.
— Jim Flint is a former newspaper publisher and editor now living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.