First Taste Oregon Festival

February 4, 2013

A week ago, my husband Burtle and I went to the First Taste Oregon in Salem, OR. We were supposed to go two years ago, but we were both coming down with a cold and never made it. This was the year.

First off, a little history: This was formerly known as the Oregon Wine, Food, and Brew Fest. Emphasis on the wine, with a little bit of brew. I was expecting this to be like the Oregon Spring Beer and Wine Fest held in Portland later in March, and it was pretty much exactly that. I tried some wines, Burtle tried some beers, and we ate a little bit of olive oil, dipping sauces, fudge, and candy. There were a hand full of distillers there, including Eastside Distilling. As we are getting older, Burtle and I do not drink as much hard alcohol, but we liked what they were doing. There were also some unique businesses at the event, such as hot air balloon rides.

I did try three different blackberry wines. The first one I had was from Abiqua Wind Vineyards. The winemaker said it was a little thicker than most blackberry wines, as he doesn’t use as much water. I did not try his blackberry port. The second one I had was from Nehalem Bay, which I had had a few years ago. It was thinner and sweeter. The last one I had was from Buddha Kat Winery, who bought out the Wasson Brothers when they decided to retire at age 71 after 30 years of wine making. I had stopped off at the facility once and found that while they had a wonderful selection of fruit wines, like most fruit wine makers, they made syrup. Buddha Kat said they had tweaked the recipes somewhat to lower the sugar and the alcohol, and I think they had a good start, but I think the best blackberry wine was by Abiqua Wind.

The biggest mistake we made was when we got there. We paid the $10 admission each, and then we bought the $5 glasses. Turns out, every vendor there had their own disposable plastic tasting cups, so they kind of looked at us weird when we offered up real glass to pour into. Our expectation from all the other festivals is that you have to buy your glass to be served, which would actually be a cost savings to the vendors. Here, we didn’t need them, which actually would have made it cheaper on us than most festivals. Also, this festival is different in that it is cash based. Every vendor stated their price to taste their wares, and there were no tickets to purchase to do so. This also makes it cheaper, because if you only feel like 5 samples, it will probably cost you only $5, and you aren’t left holding 5 extra tickets.

One other minor mistake was that they said to follow the signs off the freeway to get to the fairgrounds, but that put us in the wrong part of the fairgrounds. You need to drive like you are going to the Salem Armory, which you can see just a block away on the same road.

At some point, I did hear a woman comment that she was disappointed in the number of wineries there. Maybe it is the economy, or maybe it is Salem, but for being in its third year, it just didn’t seem to have the energetic vibe we are used to at some of the other festivals we have gone to. Granted, we are used to mostly beer festivals, and this is different, but Burtle isn’t sure if this festival is really going to make it. Festivals are finicky things at the moment.

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