Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The NorthWest Wine Summit: The Experience

This year the NorthWest Wine Summit (NWWS), and always held at the historic Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon, completed its thirteenth year on April 27-29, 2008. And I am proud to say I was one of the 20 judges chosen for this event. What a three-day whirlwind it was as I met an assortment of very talented people from the wine and food industry. Ten judges were chosen from the West Coast (including Canada) and ten from the East Coast. What was so unexpected for me was to finally meet people who I may have corresponded with through email or at least read their name somewhere in a trade magazine. I was able to put names with faces and strike up friendships.

Now you might immediately think that tasting over 1,280 wines from all over the NorthWest would be a lot of fun - - well it was, but it was also a lot of hard work and by the time I left the mountain on the third day, I didn't care if I had another glass of wine again. Of course, you spit and hydrate constantly, but there is still some alcohol residual that seeps in (and sometimes you discover a wine that tastes so wonderful you cheat and maybe swallow - - just a bit). Yup, we tasted wines from Alaska, Canada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and of course, Washington. From 8:30 am until 7:30 pm we were tasting wines with a 45 minute lunch break. And let me say by Monday afternoon you are looking at your judging-comrades and thinking how embarassed you are for them because of their purple teeth and tongue - - until you catch a glimpse of your own reflection in the mirror.

How was Timberline Lodge? Even better than I remembered the last time I was there in 1976 - over thirty years ago. Back then I wasn't there to taste wine (although we drank several Singapore Slings at the Rams Head Bar between ski breaks). However, I was one of the fortunate judges as my room was on the third floor and not one of the "snow caves" - meaning the rooms on the first and second floor, the snow was so deep they couldn't see out of their windows. My view was breathtaking onlooking snow covered slopes and trees. We were also 6,000 feet up, which explained why my luggage seemed heavier to me when I unloaded it from my car than it did when I packed it into my car at home - puff-puff-wheeze.

In the evenings we were finally able to relax in the dining room or around the fireplace and dine on wonderfully prepared meals, many using Oregon's freshest ingredients. Judges had been asked to bring a couple of bottles of wine to share during our dinners. This was a great way to taste a large assortment including different grapes from other regions as well as some beautiful wines from France and as it was pointed out to us, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," a quote from the movie The Shining where the exterior was filmed at Timberline.

The blind-tasting ended at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, the 29th. and we were finally allowed into the "secret bottle room" to see what we had been tasting the last three days. In this room the wine we judged had been catagorized and labeled by numbers, as well as all glasses that went out to the judges were labeled with the coordinating numbers. When judging all we knew was the variety, vintage, sometimes price, a number to identify it and but most important - - how did it taste. At lot of work went into the preparation and a huge staff stayed busy keeping the wine judges with numbered flights of usually anywhere from four to eight glasses and sometimes twelve to be judged at one time.

As I checked out, of course I was anxious to get home and get off the mountain as it was snowing like crazy (Yes on April 29th! Even a TV film crew from Portland was there to record it.), but I was feeling a bit melancholy leaving this exciting experience in such a breathtaking setting.

(L-R: Me, Paul Gregutt - Wine Writer for Seattle Times, Earl Jones - CEO Abacela Winery/Vinyards, and Jeff Gelfond - Sommelier Dolce Group Restaurants)

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