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Winning with wine

Imagine winning a treasure trove of wine and you don't drink.

That's what happened to Jeanne Denning when she tossed in $30 to buy three Rotary Club of Ashland raffle tickets last year and she won 10 cases of wine.

"It's more wine than I've ever had in my life," says Denning, a widow who moved to Ashland three years ago after retiring as a financial adviser in Olympia, Wash., and living briefly in Montana.

The self-proclaimed health enthusiast eats organic food, meditates and exercises. Wine was not part of the mix.

"Not for about 25 years, so I have had to relearn what I used to know about wine," she says. "This whole experience has been very interesting. It's a great way to meet people."

Because of the unexpected prize, Denning has become an unofficial ambassador to the local wine scene.

She brings bottles as hostess gifts when she's invited to dinner. She gives away bottles when she stays at friends' houses in Palm Springs, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., and the Puget Sound, Wash., area.

She donates wine to fundraisers and her visiting adult children and older grandchildren leave with liquid souvenirs.

Most interestingly, the cache has become a cornerstone of a wine club founded by Chuck and Diane Reiling that now has 70 members.

When Denning met the Reilings last year, it was over coffee during a meeting of the Ashland Newcomers group.

The Reilings, who moved to Medford from Seattle in late 2011, were surprised that no one new to Southern Oregon was talking about wines or wine tasting, "a topic of particular — our friends might say 'obsessive' — interest to us," jokes Chuck Reiling.

The couple created a spin-off club, calling it the Ashland Newcomers Wine Group, and a caravan toured through the Applegate Valley last May. Members presented an Ashland Rotary Club wine raffle ticket, which included free tastings.

After Denning discovered she won what was billed as an instant wine cellar, she offered to have a wine club meeting at her home.

"Chuck picked the bottles for the party and did a great job," she says. "That helped with 12 bottles."

That night, they tasted from across the Rogue Valley with syrahs from Folin Cellars and Cowhorn Vineyards, clarets from RoxyAnn Winery and Trium, white blends from Plaisance Ranch and Rosella's Vineyard, and a semillon-sauvignon blanc blend from Agate Ridge Vineyard, among others.

The wine club group now meets almost monthly. They have returned to the Applegate Valley to tour and taste from Troon Vineyard and Wooldridge Creek Winery to Schmidt Family Vineyards and Red Lily Vineyards.

Recently, they gathered at Dana Campbell Vineyards' new hilltop tasting room in Ashland for "sipping and socializing," as Reiling calls it. Members will visit Del Rio Vineyards in Gold Hill this Sunday, April 21.

Members have also held tastings of tempranillos, syrahs and syrah blends at their homes.

"We are hoping to find a volunteer host so we can do a malbec tasting in May," says Reiling. "We also have high hopes that one of our members will win the Rotary Club wine raffle this year too."

The Ashland Rotary is selling a new crop of raffle tickets through May 16 to raise money to put on the Easter egg hunt in Lithia Park and other events and service projects.

People who buy a raffle ticket this year will receive free tastings at local tasting rooms, including Grizzly Peak Winery in Ashland, Daisy Creek Vineyard in Jacksonville and EdenVale Winery in Medford.

The grand prize is for four cases of wine, each bottle valued at more than $50. There are Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons, Oregon pinot noirs, a 2003 Abacela estate tempranillo from Roseburg, a 2002 RoxyAnn Winery claret from Medford and Italian reds, all from notable wineries.

Last year, when her cases were delivered, Denning's friends helped her inventory the 90 bottles of reds and 30 bottles of white. She bought three wine coolers at Home Depot to store them.

As a nondrinker, she appreciates the packaging of the bottles, especially the glass closure Trium uses for its viognier.

She liked that Weisinger's of Ashland included a wine menu with its five-bottle donation.

"Their 2006 syrah is gone," says Denning. "I was told it was very good."

But, mostly, she's happy that she has met a lot of new people sharing the bounty.

"What a conversation piece this has been," she says. "When someone points me out and says, 'She's the one who won the wine,' strangers all want to meet me."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com