Not Buffalo Wings…Bird Wings. When I first heard about the Wings & Wine Festival, I immediately thought of the delicious buffalo style chicken wings that I make during the Oregon Duck football games, which we always enjoy with a good, locally produced, Zinfandel; consequently, I thought to myself, “great combination!” I quickly realized that the “Wings” portion of the Wings & Wine Festival actually represents the celebration of International Migratory Bird Day.
The Wings & Wine Festival is an annual celebration held at Domaine Meriwether in Veneta. Domaine Meriwether is known for their top-of-the-line production of Methode Champenoise Sparkling wines, and they also produce a really incredible Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Buzz Kawders, owner of Domaine Meriwether, purchased the property in Veneta several years ago from Secret House Vineyards. Buzz has big plans for Domaine Meriwether, but the details of his plans I’ll save for another article. The bird watching and wine tasting festival began 6 years ago, and its success from the beginning continues to bring bird watchers, wine lovers, and nature enthusiasts back each year.
Domaine Meriwether is close to Fern Ridge Reservoir, which is one of Oregon’s best birding areas, and has been host to an abundant bird population for many years; therefore, making its location ideal to celebrate the birding and wine industry in the Fern Ridge area while promoting bird conservation through educational presentations, children’s activities, bird walks, and hands-on workshops.
There are many community partners involved in the planning of this event, including the Lane County Audubon Society, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Cascades Raptor Center, City of Veneta, Fern Ridge Chamber of Commerce, City of Eugene Outdoor Program, South Willamette Wineries Association and Travel Lane County. Some of the scheduled events included a “Wetland Wonders Bird Walk”, “Paddle Fern Ridge in a 29 Foot Voyager Canoe”, “Build a Mason Bee block”, “Kid Friendly Bird Walk”, “Walk through the Wildflowers at Fisher Butte”, and “Sunset Sail for Families”. While most of the activities are free, some have a nominal fee.
I was out of town last year for this event, so I’d been looking forward to May 14th. Although the skies were ominous with low hanging, dark grey clouds, my husband and I, along with our two boys, headed out to Domaine Meriwether for the 6th Annual Wings & Wine Festival. As we approached the winery, I was surprised to see the amount of cars parked along the vineyards. We were far from being the only people to brave the weather for some bird watching and wine tasting. We walked towards the winery to the registration booth where friendly faces welcomed us and provided a list of what was happening and where to go.
I heard live music coming from the bustling wine tent and naturally wanted to head in that direction, but a lady dressed in an Army Corps. Of Engineers uniform informed us that the “Night Fliers: Bats in Oregon” presentation was about to begin inside the winery, so we instead headed into Domaine Meriwether’s winery and tasting room. We caught the end of Buzz Kawder’s Bubbly 101 class, and then found some seats for the Bats in Oregon presentation. We learned a lot about bats, including a gloomy realization that bats may one day be extinct in North America due to White Nose Syndrome, a rapidly spreading fungal growth around the mouth and on the wings of bats that ultimately cause death.
White Nose Syndrome has been described as unprecedented and the gravest threat to bats ever seen. Because bats consume huge quantities of insects, including some of the most damaging agriculture pests, their rapid decline in population will have a significant financial impact on farmers and the entire agricultural industry. They play a vital role in the world’s ecological system, and I have a new found respect for them. There are 15 species of bats in Oregon, and none of them are Vampire bats. Only three species, all in Latin-America, are Vampire bats, and until my visit to the Wings and Wine Fest, I had no idea that Vampire bats are not only useful because of their insect ingestion, but their saliva is one of the most potent blood clot dissolvers, and is used to treat human stroke victims. For more information on bats, please visit the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife website at: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/bats.asp and Bat Conservation International at www.batcon.org .
After the presentation, we headed out of the winery towards my personal favorite part of the Wings and Wine Festival, the wine tent. Along the way we stopped at the Cascades Raptor Center booth to see three of their amazing raptors: a Red-Shouldered Hawk, White-Tailed Kite, and an American Kestrel Falcon. The Cascades Raptor Center takes in injured, sick, or orphaned raptors of Lane County, and beyond, with the goal of returning as many as possible to the wild. A raptor is a bird of prey and Eagles, Falcons, Kites, Osprey’s, Hawks, and Owls are all raptors with keen eyesight, sharp talons, and strong feet. They play an important role in maintaining the balance of nature, and are protected by state, federal, and international laws. The center is located in Eugene’s south hills just off of Fox Hollow. They are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am-6pm (April through October), and offer handler talks at 12pm and 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit the center or their website at http://www.eraptors.org.
We also stopped at several other vendors on our way to the music and wine, my two boys especially loved the snickerdoodle and chocolate chip cookies from the ‘Our Daily Bread’ booth. Our Daily Bread Restaurant is located in Veneta and is housed in a renovated church where they specialize in delicious regional cuisine alongside local wines and microbrews. Once we were inside the wine tent, I recognized all six wineries except one: Abbelone Vineyards. New to the local wine scene, Abbelone was offering their Pinot Noir to the public for the first time. With vibrant aromas of black cherries and spice, this medium ruby colored Pinot Noir showcases our Willamette Valley fruit with five stars. It’s well balanced and fruity with ripe strawberry and cherry overtones, and a silky smooth mouth feel. I absolutely loved it. Abbelone does not have a tasting room, so sampling this delicious Pinot Noir will only be available at special events and tastings. Some of the other participating wineries were also “wineries without walls”: Kandarian Wine Cellars, J. Scott Cellars, and Spencer Creek Cellars.
Sarver Winery, which does have a tasting room with a spectacular view, was there with samples of their stainless aged Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Rosé, Pinot Noir and Syrah, along with an ambrosial Manchego and Double Cream Gouda cheese and baguette slices. The sixth winery offering samples was, of course, Domaine Meriwether, with samples of their savory Sparkling Wines and one of my favorite Pinot Noirs along with their tropical, fruity Pinot Gris. Jeff Kandarian, of Kandarian Wine Cellars, is the head winemaker at King Estate, and under his private label, he’s produced six delicious wines- Pinot Gris Ice Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, two Syrah’s, Zinfandel and a Rosé.
They were offering samples of the Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and one of their Syrah’s. I thought the Willamette Valley Sauvignon Blanc was one of the best I’ve had, and it will most likely put Oregon on the map for producing top quality, luscious Sauvignon Blancs. Spencer Creek Cellars had samples of their Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I love Spencer Creeks Chardonnay-it’s lightly oaked and 100% Willamette Valley fruit. Jonathan Scott Oberlander of J. Scott Cellars, is the winemaker at Silvan Ridge. Like Jeff Kandarian, he’s created a private label, and produces unique wines like Roussanne, Grenache, Viognier and Petit Sirah. They also have a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, and their Syrah is fruit forward with the perfect peppery finish expected from a succulent Rogue Valley Syrah. J. Scott Cellars was pouring their Rendezvous Rosé, Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Petite Sirah. South Willamette Wineries Association was there selling tickets for the upcoming 2011 Barrel Tours. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, be sure to visit the South Willamette Wineries website before they sell-out at http://www.southwillamettewineries.com/events/barrel-tour/
While we sampled many of our fine, locally produced wines, the boys had plenty of space to run wild and play Frisbee with Chris and Erin Sarver’s daughter, Eve. Fun was had by all. I may have initially thought of “buffalo” wings and wine as being a great combination, but I now know that the “bird” wing and wine combination is even better. Not only does it bring recognition to the importance of birds (and bats) in our society, but it also gives us a chance to try new wines and meet some of our local winemakers while experiencing Eugene’s and Veneta’s great outdoors. Cheers!
The Wings & Wine Festival is on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WingsAndWineFestival
Visit their website: http://www.wingsandwinefestival.com/
Julia – Writing about Eugene’s Wine Scene