'Nice to nice to know ya,' Britt. Let's do it again

The most beautiful people in the Rogue Valley are fans of J Boog. I know this because I accidentally was among them when the Hawaiian-Jamaican reggae band played Britt earlier this month.

I was in a sultry sea of youthful, peaceful people who were fluttering like those tiny umbrellas in tropical drinks on the beach. One woman's slouchy beanie was as blue as the ocean, each hemp-crocheted strand clinging to her knotted, sand-colored dreads. I have no maritime metaphors to describe the nose piercings, hollowed-out earlobes or shoulder-baring tops specifically designed to frame graffiti tattoos.

As Boog crooned, "Nice to nice to know ya, let's do it again" from his "Backyard Boogie" album, these pretty people were swaying and dipping in their flowing skirts or their bad-boy cargo shorts, raising their hands in the air and patting the sky under a full moon. Meanwhile, I had my nose buried in a reporter's notebook, scribbling observations about wine consumption.

As you know, Britt is changing its booze policy. Rock fans known to overindulge at Primus, Bush, The Avett Brothers and Slightly Stoopid concerts can't bring alcohol past the ticket takers, but they can buy wine or beer at the expanded concession stand. Regardless of musical genre or fans' proclivity to get smashed, hard liquor never is allowed on the hill. It says so on a very permanent sign at the entrance that also states everyone must have a ticket "including babies." Britt is strict.

And in compliance with state liquor laws, neither sealed nor opened containers can leave the grounds. Bags, coolers and towering Rasta hats may be subject to search as patrons leave the park.

People are upset about these rules. In conspiracy-theory thinking, these restrictions are inching toward Britt goers' ultimate fear: a complete ban on bringing in food and drink.

For 50 years, Britt's grass lawn has been picnic nation. Coolers of all sizes and colors replace the need for ornamental plants. Some of the ice chests look brand-new, purchased for this occasion. Others are beaten-up, as if they survived attacks by aerial drones. All of them get a workout, with owners opening the lids to satisfy one hunger after another.

Picnics plus the music make Britt everyone's favorite backyard. The tradition is you drag in a cooler that weighs more than a refrigerator because it is stuffed with every snack outlawed by Weight Watchers and every alcohol this side of moonshine. Whatever you don't consume, you haul back to your car while mangling the lyrics of that song that you just can't get out of your head.

"Nice to nice to know ya. Scoot closah to me. Dis isn't my first rendezvous in a relationship."

To make my life less complicated, I entered Britt empty-handed, surrounded by big guys who could be bodyguards for Angelina Jolie and Co. Dangling from their muscular fingers were gallon jugs of water that could substitute as free weights.

A man I met next to the dance pit told me the way he handles the no-booze-exits rule is by bringing only bad wine, so he doesn't mind leaving it behind. Here are my rules. No. 1: Never drink bad wine. No. 2: If you can't find two friends to share 750 milliliters of wine, you have to change. No. 3: If you don't want an experience, stay home.

Wine, to borrow from Boog, is like a relationship: "It was like food for all of my senses. Our time priced is so expensive, like water to all dem dry trenches."

While dashing away from this bad-wine drinker, I spotted an isolated deck crafted in Swiss Family Robinson's architectural style. Beyond a sign stating this spot was reserved for Britt members, I saw the always-welcoming Jim Davidian of nearby Caprice Vineyards. He gestured me past the clipboard bouncer and invited me to taste his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($23) and 2011 Seventh Day Chardonnay ($22). Nice to nice.

Then I ran into the always-smiling Nora Lancaster of Kriselle Cellars who looks like a grown-up version of my favorite Holly Hobbie doll. She assured me that her new tasting room will open this September in Sams Valley. She also quietly mentioned that out of 4,500 wines entered in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, Kriselle's first vintage, 2009, won a double gold for its cabernet sauvignon and a silver for its tempranillo. I asked if Kriselle wines would be poured at Britt, and her eyes lowered. No, she said. We parted ways.

I went to study the wine offerings at the concession stand. For three decades, Valley View Winery had Britt locked up. But last year, other local producers began to pour. But not from bottles. All the wine — EdenVale pinot gris, Folin red blend, Quady North syrah, Rosella's blush, Troon white blend, Valley View cabernet and Wooldridge Creek chardonnay — is on tap. You can buy a glass starting at $5.50, or you can fill a 750-milliliter container for $15 to $19.

I couldn't decide. So I took my place behind the beautiful people who were accepting Boog's shout-outs: "Hawaiian, Samoan, Fijian, Maori, Tahiti ma, Tonga! Big ups to Caribbean girl. I love me sexy mamas." As I was tapping my foot to the dulcet tones, Nora returned with a cup filled with Kriselle's double-gold cab. "I don't want you to think Kriselle is unavailable at the Britt," she said.

Rule No. 4: Gifting wine is the best way to deal with a booze embargo. Nice to nice to know you. Let's do it again.

EVENT: Britt's annual fundraiser, Black & White Gala, is Thursday, July 19, on the Britt hill. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, there will be a boogie-woogie performance by Michael Kaeshammer, food from The Jacksonville Inn and others, and wine from 25 area producers, including Abacela, Agate Ridge, Cliff Creek, Cowhorn, Ledger David, RoxyAnn, Schmidt Family, South Stage and Trium. Tickets are $100 (www.brittfest.org has a special two-for-one offer).

TASTED: Kriselle Cellars 2010 Viognier ($26) is just one of many recommendable local wines on the reinvented wine list at Sesame Asian Kitchen across from Ashland's Lithia Park.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@mailtribune.com.


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