Surrounded by hundreds of bottles of Pinot Noir, some dating back to the years when the ground breaking pioneers of the Oregon wine industry bottled their first vintages, I had to pinch myself more than once. Floor to ceiling, earthquake-proof, custom-made wine racks, stocked with some of Oregon’s finest and rarest wines, I had just received clear instructions from Chef/Owner, Chris Czarnecki: “pick a bottle…any bottle.” Pinch. Dust covered bottles of early vintage Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noirs ( from the 1980s and 90s, and some even signed) filled the slots on one side. The other side boasted a variety of vintages from powerhouse Pinot producers like Beaux Freres, Bergström, Domaine Serene, Elk Cove, Archery Summit, Lange Estate, Eyrie Vineyards and many, many more. In front of me, countless wooden wine boxes labeled with Domaine Drouhin and Laurène lined a wall - an Oregon wine enthusiast’s dream for those who know Laurène is the flagship estate grown Pinot Noir produced by the quintessential Domaine Drouhin - named after owner/winemaker, Veronique Drouhin’s, eldest daughter. My mind was spinning, my heart was racing - I was standing in one of Oregon’s most famous wine cellars, carefully pulling dust covered bottles from their slots, one by one, in an effort to find the one Pinot Noir that would fulfill this once in a lifetime opportunity.
The Joel Palmer House, located in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country, is not only one of Oregon’s most famous wine country restaurants, it is one of Oregon’s finest historic homes. It’s on the Oregon Historic Register; as well as, the National Register of Historic Places. Joel Palmer, one of Oregon’s renowned pioneers, made his way west in 1845 and co-founded the town of Dayton in 1848. In 1857. he built the now-famous Joel Palmer House.
How was it that I happened to be surrounded by a massively impressive collection of Oregon Pinot Noir, each bottle and every vintage holding a story of Oregon’s history in wine held captive only by a single cork? Well, luck was on my side; in fact, Chris Czarnecki was on my left side for the majority of the day as we shared panel member duties of judging select wines that were submitted for the SIP! McMinnville Food & Wine Classic wine competition. It didn’t take long for us to realize that our palates were similar; more often than not, we were silently cheering for the same wines to achieve award-winning status.
When the wine competition was over, volunteers and staff had an after-party planned for the judges, but the fully reserved Joel Palmer House needed its head chef. Not wanting to miss out on the festivities, Chris announced to the judges and competition coordinators that all were invited to an “after-the-after-party” at The Joel Palmer House. And that’s how I ended up in a Pinot Noir enthusiasts’s dream, where Pinot Noir reigns king - pinching myself as I sipped a 1999 Ken Wright Cellars McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir that was handed to me upon arrival. So, what wine did I end up dusting off and discovering the story of its vintage and terroir? A vintage 2005 TrisaetumJ&A Frey Vineyards Pinot Noir.
Follow me over to therealwinejulia.com to find out why the 2005 Trisaetum Pinot Noir that I chose plays a significent role in my decision to dive head first into the Oregon wine industry. Also, discover how well this wine has stood the test of time and how well it paired with the delicious mushroom-centric tapas that Chris spoiled us with during our visit. Also, get a close-up view of the 2017 Solar Eclipse from the heart of the totality path. Why is this relevant to the Joel Palmer House? It is the other once in a lifetime experience I had while spending time there - it’s an amazing place where even more amazing things take place.
March 9-11, 2018, the much-loved SIP McMinnville Wine & Food Classic will celebrate its 25th anniversary event. This fundraising festival draws thousands of attendees from all over the country while supporting the small independent producers (SIP) of Oregon wine, beer, liquor, food and art. What began in 1993 as a small school fundraiser, is now one of Oregon’s most-beloved wine and food festivals. Approximately 170 vendors will share their craft inside McMinnville’s incredible Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum for this three day event of tasting and toasting - a personal and convenient way for event goers to discover and celebrate Oregon’s outstanding bounty.
On January 20, 2018, a group of eleven wine judges met to evaluate, judge and award select medals to a group of 118 submitted wines from small Oregon producers. With event organizers taking the lead, twelve volunteers were in charge of filling each of the judges glasses with a flight of wine containing the same varietal poured from bottles that are stored in what is called, the back room (off-limits to wine judges) - where all of the submitted wines are stored and organized for the competition. Take a rare behind-the-scenes look into the world of wine judging and what it takes for vintners to earn the medals that are proudly wrapped around the necks of the wine bottles that have been recognized by the judges for their solid qualities.
Glasses, spit cups and palate refreshers; such as, sparkling water, still water and crackers, are placed before each of the judges assigned seats. Three panels of judges containing four judges per panel sit in u-shape formation - ideal for discussing the reasoning behind giving a wine a high (gold) or low (no medal) score. Volunteers fill the judges glasses on a single panel with flights of wines that are the same varietal, and each panel receives a different flight of wines.
Each wine judging competition has its own set of rules for blind tasting (meaning the judges know nothing of the wine but the varietal and vintage), and judges are responsible for scoring wines individually - not comparatively to other wines placed in the same flight. At SIP, judging was to be scored with the following components in mind:
Is the true to the varietal or category
Judges need to be able to defend the wines they appoint with high (gold) and low (no medal) scores; particularly, when two judges on the same panel give opposite scores to the same wine. Taking notes when judging wine is vital; those notes can later be used when debating a wine’s score that may be in question.
The vintners who submitted wines that received Gold, Silver or Bronze Medals will have the opportunity to showcase their award-winning wines during the three-day SIP! McMinnville Wine & Food Classic; including, a single wine that the judges unanimously awarded “Best of Show.” Not only will the attendees of the 25th Anniversary event get to taste the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medal winners, but the vintners will take their award-winning wines back to their tasting rooms, where they will display and pour their wines with pride.
At SIP 2018, we awarded a Best of Show, 10 Gold Medals, 18 Silver Medals and 30 Bronze Medals. For a full list of the medal winning wines, click here.
After the medals have been awarded and the judging competition is over, an after-party celebration is commonly hosted by the by the event organizers and staff. At SIP, approximately 80 people attended the after-party.
On rare occasion, an After the After Party will take place. Thanks to fellow wine judge, panel member and my table-mate, Chef Chris Czarnecki (of the highly acclaimed Oregon wine country restaurant, The Joel Palmer House) invited SIP judges and event organizers to raid the famous wine cellar that sits below his restaurant - an unexpected and blissful way to celebrate the success of the 2018 SIP wine competition.
Stay tuned for an entire photo essay dedicated to the After the After Party raid of The Joel Palmer House’s famed wine cellar, where we pulled the corks on a 1999 signed Ken Wright Cellars McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir, a 2003 Domaine Serene Grace Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the one I almost didn’t get away with: a 2005 Trisaetum J&A Frey Vineyards Pinot Noir - to name just a few of the wines we discovered over an array of mushroom-based specialties that Chris is well-known for.
For a list of the 2018 SIP! McMinnville wine judges and their biographies, click here.
For a list of the award-winning wines from the 2018 wine competition, detailed information on the three-day Sip! McMinnville Wine & Food Classic, and to purchase tickets…visit therealwinejulia.com.