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Nearly 5,000 attend three-day festival in Hood River

The biggest pantry around.

That’s what Hood River Expo Center was May 17-19 during the 2002 Hood River Pear and Wine Festival, attended by about 5,000 people (Please turn to page B1 for more festival coverage).

Visitors sampled and bought pears and other fruit, wines from 20 wineries, and baked goods. They bought art, kitchen and home goods, and learned about cooking with pears from local growers and chefs from around the region.

“This is like a taste of Oregon, and I love Oregon,” said Julie Martin of Austin, Texas, who came to visit Portland friends just so they could take in the festival.

Organizer Kaye White declared the festival a success.

“We have a lot of work to do to make this one of the top shows, but it’s definitely one of the best new shows,” said White, marketing director of Hood River Fruit Loop, which put on the festival.

The event returned after a year’s absence, and it received high marks though attendance was short of some organizers’ expectations.

“Memories,” said Tony White, brought he and his wife, Carole, back to the festival. As they had in 2000, the West Linn couple visited as part of their wedding anniversary celebration.

“I’m looking for a few good dishes to cook for dinner tonight,” Carole said.

Vendors saw the festival as a chance to cook up business.

“Branching out,” said Ray Wiese of Van Duzer Vineyards, near Dallas. “These local festivals give us a chance to reach out to a whole new market.”

The festival is about building new markets for pears, according to Kevin Moffett, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest, based in Milwaukie.

“This festival is about getting the word out about pears on a broader basis, and just getting the buzz going,” Moffett said.

Everywhere there were pears.

Artist Mary Naylor of White Salmon brought out a special line of pear platters, Sylvia de Groot of Odell spun alpaca wool for her shop, Accent on Alpacas, and set out Anjou slices next to her hats and scarves.

The Hood River Grower Shipper Association booth couldn’t keep the fruit sliced fast enough. Visitors expressed surprise at the sweet and juicy Bosc samples.

Every winery kept a supply of pear slices for people to sample along with Rieslings, Merlots and Pinot Gris.

“It’s about trying new combinations of things,” Anne Lerch of Hood River Vineyards said. “It’s about trying our tastebuds and figuring out what you like and why you like it.”

Rick Benjamin of Benjamin Orchards handed out varieties of sliced pears and apples, fruit leather, and other goodies, made under the new dried fruit company they started in November.

“We’re trying to do a value-added product to get a new market for some of our fruit,” Benjamin said.

He sold bags of dried fruit and more than 1,000 chocolate-covered pear slices at 25-cents apiece.

Nearby, Katrina McAlexander was also sharing pear specialties.

“People are surprised at how many dishes they can cook with pears,” McAlexander said at the family’s Mt. View Orchard stand. Visitors sampled pear dessert samples, dried fruit, and other treats.

McAlexander said most people have never tried pears such as “the champagne of pears,” the Comice. “As often as I can I get my friends to try a ripe Comice. Then they know how good a pear can be.

“We’re trying to make people aware of pears. Awakening them,” she said.

Bartlett grower Gery Amos of Yakima, Wash., said, “We’re learning, too.”

“Educating people about pears is an ongoing job,” said his wife, Sherry. “As growers, we’ve all been kind of complacent. We need to get more involved.”

Asteroid Perry of Portland learned that her last name is the word for pear cider, while on the festival’s orchard tour to McCurdy Farms.

She took the tour to learn more about how Clear Creek Distillery’s Eau-de-Vie brandy, with the whole pear in the bottle. The pears and grown at McCurdy Farms.

“It’s incredible the amount of intricate work that goes into creating just one bottle,” Perry said. “I’ll have to go to the distillery and pick up a bottle.”

Dan Russell of Portland had come to the festival just get a bottle of the Eau-de-Vie.

“When I saw that (on television) I just had to get a bottle of that for my wine rack,” Russell said.

The Eau-de-Vie is for sale at McCurdy Farms, said Clear Creek owner Steve McCarthy, under special permit from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Orchard owner Craig McCurdy said the scenic fruit stand, normally open only in the fall, is open this spring offering orchard fruits, and plants such as rhododendrons.

But most of the festival action was to be found at the Expo Center. Greeting visitors were Hood River Valley High School wrestling team members and their parents, who worked the parking lots as a fundraiser for the team’s upcoming summer camps. The community also got involved via the “Provocative Pear” show, a local art exhibit in the Expo Center atrium.

The bureau decided to get involved with the Fruit Loop, Hood River Grower Shipper Association and other groups putting on the revived festival, to support county pear and wine producers.

“We can do better together than we can on our own,” Moffett said. “I was here at a Grower Shipper Association meeting, and we started talking about this event.

“We work for the growers. We want to do activities that support their product,” he said.

Vendors said it was one of the most well-organized events they’ve ever been to, with outstanding amenities for the vendors. Some vendors ranked it better than similar, more established, festivals in Newport and McMinnville.

White had accepted decorating chairwoman Dollie Rasmussen’s bet that attendance would top 10,000 people.

“I appreciated her optimism,” White said.

White said she knows where improvements must happen.

“We want to focus on agriculture and make that as entertaining as we can,” White said.

“We need to work on music, to try and find our niche. It’s difficult to mix music with chefs coming to do cooking demonstrations,” White said. “We have to work on deciding just what we want to be when we grow up.”

“We’ll be concentrating more on educating the consumer about where food comes from, and about the food produced in this valley, and try to bring in more participation,” White said. She added one idea was to bring in the Native American tribes, who are now fishing for fresh for salmon and selling their catch.

Among the things that went right was the festival ambience.

“I think people were surprised at how beautiful it looked in there,” she said. “Dollie (Rasmussen, decorating chairwoman) did one of the most outstanding jobs of decorating that I’ve ever seen. The Expo Center is a building that’s not really built as an exposition center, but she did an amazing job of turning it into a beautiful environment for people.” Will there be 2003 festival?

“Absolutely,” White said. “It’s not necessarily going to get bigger and better, but better, and we’ll focus on getting more people here.”

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