Swafford on Wine: Good neighbors and distance bidding

Tabitha Compton holds the 2020 Newport Seafood and Wine Festival gold-medal-winning 2018 pinot gris flanked by Chamber of Commerce Board President Jason King, left, and NSWF Wine Competition Organizer Joseph Swafford. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Biddinger)

Thinking back to the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, annual edition number 43, which took place last month, I would nominate Compton Family Wines for the Good Neighbor Award — if there was such an award. They are one of our closest winery neighbors in Philomath, just off to the right where Highway 20 splits to one-way traffic east-bound as we drive to the valley.

And what makes them such a good neighbor? Owners Tabitha and Matt Compton make very good wines. Winemaker Matt Compton’s 2018 Pinot Gris took a Gold Medal this year to add to the medals won by his wines in previous Newport SWF competitions. But what I find very interesting and appealing is the sparkling wine project with a worthy cause the Compton Family winery began last year.

SEA O2 is the name of the sparkling wine now being released by the Comptons, and the play-on-words name is a reference to the two seas\〞 or oceans — close to their roots in Maryland and their current home in Oregon: the Atlantic and Pacific, respectively. Of course, the word-play continues when the name is spelled CO2, the chemical symbol for carbon dioxide gas, which is created when yeast is added to the still wine and gives it bubbles.

As for the worthy cause, the Comptons donate a portion of sales from every bottle of the Champagne-style wine to the Marine Mammal Institute of Oregon State University (OSU). Tabitha said they chose this OSU project because they love to vacation with their three boys here at the beach and wanted to support research vital to whales, seals and all marine mammals. I will not say SEA O2 is a whale of a good sparkler, but the SEA O2 rosé has my seal of approval.

This time last year, in the early days of spring, I was invited as a member of the media to cover the fourth annual Willamette: the Pinot Noir Auction. I was honored and pleased to do so, knowing that this was an opportunity to taste nearly 90 world-class Oregon pinot noirs, and a few chardonnays, over a two-day span surrounded by excellent food pairings.

Each contributing winery had a tasting station set up in the beautiful host wineries of Domaine Serene and Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the Dundee Hills where we made the rounds on the first day. On the second day, we moved to the elegant wine country Allison Inn in Newberg where the tasting stations were set up again. After a fine lunch, the bidding began on select lots of five, 10 or 20 cases. The funds raised were for future marketing and educational initiatives of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. When the final bidding paddle was lowered after two hours, over one million dollars — an average of $160 per bottle — had been raised by over 450 members of the wine trade from 26 states and three countries.

When the invitation to return to this year’s event on April 3 and 4 came in mid-February, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. But the clouds were looming on the horizon, and the storm that was called COVID-19 soon broke with the force that has changed all of our lives. The fifth installment of this great wine event canceled the in-person tastings and auction and announced that an online auction would take place, instead, on Saturday, April 4. I will hunker down in front of my computer screen, sanitize my keyboard and report on what I see while munching on a peanut-butter sandwich and sipping a glass of cheap red. We are all in this together and sacrifices must be made.

Cheers!

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