Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Archive for May, 2009

Tasting Groups & Supper Clubs

It seems like most of my winery friends (winemakers and sales/marketing managers) are in tasting groups. 

I first heard of a local tasting group last summer, when my friend, who’s an assistant winemaker at a very prominent winery in the Chehalem Mountains, told me about the tasting group he was in.  It consisted of select winemakers and assistant winemakers in the northern Willamette Valley, and they met monthly to review wines from different regions of the world, often by varietal.  And, it wasn’t open to just anybody.  

Not long after, I learned that my friend, who’s a local food and wine writer, was in a tasting group with a mix of wine enthusiasts and professionals in Portland. 

I wondered why I wasn’t invited to join a tasting group.  Was I being left out? 

It suddenly felt personal.  I had been in the wine industry for a decade and I wasn’t in a tasting group.  I worried that I needed to be in one, or, even better, perhaps I should start a women in wine tasting group.   

I learned that most of these tasting groups were formed with the intention of keeping the palate sharp, while main- taining an on-going dialog about tasted wines with respected peers.  This wasn’t your usual kind of wine club.  And, it wasn’t the kind that just anyone could sign up for by simply having a valid credit card to charge for regular shipments of select wines.  Rather, this was the kind of club in which you had to be invited to join, like a fraternity or sorority.

My women in wine tasting group would have to be exclusive, with invites going out to only the who’s who of women at wineries of the Willamette Valley.  That seemed to fit the desired bill.

Only, I never started that tasting group.  Nor have I been invited to join one.  And I am super fine with that.  Really.

For one, I lost my winery job back in December, so I haven’t really been networking with other winery folk like I used to.  I still socialize with many dear friends in the local winery industry.  But, now, it’s just on a social level.  While I’m not in a structured tasting group with any of my former peers, I have been invited to dine with a group of wonderful food and wine enthusiasts and professionals.  We have started, rather serendipitously, a supper club.

It all started back in January when a friend, and former winery industry professional, invited me and my farmer boyfriend to her place for a dinner party scheduled for mid-March.  She was preparing a few courses, all graciously gluten-free, including a savory crabcake with mango salad, winter vegetable soup, braised lamb, and then a bacon-apricot-honey cornbread served warm with a scoop of maple ice cream.  We were each assigned a wine to accompany a course.  I couldn’t wait for March! 

I was assigned the dessert course and headed over to my favorite wine shop in Clackamas County – Winestock, in historic, downtown Oregon City.  Owner, and new friend, Sarrah, helped me find a lovely Moscato D’Asti, with hints of honey, white peach and apricots, and a fun Brachetto d’Acqui, a red sparkling dessert wine with flavors of rose petals and strawberries.

The dinner party did not disappoint.  My friend decorated two lovely tables in shabby-chic fashion, with subtle candles that made the Riedel Oregon Pinot noir glasses glow.  Her menu was serious, ambitious, and delicious!

crabcake course

crabcake course

Enjoying Braised Lamb with Pinot

Enjoying Braised Lamb with Pinot

The best part was that the dinner party inspired another guest to host a follow-up dinner party up at the vineyard lodge where she works in Carlton.   And, hence, begun our supper club.   That dinner took place on May 3rd.  Stay tuned for my notes on that spectacular supper club evening.

I suppose you don’t need a formal club to enjoy great food and wine in your hometown.  But, it certainly makes for more fun.  It doesn’t have to be foodie exclusive.  But, if you do love food, you might want to have one night set aside, here and there, to share food and wine with those who are as passionate about it as you are.  It changes the mood, sets the tone for engaging conversation, and takes the dinner party experience to a whole new level.

Whether you are thinking about starting or joining a tasting group or supper club, keep in mind that you should be in a group with friends and colleagues who share the same level of desire to be in it, so that you can keep it going. 

I believe another couple has already agreed to host our next supper club in McMinnville.  My farmer and I are excited to host one this summer in the middle of our farm out here in Clackamas County.  It doesn’t hurt to add a little variety of scenery!