Thirty years of Wine Country Thanksgivings
Nation's harvest holidly a three-decade winner for Oregon wine country
Of all the promotional efforts undertaken by Oregon wineries to entice potential customers to their doorsteps, none has enjoyed greater success over time than Thanksgiving Weekend.
More visitors come to Wine Country on that weekend than on any other. And more wine is sold as a direct result of the event than any other.
The industry’s first official Thanksgiving Weekend came about with the founding of the Yamhill County Winery Association in 1982.
In her book, “At Home in the Vineyard,” Susan Sokol Blosser said:
“When our small group of local wineries started to band together, our first project was to host open houses at all the wineries during the three days after Thanksgiving.
“The original nine wineries — Adelsheim, Amity, Arterberry, Chateau Benoit, Elk Cove, Knudsen-Erath, Eyrie, Hidden Springs and Sokol Blosser — advertised together in Portland, Salem and Seattle newspapers to lure people out to wine country.
“As the number of participating wineries grew, so did the number of visitors and the popularity of wine touring. It became a wine country tradition, later copied by county winery groups all over the state.
“Wine Country Thanksgiving, as we called it, became our biggest retail weekend of the year. We started out welcoming visitors in the tasting room, and then moved to the winery cellar to handle more crowds.
“We served food, offered tastes of all our wines, lowered prices for the weekend, displayed holiday gift baskets, and brought in neighboring farmers to sell their chocolate-covered hazelnuts, flavored honey, Marionberry preserves, and Christmas swags and wreaths.
“Holiday greens, wooden lattice and bright red poinsettias helped mask the tanks, barrels, catwalks and refrigeration pipe. Despite its no-frills wine production layout, the winery had a festive feel.”
By David Adelsheim’s reckoning, the connection of Oregon wine and Thanksgiving has roots that can be traced as far back as 1973.
Adelsheim worked for The Eyrie Vineyards during that year’s harvest. As Thanksgiving approached, owners David and Diana Lett hit upon the idea of holding an open house.
“It meant cleaning everything — barrels, walls, floors — even the outside of the building,” he said. “It also meant getting rid of the yellow jackets and fruit flies that co-inhabit wineries during harvest.
“The event itself was reserved, with a classical guitarist playing in one room, with cheese, meats and bread for cleansing the palate. The real focus was on the wines — the 1971 and 1972 vintages.
“In a day before computers and the Internet, Diana and David created a mailing list by manually writing down the names and addresses of everyone they knew in Oregon and Washington.
“They mailed out invitations. I don’t think they advertised the event anywhere. But whatever they did worked. Several hundred people attended over the weekend and quite a bit of wine was sold.”
With that, the foundation was laid for what has become the largest wine event in Oregon. And the association made it official.
Today, the significance of Thanksgiving is evident across the Yamhill Valley. Visitors can choose from among 167 wineries, some of which are open only on the Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends, or by appointment.
An extraordinary level of excitement surrounds this weekend. Special deals abound and extra benefits such as food and entertainment can frequently be found.
Perhaps it’s because the holiday season is now officially under way with its attendant anticipation of fun with family and friends.
Wherever you decide to go on your tasting tour, making wine country a part of your Thanksgiving Weekend is sure to be a winner.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.