Southern Oregon Launches New Initiatives

Wine region hopes to draw interested trade, offer consumer education

by Peter Mitham
southern oregon wine
Tim Hanni discusses personal wine preferences during the Oregon Wine Experience.

Medford, Ore.—Southern Oregon has several initiatives that aim to strengthen local wine culture, from focus groups aimed at developing a new brand for the region’s wineries to discussions about how to improve tasting room experiences that follow on a statewide study released this past spring.

The study, conducted by Capiche Wine Marketing & PR of Ashland, Ore., underscored the importance of better continuing education for tasting room staff, and two home-grown initiatives are aiming to make that happen.

Oregon Wine University, a component of the annual Oregon Wine Experience festival, which debuted in 2003 as the World of Wine, embarked on a year-round program this past Sunday with a seminar about boutique wines led by Carrie Wynkoop of Cellar 503 and held at Kriselle Cellars in White City, Ore.

The second session will be “Tips and Tricks of Holiday Entertaining” at Harry & David Country Village in Medford on Nov. 12, against a backdrop of local wines. There’s also the potential for future sessions to occur in Portland, the origin of many Oregon Wine Experience attendees.

Approximately 20 people attended the boutique wines seminar, said Sue Mendenhall, manager-annual giving with the Asante Foundation, which puts proceeds from the Oregon Wine Experience toward its Children’s Miracle Network programs in southern Oregon and Northern California.

The average attendance at the 10 courses offered during the Oregon Wine Experience this past August was about 35, with participation ranging from 12 to 85 people.

“In our mind, it’s just a better way to stay connected with people throughout the year and not have it seem so focused in on August,” Mendenhall told Wines & Vines. “We were trying to do 10 classes in the month of August, and this way we can spread them out and probably end up with a more varied audience than we might have in just that one month.”

The course offerings run from the basics for wine enthusiasts (such as holiday dos and don’ts) to the more sophisticated, such as finding boutique wines and courses offered this past August on Riedel stemware as well as Tim Hanni’s discussion of vinotypes (like phenotypes, the session discussed wine preferences resulting from the interaction of people’s genotypes with their environments).

“Our goal is to have classes that will better educate people,” Mendenhall said. “The bulk of them will be consumer-focused, but in the past few years we’ve always had one or two that’s very focused on the industry as well.”

The industry component is critical, said Liz Wan, the energetic winemaker at Serra Vineyards near Grants Pass who’s been dubbed dean of Oregon Wine University.

Where it really kicks into gear is with new course offerings through the continuing education division of Rogue Community College as well as programs at Southern Oregon University (SOU).

This week, Rogue Community College launched the first in a series of courses that will ultimately serve as the basis for a southern Oregon-focused certificate program in hospitality and tourism. Assembled under the working title of “What is Southern Oregon?” the initial offerings are non-credit courses.

Two sections of “Wine Fun-0-1” at local vineyards will examine “why southern Oregon is such a unique wine growing region and the impact that this over-$3 billion industry has on our community.”

Sections on viticulture and winemaking also are in the works.

“The Oregon Wine University is going to help identify enthusiasts and champions. Hopefully out of that subset of enthusiasts and champions, we will isolate and grow those individuals into that work force training hospitality tourism certification program,” Wan said. Rogue Community College administrators “are putting their career services as well as work force training budgets toward this program because they feel like it would be just a great win-win for the valley.”

Wan, who is also an adjunct professor at SOU, said students who want more will have the option of enrolling in business courses at SOU and earning credits toward a wine business degree. All together, the programs provide not only local workforce training but the framework for a career track wine industry professionals can follow.

“We’ve covered literally the entire spectrum for people in the valley that want to grow into this business and champion and support these businesses to provide a better economic impact in this region,” she said.

The development is promising in a region that has long flown beneath the radar, despite being a popular supplier of grapes to northern Oregon and, more recently, expertise.

Greg Jones left SOU this summer to join Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., though he continues to work with the Southern Oregon Research Center (SOURCE) in Ashland. Gabriel Balint, a former viticulture specialist at Oregon State University’s extension center in Central Point from 2011 to 2014, recently joined Okanagan College in Penticton, B.C., where he is leading a two-year viticulture technician diploma program.

Similar to the programs in southern Oregon, the Okanagan College program launched in response to an industry call for training that would give workers key skills and underpin long-term career opportunities.


Currently no comments posted for this article.