Passport to Oregon is back for its second year, offering Memphians a chance to sample wines and meet the Oregon winemakers behind them.
Event organizer Michael Hughes of Joe's Wines & Liquors has been a fan of Oregon wines since he started in the wine business about nine years ago. But it wasn't until he attended Pinot Camp, an annual seminar in the Oregon wine country, in 2009 that he really began spreading the Oregon wine gospel.
"I was hooked," he says. "I drank the Kool-Aid."
By "Kool-Aid" he means Oregon's renowned Pinot Noir, a varietal that grows particularly well in the Willamette Valley's cool climate.
"[Oregon wine] is about a sense of place. They don't want to make Pinot Noir that tastes like Burgundy or Pinot Noir that tastes like California," Hughes says. "They want to let each vineyard speak for itself."
According to Hughes, Oregon wines tend to be earthier, with a little more acidity than California wines. And, Hughes says, winemakers there are focused on maintaining that unique Oregon taste through sustainable viticulture.
"Viticulture in general is quite polluting and weighs very heavily on the environment, whether in terms of water usage or electricity or pesticides and fungicides. The founders of the industry in Oregon were families that wanted to pass the vineyards down to their children. They understood that you can't poison your land and not expect it to have a great effect."
The idea of Passport to Oregon first came to Hughes in 2011, by way of Birmingham, Alabama.
"I learned there was a big group of winemakers going to Birmingham in February," he says. "So I reached out to them and said if you're going to Birmingham, why not come up to Memphis right afterward?"
In 2012, Joe's Wines & Liquors hosted the first Passport to Oregon event, featuring 22 Oregon wineries. This year, the event will have 26 wineries, maybe more, and they've already sold 200 of the 250 tickets.
"It's a great opportunity for wine lovers in Memphis to talk, interact, and taste with winemakers," Hughes says. "It's casual, unintimidating. No one should feel rushed or pushed to try everything. Over 100 wines in two-and-a-half hours is a little intense."
Passport to Oregon takes place at the University Club February 21st from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $45 each, including wine tastings and Pacific Northwest-style appetizers, and can be purchased at Joe's Wines & Liquors. For more information, call 725-4252.
Kegs: They aren't just for beer anymore. Wine on tap is the new frontier for restaurants, and Hog & Hominy has brought that frontier to Memphis.
Nick Talarico, beverage director for Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, explains:
"[Keg wine] allows nicer-quality wines to be sold at a discounted rate, because there isn't the cost of the bottles, the shipping costs are less, and there's less to throw away so there's less waste," he says. "The wine is cheaper to produce, and restaurants can sell them for cheaper and sell really high-quality wines by-the-glass when they usually aren't available."
A popular practice in California, kegging wine had yet to make it to Memphis when Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman, head chefs of Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, encountered it on their annual trip to Santa Barbara. They approached vintner Robert Turner, a Memphis native with a boutique winery in California, about kegging some of the wines for Hog & Hominy. When he agreed, they brought on a second California winery with Mid-South roots: Tallulah Wines by Mike Drash, whose family farm is in Como, Mississippi.
By December 2012, Hog & Hominy's keg wine system was up and running. There are currently four wines in rotation: Tallulah Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and Robert Turner Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
Keg wines range from $9.50 to $13 a glass, while the same wine from a bottle could cost upwards of $18 a glass.
"Andy and Michael wanted people to have something really exceptional," Talarico says, "without breaking the bank."
Hog & Hominy, 707 W. Brookhaven Circle (207-7396)