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Wine class offers a movable tasting

When retired chemist Dan Dawson moved from California to Ashland, he learned about the Rogue Valley wine culture by taking care of a vineyard and making his own wine, literally getting his hands dirty.

His immersion in winegrowing and winemaking was the culmination of a long-term interest. While in charge of a University of California, Santa Barbara research station at Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada, Dawson lived in the same town where his brother owned a restaurant.

“He dealt with a lot of fine wines, so I had some exposure to wine through him. When we moved here in 2016, I started exploring the local wine scene. An acquaintance of mine from California owned a second home here with a small vineyard on it. The people who had been taking care of it and making wine from it were no longer interested in doing so. I took over that vineyard in the early spring of 2018.”

With a friend already experienced in home winemaking, Dawson produced wine from his harvest. “It gave me an opportunity to really start to study and pay attention,” Dawson said, “and learn a little more about wine. I read books and talk to wine makers and go around and try to get what information I can to learn more. I go to tastings and pay a lot of attention to what people who know more than I do have to say.”

Based on this experience, Dawson decided to offer others a more streamlined and less labor intensive introduction to the subject by leading a class on local wines through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, the adult education arm of Southern Oregon University.

Dawson calls the class “Cork Dorks: Wine & Wineries of Southern Oregon.” Cork Dork is a term of longstanding among wine aficionados, popularized by the 2017 appearance of the book of that title by Bianca Bosker.

The first version of the class ran in the fall term of last year and took students to six wineries after an introductory classroom session at the Collier Center on Francis Street in Ashland. After that, the venue changed every week as the class met at a different winery. At each winery a winemaker or other staff member acting as the host would give a 45-minute talk on some aspect of winegrowing or winemaking.

“This was followed by what I called a directed tasting,” Dawson explained, “where our host walked us through the tasting trying to help us improve our abilities. We paid a fixed $12 per person tasting fee.”

Last year’s venues included Barrel 42, Naumes Crush & Fermentation, Jaxon Vineyards, 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery, Dana Campbell Vineyards and Irvine & Roberts Vineyards.

This year Dawson’s eight-week class, set for the OLLI spring term that runs from March 30 through June 5, will follow the same format but will showcase a different selection of wineries.

“I’m going to give two lectures in spring term,” Dawson added, “because I realized the students were not on an equal footing on the winemaking process. So in addition to the information I give them about the history of winemaking in Oregon, Oregon AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and so on, I’ll give a couple basic lectures on the winemaking process to bring everybody up to the same playing field.”

Details will appear in the class description published on the OLLI website as part of the spring catalog to be posted Feb. 24. For more information, see https://inside.sou.edu/olli.

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mdaspit@jeffnet.org. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.