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Brooks Winery in Oregon creates Great American Eclipse experience
AMITY, Ore. – For a number of wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the 2017 vintage might well be remembered for the Great American Eclipse. And as usual, Janie Brooks Heuck had the vision for a special experience to provide guests at acclaimed Brooks Winery in the Eola-Amity Hills.
She billed it as the Starry Night Eclipse package. At $350 per person, the unique glamping event along Cherry Blossom Lane, 16 miles north of the state capitol in Salem, sold out in no time. The path of totality across the Willamette Valley ranges from near McMinnville in the north to Sweet Home to the south.
“I brought it up to our team over a year ago as something to organize and plan,” Heuck said. “I knew it was going to be an epic event – a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
Her brilliant idea received an early boost via the New York Times back in April.
Brooks becomes Biodynamic campground for eclipse
Indeed, Monday marks the United States’ first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918, and tourism officials expect more than a million eclipse visitors within the Willamette Valley as they chase totality.
And the Biodynamic campus at storied Brooks Winery has been turned into an overnight campground for 150 guests. Festivities began at 4 p.m. Sunday with music and a barbecue by executive chef Abby McManigle, formerly at Ken Wright Cellars.
And Heuck, whose calendar includes serving on several national and international winery organizations, didn’t stop there. She recruited astrophysicist Ethan Siegel to lend his insight.
“He’s a hoot of a character,” Heuck said. “To have somebody that’s passionate and experienced in their field share that with our guests is pretty awesome.”
The Pacific Northwest and the continental U.S. last witnessed a total eclipse on Feb. 26, 1979. Totality begins to make its way across the country at 10:15 a.m., starting near Depoe Bay, Ore., and crossing 12 states, ending with South Carolina.
The team at Brooks limited its mayhem by pitching the two-person tents prior to their guests’ arrival. (Guests keep their logo’d tent.) And Heuck arranged for a couple of luxury portable toilets.
“People will just get to hang out and drink wine and beer, eat burgers, listen to music and play games,” Heuck said.
Brooks pairs astrophysicist with vines, wines
Her longtime winemaker, Chris Williams, will lead a vineyard walk. Once night falls, Siegel, a professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, brings his Starts with a Bang! blog to life with a stargazing talk and primer on the eclipse.
Monday’s itinerary begins at 8 a.m. with yoga, followed by brunch and another talk by Siegel. There will be a toast of the total eclipse featuring the first sparkling Riesling produced by Brooks.
Brooks released 200 tickets for the Monday-only Sunshine Eclipse – another sellout at $150. While the glamping package is limited to adults, today’s festivities are family-friendly, with ages 12 and younger admitted free of charge.
Everyone receives a commemorative T-shirt, Govino glass and — most importantly — eclipse glasses.
Great American Eclipse dominates Oregon wineries
Essentially, every winery in this portion of Oregon has scheduled some sort of event for Monday. In terms of sales, they’ve proven to be a total success – assuming everyone can reach the winery or the vineyard in a timely and safe manner, and then have enough fuel to drive home.
Willamette Valley Vineyards near Salem also sold out its Solar Eclipse Viewing Party, $100 ticket for 1,200 guests. Gates open 4 a.m. Totality arrives at 10:19 a.m., and wine tasting begins at 10:30 a.m.
At the Auction of Washington Wines, Alaska Airlines donated two first-class seats aboard its special charter flight that will carry passengers to 35,000 feet for a high-elevation totality experience.
Rates for lodging along the path of totality have soared, but Heuck sought to create memories for the glampers, many of which are Brooks wine club members and longtime supporters of this winery established by her late brother, Jimi Brooks.
“We have the space to do the camping, and I thought would be fun,” Heuck said. “I knew the hotel and lodging situation would be so crowded.”
It’s also proven to be controversial and lucrative for the lodging industry, with Portland’s NBC affiliate providing an investigative report that involves the Oregon Department of Justice after claims of canceled reservations. Examples include rooms on the Oregon Coast skyrocketing from $130 to $1,000 per night.
The Central Oregon town of Madras, population 6,729, serves as an example. Officials were expecting 100,000 visitors over Sunday and Monday.
School district in Idaho wine country cancels class
In the Sunnyslope Wine District of Idaho, narrowly outside of the path of totality, the school district canceled classes as the eclipse starts at 10:10 a.m. local time (MDT) with the peak around 11:30 a.m. The border towns of Payette, Idaho, and Ontario, Ore., where the Snake River forms the boundary, are within the path of totality. Parma Ridge Winery, 27 miles south of Payette, has bottled a limited edition Eclipse Wine with keepsake wine glasses.
The Idaho Statesman reports that hotel rooms and rental cars around the capital city of Boise are essentially sold out. There’s also price gouging with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau reporting room rates hitting $700 per night – more four times the normal rate.
Perhaps the largest event created in the Pacific Northwest is the Symbiosis Oregon Eclipse, where attendance estimates have topped 80,000 in Central Oregon’s Big Summit Prairie near Prineville. Comparisons to the annual Burning Man Festival do not seem out of place.
There is space for Brooks to accommodate more overnighters, but Heuck said she’s focused on the guest experience, not the winery’s bottom line.
“We don’t have the big weddings because that’s something that I don’t want our team to have to deal with,” she said.
Besides, her own calendar has been full. There’s work orchestrating the 2018 Brooks winemaker adventure tours to Northern Italy and Spain as well as serving on the board of directors for Wine America and the International Riesling Foundation.
The next eclipse for the U.S. will be in 2024, but for Heuck and the supporters of Brooks Winery, nothing will overshadow this one.