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Wine festival planned for Ashland this fall

What this town needs is a wine festival. So say three-year Ashland residents Tom Berich and Trevor Sellman. And they’re doing something about it.

Their nonprofit organization, Oregon Cultural Outreach and Events, recently announced the first Southern Oregon Wine Festival will take place this year from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15 and 16, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. The event aims to bring together more than 25 Southern Oregon wineries with food and craft vendors and live music. Proceeds from ticket sales, donations and raffles will be used to support arts organizations in Southern Oregon.

The emergence of this event may come as no surprise since Ashland/Southern Oregon was touted as one of the world’s top-10 winery tourism destinations in the February 2016 edition of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Berich and Sellman agree the recognition underscores the timing and the choice of Ashland as the site of the festival — but point out that they had formed their idea for the event several weeks before the Wine Enthusiast top-10 list was published.

Returning home by car from Portland, Berich and Sellman were struck by the number of wineries between Eugene and Ashland. Berich recalls, “I said to Trevor, look up Southern Oregon Wine Festival and see where that is. And he said, 'There is no Southern Oregon Wine Festival.' I said, 'What do you mean?' That was literally where the idea was born.”

Both musicians, Berich and Sellman met through a steel drum group Berich formed at SOU under the auspices of music department percussionist Professor Terry Longshore. Berich’s background includes experience in event management and production, conventions and trade shows and five years as a producer at Nickelodeon. Sellman is a recent graduate of the SOU Business School and the Oregon Center for the Arts with experience working at the Britt Festival.

In planning the Southern Oregon Wine Festival, Berich and Sellman are reaching out to both potential attendees and wineries for ideas on how to broaden the event’s appeal. Berich’s contacts at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival expressed a strong feeling that the event days should include a Sunday since many non-actor theater staff would be able to attend that day. The choice of dates, Oct. 15-16, was also made with the OSF schedule in mind, as it is the weekend of the last performances at the outdoor venue, the Elizabethan Stage. Berich says, “There are going to be a lot of people in town looking for things to do during the day.”

Wine professionals have expressed concern that in mid-October, with harvest in full swing, winery personnel will be fully occupied processing fruit and unable to attend the festival.

Berich and Sellman acknowledge this, but expect larger wineries will be able to spare tasting room staff to pour at the festival that weekend. Berich adds, “Chances are the smaller ones aren’t going to be able to make it and, while I feel bad about that, we have sort of limited space anyway, so it’s kind of on a first-come, first-served basis. So we’re kind of expecting it to be the larger wineries for now. Since this is our first shot at this, when we do it again next year we’ll alter the date a little bit to get more people involved. As with any first event of this sort there may be a hiccup.”

Michael Donovan, president of the Southern Oregon Winery Association, commented, “With all the positive press coming out about our wines in Southern Oregon, it is not surprising that enterprising nonprofits see the benefits of working with our local wine community.”

A schedule of events, ticket information and vendor and musician applications can be found on the event website at www.sowinefest.com, or contact Oregon Cultural Outreach and Events by phone at 541-227-8109 or email orcoae@gmail.com.

Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."