Newport Wine & Seafood Festival: A take on Local Wine Tastings

Last Friday, my husband and I headed over to the Oregon coast to attend the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. The Festival lasts all weekend long, though we only had the pleasure of attending Friday's event.

To be honest, this is not a festival I would have sought out to attend – it's a 2 hour drive and I have a one-year old, so we choose our events carefully. Yet through friends of friends, we ended up in Newport, and are quite glad we did. We've been to a lot of wine tastings, many of them the "bigger" events, with the occasional celebrity chef or 100 point wine. I checked out Newport website beforehand and between the pictures of last year's pirate-clad attendees and the event directions to the town's fairgrounds, you knew you were going local. 

The theme this year was the "The Grape Wild West," so I donned by boots and the hubby put on his Stetson. Most other attendees were in University of Oregon garb, but there were some cool theme-based decorations around. The cost was $10 to enter, and another $5 for a glass (one that costs $1 at Target, but it did have a logo). I was surprised when I hit the first booth and realized there was an extra charge for each taste (usually 1 oz) – $1 for most wines, $2 for reserves and some had deals of $5 for a taste of the entire line up. This sort of thing adds up. Then again, I remembered plenty of tastings where I wished someone had been charging, as free tastes can lead to all-to-free-flowing imbibing.

A few highlights:
Willamette Valley Vineyards. After reading a post reviewing the Tualitin Estate wine from the the Blog Wine Cellar, I was eager to try this one. First taste out of the gate, and totally worth the $2. Delicious, complex, lingering, this Pinot had structure and body and a fantastic savory characteristic that I loved, even in my small rolled-rim glass. 

Milbrandt Vineyards – had the great pleasure of meeting Butch Milbrandt, who comes from a good farming family and runs Milbrandt Vineyards with his brother. They have over 1700 acres of grapes in Washington, much of it sold to nearby wineries, but some of the good stuff going into their own Milbrandt label.


A couple of my favorites? From the Traditions label, which runs about $15, the Riesling, Merlot & Syrah. The Merlot is one of those Merlot that reminds you that good Merlot can be made under $20 AND it can have character. The Riesling was slightly off dry, but with a nose reminicent of a Clare Valley Riesling and a wonderful acidity that made it cry out for food. The Syrah was juicy and peppery and easy-drinking. From the Estates side, we tried the Malbec. Have not had Malbec from Washington much, but this was delicious stuff. We're broadening our selection of these wines from Milbrandt on so stay tuned. The team behind the booth were all wonderful ladies that were cousins and aunts and sisters… great family business, which we always love to see in wine!


Cooper Mountain – I remember working in Best Cellars in New York in about 2004 selling the Cooper Mountain Pinot Gris – it was the only organic wine we sold and it was such a new term" for wine back then. They were "green" before green was cool. They are now 100% biodynamic and the wines are as delicious as ever. The Pinot Gris is a favorite and I loved the '08 vintage. Also tried a Malbec they are making from a property in Argentina. Cool stuff, though apparently only available at the winery.


A few other wineries I really enjoyed – Coleman Vineyards from the Willamette Valley makes some amazing Pinot Noirs. We tasted through the lineup of these – '06 Reserve was the favorite.
HillCrest Vineyard, located in the Umpqua Valley in Southern Oregon makes a killer Zinfandel that was just delicious. They sell through the winery only and are totally family run.
EdenVale Winery, another Southern Oregon gem, has an amazing Syrah that was just big, bold and juicy. Family-owned and operated, they have distribution out of the state so will be found in other markets.

Finally, one a more down note, I stopped by Cardwell Hill Vineyards, who I have never heard of, but but they were touting their '06 Pinot Noir, which was a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine of 2009, as well as their '07 which was also well-rated. Being a fan of the '07 vintage, I asked (and paid my $1) for a taste. One sniff and whew! Over-the-top corked. Long story short, when I tried to explain to the man pouring the corked issue, he sniffed my glass and told me: "you just need to let it open up." Seriously? Not only is this is a tasting where people pay a dollar for each taste, but many of these consumers don't know what a corked wine is. If a bottle holds roughly 22oz and they do 1oz pours, that means 22 people will get taste of some possibly delicious wine ruined by cork taint. That's 22 possible customers are forming an opinion on your wine. How winery representatives get by without knowing proper etiquette for dealing with a corked bottle at a tasting is beyond me.  I left the booth, dumped the wine and swore to e-mail or phone the winery to let them know my disappointment. Of course, the winery website has absolutely no contact information available.

Other than my unfortunate experience with the corked Pinot, I had a fun time at this event. The set up, with local seafood vendors, local Pacific Northwest wineries, many family owned and operated, many that sell through these events and at their wineries, reminded me how important community events like this are. I don't put much into the medals and awards given at these tastings, but I do appreciate the wineries getting out there to talk to people in their communities. I appreciate the locals coming to the events and supporting local agriculture and business. 

Every state makes wine. Every state has local agricultures business. Every state has community fairs. You may be eating crab melts and drinking Pinot at a Pacific Northwest tasting, but you'll be eating and drinking other types of local specialties at a community fair in Michigan, Virginia or Texas. It's important to get out in your community and discover these gems, be it a strawberry wine or a killer BBQ sauce or a sweet blush. Taste local and buy local when you can. You'll have to go elsewhere to find your favorite Argentine Malbec, but you may find some gems at these fairs and you'll definitely learn more about your local community.

2 thoughts on “Newport Wine & Seafood Festival: A take on Local Wine Tastings”

  1. Hey! Gwendolyn! Thanks for taking the time to write about the Newport Festival. We enjoy it every year, seeing the folks from our favorite wineries, hob-nobbing with friends that we might not see very often and sampling good juice. I’m one of the coastal reps for Bacchus Fine Wines, representing Willamette Valley Vineyards and Milbrandt Vineyards. I’m so glad you enjoyed the offerings from those folks! We appreciate your support! (Sounds like a "Bartles & James" commercial!)… Hope we see you next year, too!
    John Bingham
    Wine Consultant
    Bacchus Fine Wines

  2. thanks, John! We had a really good time at the festival and wished we could have stayed the whole weekend. A definite longer trip next year. We had a great time meeting Butch & the Milbrandt team and tasting the lineup. Good stuff coming from the NW these days… Hope to see you next year!

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