February 13th, 2020

The McMinnville Wine & Food Classic: Take a ‘SIP!’

The idea appeared in my social media feed. Someone in our local wine group suggested we all attend SIP! this March. Great idea, I thought. The group did this once before and we loved it.

I have attended SIP! – officially known as the McMinnville Wine & Food Classic – many times over its 27-year run. In most cases, I was representing my then-employer, the local newspaper. When not working, I always enjoyed roaming from table to table meeting winery friends and discovering new vintages.

I find exploring SIP! is more fun with friends. The three-day festival, scheduled for March 13-15, fills a cavernous building at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. With so many wineries from across Oregon on display (76 this year), it’s impossible to visit every table. We spread out, find some great wines – from the pinots of the Willamette Valley to the Big Reds of Southern Oregon and beyond – and then share our notes.

The McMinnville Wine & Food Classic also offers the opportunity to meet Oregon winemakers who don’t have tasting rooms or retail distribution. This is a rare chance to discover little known yet award-winning wines.

The sipping starts at 3 p.m. that Friday afternoon. Carl Giavanti, who handles the festival’s press relations, describes Friday night as Happy Hour. “People come in and there’s a spirit of Happy Hour,” he says. “It’s very lively. I recommend coming in on Friday night to get a preview and see who won our wine competition.”

That competition, held in January, featured 55 of the 76 wineries showing at the festival. Like the main event, all entries were from Oregon. Fifteen respected judges from across the country recognized many of these wines with gold and silver medals.

Both Saturday (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and Sunday (noon to 5 p.m.) will be busy as well. There’s an entry fee at the door (check the event website for special tickets prices before Feb. 15). There’s also a three-day pass for the truly dedicated.

The McMinnville Wine & Food Classic will be held at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum on March 13-15.

Each winery also charges a small tasting fee, typically $1 to $3. I’m bringing a wad of $1 bills.

Our trip to McMinnville is not just a wine thing. We have our hotel and dinner reservations. We book rooms in town and use a festival shuttle bus to make our way to the museum. After an afternoon of tasting fabulous wines, we jump back on the shuttle to the hotel and a meal in one of the city’s many great downtown restaurants. There’s also plenty of parking at the event should someone prefer to drive.

Here are two more ways to maximize your visit to SIP!

  • Passports featuring nearly 30 participating wineries located in and around McMinnville will be available for purchase. The passports offer a variety of discounts and special offers at the local wineries from April to December 2020.
  • NW Wine Shuttle is providing transportation from Portland, Dundee and The Vintages Trailer Resort and back on Saturday. Check the Wine Shuttle website. Safe transportation and a ticket into the event are available in one purchase.

It’s also good to remember that the Wine & Food Classic is not just for wines. Carl tells me breweries and distilleries are participating. Plus, there are more than 30 food booths planned. There’s sushi and tamales, cupcakes and fudge, oysters and crab, chocolates and popcorn, and much more. I’m heading to Ribslayer BBQ.

The money, as always, benefits St. James School. Organizers say that the festival and wine competition typically generates 15 percent or more of the private school’s annual operating expenses.

Dan Shryock

Dan Shryock writes each month about McMinnville and Yamhill County. He’s looking forward to discovering new wines made by old friends.