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Oregon's wines in the spotlight

Sip and savor Oregon wines and Rogue Valley cuisine during Sunday’s grand finale of the 2017 Oregon Wine Experience in Jacksonville.

The festival highlights varietals from all corners of the state, with 15 of 17 of Oregon's distinct growing regions represented, such as Applegate, Rogue, Illinois Valley, Umpqua, Willamette Valley and others.

During the aptly-named Grand Tasting, wine enthusiasts can meander from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, through the big tent at Bigham Knoll, 525 Bigham Knoll Drive, to meet the winemakers, taste award-winning wines, relish food and wine pairings served by Southern Oregon’s top chefs and groove to the Danielle Kelly Soul Project.

Tickets are $100.

It’s a wine-tasting experience not to be missed, says Susan Mendenhall, OWE’s event chair. With 95 wineries pouring, including the newly-minted medal winners in this year’s prestigious Oregon Wine Competition, “there’s quite a selection” to sip.

A record number of wineries — more than 100 — poured more than 300 wines for a panel of six judges from around the country earlier this month. The top five most popular varietals entered in this year’s competition included chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah/shiraz, rosé/blush and tempranillo.

Gold, silver, and double gold medals were awarded, and the Best of Show winners were announced Wednesday during the Medal Celebration.

"(The Grand Tasting) is a great opportunity to meet these winemakers and vineyard owners, sip their award-winning wines, and hear why they are so passionate about their wines,” says Mendenhall.

Returning this year are the 2016 Best of Show winners: Pebblestone Cellars of Medford, Plaisance Ranch of Williams and Cuckoo’s Nest Cellars of Gold Hill.

In addition to showcasing the best of Oregon wines, the Grand Tasting is an occasion to sample the best of the region’s burgeoning gourmet food industry.

Eleven chefs, restaurants and caterers are teaming up to bring their favorite bites, including Ciao Bella, Schoolhaus Brewhaus, Jacksonville Inn, Painted Hills Beef, Harry & David Country Store, Sunrise Café, Cold Fusion, and chefs Damon Jones (Hellgate Excursion), Mario Chavez (Onyx Restaurant), Jeff Galick (The Springs at Anna Maria) and Trey Hansen (The Springs at Veranda Park).

The Danielle Kelly Soul Project’s covers of the golden era of ‘50s and ‘60s soul, including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and the Temptations — as well as their own spin on contemporaries Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones and Raphael Saadiq — should make for “a fun and relaxing afternoon,” Mendenhall says.

OWE, formerly known as the World of Wine Festival, is now in its 15th year. Founders Lee Mankin of Carpenter Hill Vineyard, Joe Ginet of Plaisance Ranch and Cal Schmidt of Schmidt Family Vineyards started a wine competition that was held at Gold Hill’s Del Rio Winery before moving to Bigham Knoll in 2011.

In 2014, the Asante Foundation partnered with Southern Oregon Wine Industry to create a signature fundraising effort for neonatal and pediatric health care programs, including the local Children’s Miracle Network. In its first three years, OWE raised more than $1.5 million.

Mendenhall heads up the Foundation’s annual giving efforts.

“It’s been a great partnership,” she says of the association with the Southern Oregon vintners and the region’s top chefs. “Everyone donates the food and wine to make it a wonderful community event.”

Marquee events include the Founders’ Barrel Auction from noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, and the Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26.

Friday’s auction features Oregon’s highly-touted 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages pulled directly from the barrel. The event is paired perfectly with the culinary expertise of Chef Mark G. Henry of Seven Feathers Casino Resort.

Tickets are $100.

Saturday’s Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake is the pinnacle of OWE. The Coquille Indian Tribe brings a 10,000-year-old tradition of plank-cooking salmon over an alder wood fire to the table. Offerings by Chef Neil Clooney of Smithfields in Ashland and Chef Awna Zegzdryn of AZ Catering add the finishing touches to the feast. The auction will follow. Bishop Mayfield and Friends tops the evening off with danceable blues, jazz, funk and soul.

Tickets are $250.

In addition to staying true to the founders’ original intention of spotlighting Southern Oregon wines, OWE is “a unique, memorable community event” where “100 percent of the money raised stays in Southern Oregon” to benefit children’s services, explains Mendenhall.

Tickets may be purchased at theoregonwineexperience.com.

Varietals from all four corners of Oregon are poured at the annual Oregon Wine Experience festival. [Photo by Sheila Giorgetti]