Red wines are famous — red pears, not so much.
That perception might have changed, even slightly, thanks to the Columbia Gorge Wine and Pear Fest Saturday and Sunday.
The fourth-annual Hood River Rotary event drew about 3,000 people to Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum.
More than 60 vendors, including virtually every Hood River County winery and three of its new cideries, poured their wares, while local food vendors used pears in pizza or sandwiches, artists displayed their paintings, jewelry and other works, and local musicians entertained.
“The event was a big success, and we are looking ahead to the fifth-annual,” said coordinator Jennifer Gulizia of Hood River Rotary. Proceeds go to the 2015 Hood River Rotary scholarship fund.
“This is an event that involves about 100 people between staff at WAAAM, local community members, and Rotary; it really is a community effort, and it’s so great to see people giving back to students,” Gulizia said.
The date in spring 2015 has not been set, but WAAAM will again be the venue.
“Having it at WAAAM makes this a unique event, and the fact that it takes place over two days brings people to our hotels and restaurants and shops,” Gulizia said.
Julie Auvil of Portland and her son, Benjamin, 5, came a couple of years ago and decided to return.
“We loved it; we loved being able to see the old cars. It’s a great combination, and the wines are fantastic, too,” Auvil said.
Nancy Wellman of Oregon City, visiting with her fiancé, Ted Graham, said this was their first Wine and Pear Fest.
“It’s nice; I used to do the wine events like McMinnville Wine and Food, and this is not as large but it is similar; a nice mix of wineries as well as artists,” Wellman said.
“There were lots of smiles, a lot of wine was poured, and people loved the fact they can wander through the museum,” Gulizia said, adding that there were two changes in the festival that particularly helped: one was moving the music stage to a location better connected to most of the vendors. Second, each attendee received a cloth tote bag, designed to carry four bottles of wine.
“There was not a bad booth in the house,” Gulizia said. “Everyone had a great location that allowed people to walk by, and the wine tote bag encouraged more people to fill their bags.”
And there were slices of fresh fruit, served free.
“People are really enjoying the fresh fruit,” said Brittany Wilmes of the Oregon Pear Bureau. Wilmes served green and red Anjou pears and answered questions alongside a rotating crew of Hood River orchardists at a booth in the center of the main exhibition area, which she said was a vast improvement over the corner spot the Bureau had in 2013.
“A lot of people aren’t aware there are red pears, because they’re less common, so people who aren’t from the area are tasting them for the first time,” Wilmes said.
“People are learning about ripening them,” she said. “We explain how to check the neck, and to ripen them, at room temperature for sure, to test them every day and put them in a bag with an apple or a banana.”
“This (event) is a definite benefit because people are made aware that this is the largest pear-growing region in Oregon, and it’s the state fruit, so it’s a fun learning lesson for a lot of people to learn where their fruit is coming from and when they find the fruit in the store and it’s labeled USA Pear they know it’s coming from the Northwest,” Wilmes said.
“It’s a great boost to the economy; when people have a great experience tasting fresh fruit they’re more likely to go to their store and seek it out.
“We like to say, ‘What grows together goes together,’ and wine and grapes and pears are grown here,’” she said. Visitors were provided pear-wine-cheese wheels that show ideal combinations of the three. Meanwhile, local restaurants were serving festival visitors sandwiches, pizza and even cold drinks using fresh or prepared pears.
Wilmes also said she heard people wondering why pears are available in spring.
“They’re familiar with the harvest process, that it happens in the fall, so we let them know about cold storage and how we ripen them perfectly for this event,” she said.
“We love this festival; it’s so fun, and now we’ve got a whole team doing festivals,” said Becky Morus, operations manager of Phelps Creek Vineyards of Hood River. They poured their Le Petit Noir, a Beaujolais-style “little sister to classic Oregon Pinot,” as sales rep Jon Wadman put it.
He also poured samples of the winery’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, a low-production bottling that is just the second such variety Phelps Creek has produced.
Nearby, Morus along with Izzy Misley and Nick Adams were pouring wines from Mt. Defiance, the lower-priced “easy drinking,” sister wine to the Phelps Creek varietals. Hellfire, a white blend, and Brimstone, a red blend, are the hallmark wines of Mt. Defiance, which Morus said “is named for the volcano that shaped the Phelps Creek slopes.”
“It’s fun because they’re totally different wines,” said Morus, who is the daughter of founder and winemaker Bob Morus.
The Mt. Defiance wines are sold mainly wholesale and for festival consumption, but they are edging back into the restaurant shelves after the lines went into a hiatus in 2008.
“The fun thing about this label is that gentleman pictured on it,” she said, pointing to Billy Sunday, an early 20th century) prohibitionist from Hood River County. “He preached the damnation of alcohol, so we’re doing it to let him roll in his grave a little,” Morus said.
The current Mt. Defiance wines had been “more linked to Phelps Creek, according to Morus. “Our last vintage of Brimstone was 2008, and now we started it up again to do festivals and more wholesale.”
“It’s been good, my dad and I have a better relationship than ever, working side by side; the team’s been growing, it’s very exciting. We didn’t used to do festivals but as of a couple of years ago we are.”