Different notes for different folks at Wine and Jazz fest

15th annual event appeals to aficionados, novices

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: The 15th annual Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival.

When: 4 to 10 p.m. Aug. 24; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 25; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 26.

Where: Esther Short Park, 301 W. Eighth Street in downtown Vancouver.

Cost: $25 per day at the gate.

Information: 360-906-0441 or visit www.vancouverwinejazz.com.

Wine competition winners

Best White Wine: White Haven Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Best Northwest Wine: Magnificent Wine Company Steak House Red 2009

Best California Wine: Frei Brothers Alexander Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Best Import Wine: Portal 27 Grapes Reserve Port

Best Red Wine: Menage a Trois Red Wine 2010

Best In Show: Maryhill Zinfandel 2008

People's Choice Award: Portal 6 Barrels Reserve Tawny Port

Concert Schedule


4 to 6 p.m.: Dan Balmer

6:30 to 8 p.m.: Norman Sylvester Blues Band

8:30 to 10 p.m.: War


11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Frank Tribble & Tribble Play

1 to 2 p.m.: Circle 3 Trio

2:30 to 4 p.m.: Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers

4:30 to 6 p.m.: Brubeck Brothers Jazz Quartet

6:30 to 8 p.m.: Yellowjackets

8:30 to 10 p.m.: The Rippingtons


11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.: Tall Jazz

12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Go By Train

2 to 3 p.m.: John Nastos Quartet3:30 to 5 p.m.: Marcia Ball

5:30 to 7 p.m.: Diane Schuur

7:30 to 9 p.m.: Jose Feliciano

With 200 types of wine to choose from, there's something new for everyone to try at the Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival -- whether you're a wine snob or a complete newcomer.

The festival, in its 15th year, showcases wines from 20 different vendors from around the region and the world, and a small army of volunteers will be at the ready to teach visitors all about them, said Michael Kissinger, festival founder and artistic director.

"If you're a wine lover or a wine novice, this is the place for you," Kissinger said. "If you don't know anything about wine, it's not intimidating. It's really fun."

In early August, a panel of judges and sponsors did a taste test between 60 of the wines and voted for the top contenders to be highlighted at the festival.

For wine experts, probably the most unusual one to try is the People's Choice Award winner, the Portal 6 Barrels Reserve Tawny Port, Kissinger said.

"Most people drink just red or white, and the sweeter chardonnays generally sell the most," Kissinger said. "This port is different and something people will really want to try. It's a very robust, thick in your mouth, hearty wine."

Newcomers who want something a little more simple should try the Best in Show winner, Maryhill Winery's 2008 Zinfandel, he said.

"Maryhill Zinfandel has won the Best in Show award for the past three years in a row," Kissinger said.

Maryhill, in Goldendale, has participated in the Wine & Jazz Festival for the past eight years. People new to wine might also want to try the vintner's Gewürztraminer or Riesling varieties, said Craig Leuthold, who owns the winery with his wife, Vicki.

"Generally, newcomers like sweeter wines like a Riesling or Gewürztraminer; and then, as the palate matures, you start to move toward the drier wines," Leuthold said.

Visitors can buy a 1 ounce sample or a 5 ounce glass of wine from any of the vintners to enjoy while checking out the lineup of jazz and blues performances. They can also buy bottles of wine, but they can't open them at the park.

"If you buy a bottle, we bag and tag it, and you can pick it up at the front gate when you leave," he said.

None of the wineries at the event are from Clark County, although there are several wine makers here. The nearest winery in the festival is Maryhill, which is in the Columbia Gorge.

"We have so many wineries that want to get into the festival that we just have limited space," Kissinger said. "That's part of the challenge of this."

All-star jazz lineup

As for the music, Kissinger decided to look back through his list of past performers and build a special lineup in honor of the 15th anniversary.

"I've gone through the years and some of our favorite musicians and done sort of a highlight reel," Kissinger said. "Every night is a big night. We think it's one of our strongest lineups ever."

War will headline Friday night, The Rippingtons will headline Saturday, and Jose Feliciano will headline Sunday.

"I'm very excited that we could get Jose back this year," he said. "I'm really looking forward to his performance."

Other well known performers include Diane Schuur, the Yellowjackets and Brubeck Brothers Jazz Quartet, he said.

The festival attracts about 12,000 visitors each year from all over the world. It's billed as the biggest event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

"It's a really fun event," Leuthold said. "Vancouver is sort of like home turf for us -- we're only 90 miles up the (Columbia) Gorge. I think the nice thing is there's really so many different wines to taste, there's really something for everyone."

Visitors can also chose from several regional food vendors and shop at booths from 45 artists.

"It's a cultural arts event," Kissinger said. "Some of these artists are just phenomenal painters, sculptors and potters."

This year, organizers also added a new event to the festival. Jazz Education Night, which was held on Thursday, was a free concert featuring four high school jazz bands, including three from Clark County, and the U.S. Army Jazz Band.

"I've been wanting to do this for about five years, and we thought the 15th anniversary was a good time to do it," Kissinger said. "It's our way of giving something back to the community. Our goal eventually is to make the festival a weeklong event with jazz workshops where students can work with some of our great musicians."