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Oregon Wine Experience names experts for August competition

JACKSONVILLE — The Oregon Wine Experience has named its panel of six world-renowned judges for the Aug. 5-6 Oregon Wine Competition at Bigham Knoll.

The 15th annual competition will see its first international judge, its first female Master of Wine in America, and the first and only female Master of Wine in Canada. Oregon Wine Experience organizers anticipate the international expertise to position the late-summer celebration as one of the premier wine events in the country.

The weeklong 2017 Oregon Wine Experience showcasing the award winners is scheduled Aug. 21-27.

The panel of judges includes: Linda Murphy, West Coast correspondent for Decanter Magazine; Mary Gorman-McAdams, Master of Wine, Bordeaux Wine Council’s market adviser for the U.S. and Canada; Eric Degerman, president and CEO of GreatNorthwestWine.com; Tim McNally, executive editor and founder of Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; Barbara Philip, Master of Wine, category manager for BC Liquor Stores; and D.C. Flynt, Master of Wine, president and owner of MACH Flynt Inc.

Oregon Wine Experience-related activity flows through the month, culminating the fourth week with the Founders' Barrel Auction, Miracle Auction and Salmon Bake, and Grand Tasting. The festivities drew 2,500 people in 2016 as Asante Foundation raised $720,000 for Children’s Miracle Network and other Asante health care programs.

The event is now anchored in late August, the weekend prior to Labor Day weekend, morphing from its start in 2002 at Del Rio Winery to its present iteration in the pioneer town coinciding with activities in local wineries.

"We didn't want something leading into a vacation time, when people have their last chance to get away," said Sue Mendenhall, manager of annual giving for Asante Foundation. "And we didn't want to compete with the Southern Oregon Golf Championships, so the natural thing was the week before."

Oregon Wine Experience seeks a new panel of judges each year, both to extend its reach and to get new perspectives on the entries.

"We want to introduce as many experts to the quality and level of Oregon wines," Competition Chairman Bruce Nicholson said Tuesday. "We like to have a fresh crew each time, so we have judges return to their states or areas and spread the word or write about Oregon wine."

By having new palates in the mix, past vintages don't influence future results.

"It makes judging slightly more independent," Nicholson said.

Overall, he said, there is a desire to create a mixture of credentialed industry masters and influential wine writers.

"We want an equal number of technical masters and master sommeliers with writers and industry experts. A sort of left-brain/right-brain combination, so that it's balanced," he said.

With just about three dozen wine masters in the country, eventually Oregon Wine Experience may have to recycle sometime in the future.

"The selection process is somewhat limited," he admitted.

But for now the greater difficulty is scheduling, which forces the organization to line up judges a year in advance.

With the scope of the event moving beyond Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties, judging takes place well ahead of the festival.

"Originally, judging was two weeks prior to the event, and then (moved to) the front end of the week so judges could participate," Nicholson said. "But the logistics were impossible, the wineries couldn't deliver bottles on such short notice."

The present schedule allows winners to ship wine ahead of the event, rather than finding out hours beforehand.

Last year, the field was expanded, allowing wineries to enter vintages from any Oregon American Viticultural Area.

Organizers also capped the number of entries by a winery to four, which wound up reducing entries to 218 from the previous high of 234. They're hoping to attract closer to 300 entries by this year's June 9 cutoff.

"We're expanding the number of entries to five this year," Nicholson said. "Wineries were sometimes sending 10 or 12 wines. We wanted it to be the best of their best."

In 2016, about one third of the entries came from outside Southern Oregon. This year the expectation is closer to a 50-50 split.

"Already we're seeing more entries from the north," Nicholson said. "Most of the local entries will come later."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Paula Sendar displays a Silver Medal for her 2010 Sauvignon Blanc at the 2010 World of Wine Festival. The name of the festival changed to Oregon Wine Experience in 2015.