The birth of JPR's wine tasting

Jefferson Public Radio's annual Wine Tasting Event, which this year falls on Dec. 9, was born 30 years ago when Gina Ing walked into my store.

It was an early fall day, and I had just opened the Wine Cellar the summer before. Gina, mother to JPR personality Valerie Ing Miller and then resources development director for KSOR (JPR's predecessor), had been kicking around fundraising ideas. She wondered out loud whether some sort of wine event could take place at then Southern Oregon State College.

The idea hadn't really taken form yet, but I had been involved in numerous wine-tasting fundraisers as a manager in a former retail wine business in Northern California, and I understood what it would take to put something like this together: a lot of hard work and some well-placed luck.

Gina was the brains and soul of the outfit, and I was the connection to the Oregon wineries.

I was still new on the Oregon wine scene, but was well-known for promoting its wines in Southern Oregon, especially to many skeptical local clients as well as tourists. Oregon wines were a hard sell, believe me.

I had more than a few wines explode on my shelves from secondary fermentation in the bottle and leaky corks. Many had silly looking labels, some of them applied just a little off center. Most of the wineries were mom and pop enterprises where the corks, bottling and labeling were painstakingly applied by hand.

There were tremendous bottle variation in batches, a goodly amount of oxidation and wines put in odd packages — pinot noir in claret bottles, for example. It was clear this was an emerging industry trying to get up and fly. There were, of course, a few stellar wines, such as those from David Lett at Eyrie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley, but, for the most part, we were finding our way around the grapevine in 1980.

This was a far cry from the industry I left in Northern California, which was well-seasoned with the great 1970 and 1974 vintages, especially in the Napa Valley.

1980 was a hallmark wine year for Ashland: We jumped on the map with the first ever weekly wine column in the Ashland Daily Tidings (I wrote this embarrassingly naive article on champagne), a wine course for the Elderhostel at SOSC (shaky, at best), and the KSOR Wine Tasting. Gina had asked me to contact the wineries in hopes they'd pour their wines at the event, held at the Stevenson Union on campus. Many wineries had no idea what I was talking about, knew almost nothing about the college and generally wondered what we were up to.

I believe this was the first event of its type in the state, especially a wine-tasting event held to benefit public radio staged on a college campus. But like so many innocents, we forged ahead anyway. I think there were 13 wineries in attendance that first year.

The evening of the fundraiser, Gina and I traded off doing live interviews with the attendees by dragging a microphone and cord around the event. An engineering booth had been set up in the corner manned by Tom Olbrecht, now the heart and soul of the very successful (because of his hard work and vision) Ashland Independent Film Festival.

Today, thanks to tremendous community support and the brainchild of Gina, the JPR wine festival continues on its very successful run.

This year's event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Ashland Springs Hotel and features 30 wineries as well as hors d'oeuvres and confections made by local restaurants and caterers. Tickets are $45 for JPR members and $50 for nonmembers, proceeds of which will benefit JPR. Tickets are available at

If you are driving home after the event, please bring along a designated driver or have a taxi number handy. We want all of you home safely from this fine event.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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