Wine Down Eugene

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One of many gold medal winners for Umpqua Valley's Reustle Prayer rock vineyards

Wine Down Eugene February 26 – March 4

In last week’s Wine Down Eugene, I mentioned my excitement regarding an invitation I had received to join a panel of judges for a wine judging competition in Cannon Beach, Oregon: SavorNW Wine Awards.  The SavorNW Wine Awards, now in its third consecutive year, takes place about a week and a half before the Savor Cannon Beach Wine & Culinary Festival.  

Managed by the Seaside, Oregon-based media and marketing company Pelican Productions (who also produce and publish Northwest travel guides and magazines like the Coast Explorer Magazine), the SavorNW Wine Awards is a professional, single-blind judging of wines produced in the Pacific Northwest.  Designed to promote awareness and showcase the wines of the Northwest, I felt honored and privileged to take part in an event that focuses on wines from regions that I’m truly familiar with and totally love; in fact, Oregon Pinot Noir stole my heart from very my first sip back in 2006. 

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We began the first day of judging with a flight of whites

Having never participated in a wine judging competition, sailing into uncharted waters made me a bit nervous; therefore, I reached out to some of my wine-writing colleagues and friends like Sommelier Mary Cressler of Vindulge.com, James Beard award-winning wine writer and author Cole Danehower of EssentialNorthwestWines.com and Michele Francisco of WineRabble.com and Examiner.com. Wine judging pros Mary and Cole offered invaluable insights and advice, while Michele put me in contact with Patrick McElligott, a long-time professional wine judge and a professor at Chemeketa Community College’s Northwest Viticulture Center.  Patrick was quick to contact me, offering words of wisdom along with a curiosity of which competition I had been invited to.

Ironically, Patrick wrote, “If you are able to do it, if the people running it would allow it, and there is time before your judging, Savor Northwest judging will be held the last week of February in Cannon Beach.  I will be one of the judges.  You could contact the organizer and ask if you could observe a day or part of a day judging…” He continued, “Savor Northwest is one of the most efficient and personable competitions that I have been privileged to judge in.  The back room is a model of efficiency (the unsung heroes), as well as incredibly well managed and moderated.”

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Our first evening in Cannon Beach was spent at Seasons Cafe & Deli, where I met the other judges over some incredible appetizers and wine

In my reply to Patrick (with a grin from ear to ear), I informed him we would soon become acquainted – SavorNW Wine Awards was exactly where I was headed to judge for the very first time.  My excitement doubled while nerves were calmed, knowing I would be heading into an event that was raved about.

With over 550 wines submitted for the competition, the wine judging process got a head start by a single panel of well-known wine judges a day before the judging began for the rest of the judging crew. The hosts of the event graciously invited me to sit in on the judging session so I could become enlightened by the process of how it all works. I was even encouraged to participate in a few of the blind-flights, using score sheets to record my notes and scores.  My scores didn’t count of course at this point, but the practice was beyond valuable, giving me full confidence as I arrived the next morning to begin two full days of judging where my scores, gathered along with other judges scores, had enormous relevance – and I enjoyed every single minute of wine judging.

An unobstructed view of Haystack rock from my room at the Hallmark Resort was stunning
An unobstructed view of Haystack rock from my room at the Hallmark Resort was stunning

As much as I reveled in the wine judging, I immensely admired and appreciated all of the fantastic people involved.  From the moderators and the judges to the event coordinators and the “unsung heroes” of the back room, every single person had a vital role in creating a truly fabulous and flawless event.  I was wholeheartedly honored to be among such amazing and inspiring people.  Indeed, Patrick was right on target with his notes on the efficiently well managed Savor Northwest Wine Awards.

And for all of this to take place in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Cannon Beach, I was able to experience incredible sights like the stunning Haystack Rock, which could be viewed from my beautiful and cozy room at the Hallmark Resort, excellent food at some of the local restaurants like Seasons, The Wayfarer and the historical Warren House Pub.  And right now, I’m on my way to visit The Wine Shack, a staple Cannon Beach bottle shop since 1977, and the owner just happened to be one of the moderators at the competition.

One of many gold medal winners for Umpqua Valley's Reustle Prayer rock vineyards
One of many gold medal winners for Umpqua Valley’s Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards – some were even Best of Class

All of the details of my spectacular four days in Cannon Beach will be shared on my award-winning website, WineJulia.com, including the sights to see, places to visit, places to stay and foods to devour.  Best of all, I’ll have a list of the medal winners, including in-depth details on one Umpqua Valley winery and winemaker, Steve Reustle of Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards, that swept up multiple golds and Best of Class awards.

Don’t miss the upcoming Savor Cannon Beach Wine & Culinary Festival, March 6-9, 2014.  Experience first-hand the wines that our panel of judges thought were the best of the best, all while spending time in the exquisitely quaint Cannon Beach.  There are loads of exciting events happening during the festival, for details visit savorcannonbeach.com.

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I’m officially adding Wine Judge to my portfolio. I absolutely loved being involved in such an integral part of the wine industry, and I was honored to be amid such esteemed and respected folk.  A special thank you to two truly authentic gentleman, Gary Hayes and Hank Sauer.

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