Monday, March 7, 2011

Big Sip Bummer

Big Sip Oregon was in Portland this past Saturday, but I decided to forgo the event for the public and instead planned to hit the industry session today. But I incorrectly recalled the start time, thinking it began at 2pm and ended at 4pm, and have just now realized that it started at 12pm and went until 2pm. As it is now 1:33pm, it looks like I've missed it.

Ah well, perhaps it's for the best, since I would have probably purchased more than is currently in the budget.

I suppose I now have no excuse for not going to the gym today.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone, 2007

I stopped by Bales Thriftway this evening to pick up something cheap and red to go with the Lebanese take-out I was having for dinner. When I saw the name on this bottle, and the price tag of $9.99, I knew I had to try it.

The description on the back claims "rich berry aromas and a smooth complexity". They nailed it on the rich berries (black, by the way) and yeah, I guess it is pretty smooth, with well balanced tannins and acidity, but I can't find anything complex about this wine. Then again, I really didn't expect much more for $9.99.

I think this could work as a party wine - well-priced for mass consumption, easy to drink, yet food-friendly and slightly more interesting than a lot of other inexpensive wines on the grocery store shelves.

I'm looking forward to trying it with the lamb shank I got from Oasis, which I decided tonight is my favorite restaurant here so far. They have really yummy gyros, and I was further impressed when I asked the girl at the desk tonight if their lamb shank was good, and she replied, "Oh hell yeah, it's the best thing on the menu. I've had lots of lamb shank from lots of Arab places, and ours is the best!".

Right on:-)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, 2011

Friday morning dawned cold but clear, and I was grateful for the improved weather conditions as I set out for the 2+ hour drive to the Oregon coast. The previous two days had seen snow and freezing rain, and I was concerned that my car might have difficulty making it through the mountains. Holly and Jim had gone over on Wednesday with Jim's truck and a horse trailer filled with two tons of wine. They made it safely, although they were concerned about the effect the abnormally frigid temperatures would have on the wine, so they brought several electric blankets to keep over the boxes in an attempt to keep the wine from freezing.

The drive was mostly pleasant, passing through rolling farmland for the first 1/3 of the trip, then through the mountains and the Van Duzer Forrest, and then finally down 101 along the coast. It was this last part that proved tricky, as there was still some slush and ice along the elevated areas of the coastal road, and my car slid a couple of times. However, I made it in one piece and arrived early enough to check into my hotel before heading over to the festival grounds.

Holly and Jim were pretty much all set up by the time I arrived, and we made a few last minute preparations as we waited anxiously for the doors to open and for the event to begin.

This was A Blooming Hill's first time at this festival, and the stories that I had been told about the mayhem that characterizes this long-running, annual event had me excited and slightly apprehensive at the same time. I had visions of not being able to keep up with the pours, of pouring too much or too little, of people leaving our table for another because they weren't being served quickly enough, of making incorrect change, etc.

These fears turned out (mostly) to be unfounded. What ended up being the big challenge of the weekend was staying warm.

I don't think that the temperature on Friday climbed above freezing, and much to our chagrin there was no heating system whatsoever in the tent that housed the festival. Additionally, our booth was located in one of the outer corridors, just two booths down from an entrance/exit opening. Needless to say, we froze our asses off. By the end of the day on Friday, I was pretty damn close to miserable, not having been able to feel my feet for the entire day, having pinched my sciatic nerve (probably due to unconsciously tensing up from the cold) and having scarfed down a dungenous crab chilli rellenos for dinner, which sat heavily in my stomach and then began to play havoc with my gastro-intestinal system. Day One of the festival officially ended at 9pm, but Holly and Jim were kind enough to let me go at 8:30 when I asked them if they would mind me cutting out. I'll admit to feeling somewhat guilty and lame at this point. Jim is 77 years old, and although I'm not sure of Holly's age, I do know that she has a few years on me. In addition to enduring the same uncomfortable conditions as I was, they had, just the day before, loaded and unloaded a huge quantity of wine. And here I was, at a mere 42 years of age, wimping out and asking to be let go early. I tried to rationalize it by reminding myself that I was just a volunteer, and that I had spent my own money for transportation and accommodations to be here, and that aside from being nauseous, feeling cold is my least favorite state of being. But I still felt pretty lame.

I took a bottle of their lovely, award winning 2008 Pinot Noir back to the hotel with me, drank a glass while mindlessly perusing Facebook, and then conked out properly for the night.

Saturday turned out to be a little bit warmer due to slightly higher outside temperatures and the heat from the thousands of bodies crammed into the tent, but it was still cold. In fact, the pipes that fed water to the event had frozen overnight, so we were unable to utilize a technique that we had used on the previous day, which was to fill up a large container with hot water and to submerge the bottles of Pinot Noir in order to bring them up to "room temperature". This was the day that we had been warned would be "crazy", when the younger, party crowd descends upon the festival to mindlessly guzzle wine, eat crab melts and supposedly, occasionally, expose body parts that don't normally get exposed in public. Although we definitely experienced a lot more traffic, Saturday didn't turn out to be as insane as I thought it would. In fact, I think I heard more glasses breaking on Friday than on Saturday (you can't help but know when someone has broken a glass, because everyone in the immediate vicinity lets out a roaring cheer that can be heard throughout the tent each time it happens).

Closing time came at 6pm, and I went back to the hotel to wait for Bob, who was making his way down from a job site at Cannon Beach and who was experiencing major delays due to a head-on collision about 20 miles north of Newport. He arrived around 6:30pm (after spending about four hours in the car) and we relaxed a bit before meeting Holly and Jim for dinner.

Our meal at April's at Nye Beach was exceptional (my roasted breast of duck was probably the best I've ever had), and I was able to finally open a bottle of 2004 St. Julien that I had been lugging around with me for months, just waiting for the right opportunity. The only downside to the experience was the extremely noisy table next to us, whose inhabitants were clearly having a very good time, but who were making it difficult for us to hear each other talk. Bob is usually a pretty laid back guy who doesn't seem to get his feathers ruffled too easily, but he was becoming very irritated by the auditory disturbance and finally said something to the waitress. I think Bob was hoping she would ask our neighbors to tone it down a bit, but she offered only to move us to another table, and we declined this offer since our meals had just been served and we would have to carry our plates and our wine to another table and it all just seemed somewhat uncivilized. Being the pacifist that I am, I simply tried to change the subject and hoped desperately that we could just move past it. And we did. The manager explained to us after the boisterous group left that they were very regular regulars, and then he diplomatically comped our desserts and (I believe) the corkage for the Bordeaux.

Sunday's weather, although a tad bit warmer, was still pretty miserable - rainy, cold and windy. It didn't keep the crowds from coming, although as we had been told, the customer base was much more subdued than on the two previous days. In fact, they were disturbingly subdued, at least to start. For the first hour or so, they filed past like zombies, not stopping to taste and barely acknowledging our greetings. Even our next door neighbor at Methven Family Vineyards, who had been packing them in all weekend with mimosas, seemed slow on this dreary Sunday morning.

Eventually things picked up, and in addition to pouring tastes and 4 ounce glasses, we sold a few bottles, some aerators and several of the cute napkin packs that had been a huge hit all weekend, especially with the female customer base.

The doors closed at 3pm, and Holly, knowing that I wanted to be on the road well before dark (my night vision sucks, and night driving coupled with rain makes me a detriment to myself and others), told me that I could skedaddle at 3:30pm. I gladly took her up on this, once again leaving her and Jim to do the heavy lifting. This time I soothed my guilty conscience with the knowledge that their helper from the farm, David, was on his way to assist them in tearing down, and that they were staying the night in Newport and would be heading back east the following morning.

Despite the unfavorable climatic conditions, I really had a good time at this event. Jim and Holly are awesome to work with, and I got to talk wine with a lot of very nice people. My only regret is that I didn't mingle more with the other vendors, and that I didn't hand out any of my new business cards. There was one young woman in the restaurant business who told me that she is new to wine and really wants to learn more about it so that she can be comfortable with the lingo and advise patrons accordingly regarding food and wine pairings. It would have been an ideal opportunity to launch my career as a wine educator! Oh well, live and learn.

I realize that this has been more of a personal narrative than a summary of this year's Newport Seafood and Wine festival, and for anyone who was hoping for the latter, I apologize. I'll wrap up by offering some random thoughts on the whole affair:

  • It's difficult to be a wine enthusiast working an event like this, because the vendors must comply with strict regulations regarding tasting or consumption of alcohol during the event. If you taste even one ounce from your booth or any other, you are prohibited from working for the remainder of the day. As such, I was unable to sample any of the other wines at this event, and there were a lot of different producers on hand. I did buy a bottle of Pinot Blanc from our neighbor on our left, J. Scott Cellars, for consumption at a later date.
  • It seems that in order to be wildly successful at this event, you need to either already have a lot of name recognition, or you need to have some sort of gimmick. Our pal at Methven with the mimosas seemed to have both, and it was slightly frustrating to watch him serve a steady stream of customers, while our traffic was a bit more...sporadic. At one point we mulled over the idea of going to Fred Meyer, buying a crock pot, and serving mulled wine (and yes, the pun was intended) but Jim shot the idea down, and I understand why. On one hand, we probably would have pulled in more customers with the gimmick, especially since it was so damn cold. In fact, we probably would have been one of the most popular booths. But we would have ruined some absolutely gorgeous wine, and I respect Jim's commitment to his principals when it was all said and done.
  • Although the unseasonably cold weather and lack of any sort of heating didn't seem to keep people away, it made for a much less pleasant experience for vendors and customers alike, and more importantly, really affected the way that the red wines could be experienced. I realize that the organizers couldn't have predicted this cold front when planning the event, but wonder if it might not be a good idea going forward to have a contingency plan.
  • Next year, I want to attend as a customer, at least for one day!
Jim manning the booth before opening on Friday

The drive west

The drive east

The cute napkins!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nice Timing, Mother Nature

Looks like Oregon is set to get an unusually heavy snowfall over the next 2-3 days, with accumulations of up to 7 inches, depending on your location and your weather source.

This may present an interesting challenge for my (and everyone else's) trip to the coast for the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival this weekend.

Jim and Holly have been nice enough to offer to let me drive over with them ahead of schedule (they're planning to arrive a day ahead of time to get set up), but my pet sitting schedule and another obligation are going to prevent me from taking them up on it.

So I'll be driving all by myself early on Friday morning...wish me luck!

In the mean time, my emotionally challenged cat Rikki is still acting up from his visit to the pet sitter last weekend, and making me feel alternately guilty about leaving him again, and glad to be getting away from his incessant, forlorn meowing and his attempts to open every single door in the house. The cabinets are especially annoying...he gets them part-way open and then lets them bang shut. Meow, bang. All night long.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sunday, February 13

I stopped by A Blooming Hill to hang out with Holly in the tasting room for a few hours on Sunday, on my way back from Seattle. There was a couple of women there when I arrived, on their last taste, but it wasn't long after they left that another couple came along and Holly let me "take the helm".

Although I've poured at numerous wine events before, I still felt a little self-conscious since I've never done it in a tasting room, and in quarters as close as those (there have always been hundreds of people milling about and it has been a somewhat impersonal, detached experience).

The couple was very friendly, and became even more so as I proceeded to give them what turned out to be very generous pours. The whites all had pour measure thingies on them, designed to pour only one ounce, but it seemed to me that they often didn't stop at what appeared to me to be one ounce. The bottles of Pinot Noir had aerators attached, but no pour measures. Pretty sure I ended up giving them about three ounces of the first red! Anyway, by the time the last wine rolled around, I realized what I was doing and corrected myself, but not before my generosity had been remarked upon by the patrons. Holly humorously but graciously pointed out that she would be speaking to me about that later! I joked that now I understood why my table was always the most popular at my other wine events.

Will have to get my pour technique perfected for Newport!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ponzi & Cooper Mountain

These are some of the purchases I made on Monday after stopping by Ponzi and Cooper Mountain Vineyards for a quick tasting. Both wineries are incredibly close to where I live, and on the way to Bob's, so it just made sense and I'm kind of surprised that I've been here for a full week and hadn't stopped in before! Of course, I didn't need to buy any wine...I could have just paid the tasting fee...but I really liked some of what I tasted and just couldn't resist (I'm finding that to be the case with a lot of the wines I'm tasting here). Between my trip over New Years and this last visit, I have now have purchased more Oregon wine than I can possibly drink before I head to back to Crete, so hopefully Bob will let me store it in his shop while I'm gone.

In addition to what is pictured above, I bought a bottle of Ponzi's 2009 Pinot Blanc (which came well-recommended by Ryan Reichart of Northwest Whites and which was, as he stated, delicious) and a faux ice wine from Cooper Mountain made of Pinot Gris, which I picked up for Bob because he likes stickies and this is a nice, well-balanced fruity one.

Pictured above are Ponzi's 2008 Pinot Noir, oaked 2008 Chardonnay, and 2008 Dolcetto (one of the first Dolcetto's I've seen here), and Cooper Mountain's 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

Ponzi dates back to 1970 and the family was among a small group of "pioneers" who began growing and producing high-quality wine in Oregon.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Visit to A Blooming Hill

Bob and I stopped by A Blooming Hill vineyard/winery yesterday to taste some wine and chat with Jim and Holly, the owners. This is the winery that I'll be doing some volunteering for while I'm here for the next few months.

The intimate, recently renovated tasting room received several visitors while we were there, including a small group on on an organized wine tour.

I enjoyed listening to the conversation between Bob and Jim in which Bob asked some really good questions about wine-making and the business in general, and have decided that if we ever do a video blog about wine, Bob gets to be the on-camera, interview guy.

Holly was very kind to send me home with a bottle of their 2008 Pinot Noir, which has received several awards, the most recent a Silver from the 9th Annual Pinot Noir Shoot-out in California.

I'm looking forward to drinking it, and to hanging out with them during the last weekend of February for the madness and fun that will be the Newport Seafood and Wine festival!