Oregon Wineries Welcome Eclipse Visitors

Beneath the path of totality, wineries take advantage of chance for exposure

by Peter Mitham
scandanavia u.s. wine sales
More than 300 people signed up for Eola Hills Vineyard winery’s eclipse festival held at the Willamette Valley estate.

Rickreall, Ore.–Oregon welcomed the first total eclipse of the sun to North America in 38 years this morning, as the solar spectacle began its 2,400-mile-an-hour journey across the continental United States.

The path of totality – the 70-mile wide strip where day became night for approximately two minutes – started at Lincoln City, Ore., and left the U.S. at Charleston, S.C., approximately 90 minutes later.

Its course made the Willamette Valley one of the key muster areas for those keen to glimpse a sight of the new moon blocking out the sun’s light.

Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management and Travel Oregon expected more than a million people to join the state’s 4 million residents for the days leading up to and after the event, which peaked in Salem from 10:17 a.m. and 10:19 a.m.

The influx was nothing but an opportunity for local wineries.

“Our number one motivation and goal is to get people to drink our wine, and they’re not going to drink our wine if they’re not here,” said Stephanie Bobb, event planner for Eola Hills Vineyard in Rickreall, just west of Salem.

Winery festival draws hundreds
Three hundred people signed up for Eola’s three-day eclipse festival. People began arriving Friday, Aug. 18 to camp by the winery’s Legacy vineyard for the weekend, paying their site fee by purchasing a case of wine.

Seminars on astronomical phenomena took place over the weekend to stoke people’s enthusiasm and prepare them for what would unfold. A winemaker’s dinner showcasing recent vintages crowned Saturday night. A further 700 arrived to view the eclipse this morning.

Packages ranged from $750 for campers to $2,900 for hotel accommodation – not bad considering that some property owners were making campsites available for hundreds of dollars a night. Hotels were largely sold out, as were port-a-potty providers. (Deluxe units at Eola Hills were trucked in from Washington at $800 apiece.)

Other wineries hosted special tastings to mark the occasion. Helioterra, for example, collaborated with Bjornson Vineyard in Salem – where its production occurs – to showcase its wines in a pop-up tasting room.

Brooks Winery in Amity staged two days of events while Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner put on a one-day event showcasing Pacific Northwest Cuisine. Bethel Heights Vineyard near Salem hosted a private event.

Welcome exposure for the region
While visitors were looking to the skies, the events offered a chance for wineries to look to the future. The eclipse was not just a lucrative tourism opportunity for the wineries but also a chance for excellent exposure of what the Willamette Valley has to offer tourists.

Speakers at the Oregon Wine Symposium have been telling local vintners for years that they need to raise the region’s profile. The eclipse may have darkened the sun but it helped shine a light on what wineries are doing. “You wouldn’t come to this event if you didn’t want to experience wine,” Bobb said of Eola Hills’s festival.

While wine club sign-ups are important, with Eola Hills increasing its club membership by approximately 25% to more than 550, building awareness of the region’s hospitality and wine quality is also key. “The wine club is something we want people to be interested in, but it’s also just the knowledge,” Bobb said. “If we’re getting brand recognition, they’re going to want to buy our wines.”

This was the case with Jeff and Beth Signer, who made the trip up from California, with another couple for whom Oregon wines were a new experience. It was a last-minute decision after other viewing plans fell through.

Already members of several wine clubs in the Paso Robles, Calif., area of the Central Coast, the Signers weren’t about to sign on for Eola Hills’ club, but it wasn’t for lack of appealing wines. “The Pinots are nice and not as expensive as Paso [has become],” Jeff Signer said, with Beth adding: “The wines are easy to drink and very reasonable.”

Eola Hills produced a special eclipse-branded wine to honor the event, but the eclipse itself isn’t expected to have any impact on the 2017 vintage.

With grapes well into veraison, the two minutes of mid-morning darkness – and diminished sunlight for about a half-hour either side of totality – won’t be long enough to have a lasting effect.

While biodynamic viticulture practices are renowned for synching management practices with the lunar cycles, Ray Nuclo of King Estate Winery south of Eugene – the state’s largest biodynamic grower – doesn’t expect this year’s eclipse to have any impact on his crop.

The next total solar eclipse to visit the US occurs in April 2024, with the path of totality crossing northeast from Texas to Maine.

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