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July 13, 2020

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Local wine club focuses on good wine, ‘everyday folks’

Columbia Willamette Enological Society founded in 1980 aims to take the snobbery out of appreciating wine

By , Columbian Features editor
7 Photos
Ray Maddix, president of the Columbia Willamette Enological Society, reaches for a bottle of wine.
Ray Maddix, president of the Columbia Willamette Enological Society, reaches for a bottle of wine. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With wine tasting rooms opening left and right in Vancouver’s new waterfront development, this may be just the time to learn more about fermented grape juice.

The Columbia Willamette Enological Society has devoted itself to wine education in Vancouver since 1980.

“It’s all just everyday folks who like wine and like to talk about it and learn a little about it,” said Steve Shelton, who serves on the group’s board of directors.

No one there will make fun of you if you mistake a riesling for a pinot gris.

“There are no wine snobs in this group,” Shelton said. “It’s all up to you and your taste. Nobody is saying you should like it or not like it. Today there is hardly any of what you would call ‘bad wine.’ ”

The group meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at the Red Cross Building in the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. About 50 to 70 people gather to taste wines from around the Northwest, which are paired with gourmet nibbles prepared by the Northwest Culinary Institute.

If You Go

What: Columbia Willamette Enological Society monthly wine tasting.

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 11.

Where: Red Cross Building, 605 Barnes St., Vancouver.

Cost: $30 for members who pay $35 a year; $40 for nonmembers. RSVP requested.


Enological Society leaders meet with institute chefs and a representative from the featured winery in advance of that month’s meeting to create a menu of hors d’oeuvres to pair with each wine. The chefs taste the wines and think of things to go with them — an analysis that goes way beyond white wine with fish and red wine with steak.

At a recent such planning session, the chefs tasted a 2018 Albarino, along with other vintages from Abacela Winery in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.

Perfect pairings

Paula Caudill, Abacela’s national sales manager, described the Albarino as a “dry crisp white, with notes of floral and citrus with a clean finish.”

Teressa Biggerstaff, a Northwest Culinary Institute instructor, tasted it.

“This needs a creamy cheese,” she said.

Caudill chimed in, “It’s fantastic with seafood.”

The chefs settled on shrimp scampi to serve at the Nov. 13 meeting. Other pairings included syrah with smoked duck breast and blackberry chutney; Fiesta Tempranillo with date and Gorgonzola cheese puffs; Tannat with Spanish beef skewers on saffron risotto; and port with orange truffles. Malbec and Barrel Select Tempranillo were served alone.

“Here you get to try six or seven wines and talk about it with your friends,” Shelton said. “We don’t pour enough wine for anybody to get tipsy.”

All the tastes combined amount to a glass or two, he said.

“If somebody came every month for a season, they would know a lot more about wine than when they started,” Shelton said. The season begins in September and runs for 10 months, but people can join anytime. Membership is $35 a year. Members pay $30 for a tasting, while others pay $40.

Ray Maddix, the group’s president, encourages newcomers to be open to new flavors.

“A lot of people start with white wines,” Maddix said. He urges them to try reds as well.

The next program will lean heavily in that direction. December’s tasting will feature wines — five reds and one white — from Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul, Ore.