The Vineyards at Stage Pass, a luxury wine-inspired community emerging in the outskirts of historic Jacksonville, Ore., is the new home of The Oregon Wine Experience public festival and the Oregon Wine Competition.
Organizers of the five-day fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network and other health care programs funded by Asante Foundation said the relationship with The Vineyards at Stage Pass will span several years.
“We’re thrilled to gather in-person again and celebrate in this exciting new location,” Andrea Reeder, vice president and executive director of Asante Foundation, said in a statement. “With a backdrop amongst the vines, a larger footprint and the ever-growing philanthropic impact this event offers, there’s no doubt that Oregon Wine Experience is going to the next level.”
The Oregon Wine Experience took root in 2003 with three Rogue Valley winemakers — Joe Ginet of Plaisance Ranch, Cal Schmidt of Schmidt Family Vineyards and the late Lee Mankin of Carpenter Hill Vineyard. The event began as the Southern Oregon World of Wine Celebration, and its home was bucolic Del Rio Vineyards near the Rogue River between Grants Pass and Medford.
“We took out our credit cards and funded the event that first year,” Ginet told Great Northwest Wine as part of a 2016 interview. “We were on the board of directors for the Southern Oregon Winegrowers Association, and we couldn’t get any money for our grapes. None of us had a winery then, and we wondered how we were going to increase the value for our grapes. We had to show the value to the outside world because there were only a handful of wineries back then, and they were beating us up pretty good on grape prices.”
The group moved it to Jacksonville and the historic Bigham Knoll schoolhouse campus in 2011, and the event has taken on some features similar to the Auction of Washington Wines and the International Pinot Noir Celebration, including barrel auctions and a salmon bake.
In 2014, Southern Oregon healthcare provider Asante began to manage the World of Wine Festival as an annual fundraiser for its foundation.
“When Asante stepped up and offered to take it over, it was the perfect match,” Ginet said.
Asante took the festival to another level, and in the 19-year history of the festival, more than $8.2 million have been raised for Southern Oregon nonprofits.
Now, the Oregon Wine Experience will be a stone’s throw from award-winning DANCIN Vineyards as the Gambee family and their partners in the Stage Pass Development group look to promote the community they first created signage for in 2016. The Vineyards at Stage Pass spans 30 acres and features 10 estate lots ranging from 2.3 to 3.2 acres. The next two phases of the development will offer 17 additional lots — 14 as part of The Highlands and three as part of the Terraces — spread throughout foothills, vineyards and hiking trails.
“My family has been a steward of this land since the 1950s, and the current family members charged with its care have a vision to create a wine-country focused community at Stage Pass,” said Stephen Gambee, who leads Stage Pass Development, Inc., and is CEO of Rogue Disposal & Recycling, a company his grandfather co-founded in 1938.
The Vineyards at Stage Pass plans 6-winery incubator
Plans also include a Stage Pass-branded winery, tasting room and an incubator project to accommodate six small wineries with a shared tasting room. Also nearby will be dining and food shops.
Stage Pass shares a fence line with acclaimed DANCIN Vineyards. Dan and Cindy Marca’s 27-acre project was named 2017 Oregon Winery of the Year by the team of Great Northwest Wine. DANCIN produces the Stage Pass Estate wines, and the Marcas serve as the vineyard contractor and oversee the grape harvest.
“We also have a passion for economic development, and the tremendous evolution of our wine industry and related tourism is an important part of our future,” Gambee added, “this move to Stage Pass is wonderful for tourism, winery partners and the Oregon Wine Experience.”
In recent years, the Oregon Wine Competition has become the largest judging of Oregon wine staged in the Beaver State as last year’s panel — dominated by master sommeliers and Masters of Wine — awarded 27 gold medals to 343 entries from Milton-Freewater to Ashland. The 2021 sweepstakes winners were the Blakeslee Vineyard 2017 Estate Pinot Noir, Laurelwood District; StoneRiver Vineyard 2018 Chardonnay, Rogue Valley; and Del Rio Vineyards 2020 Grenache Rosé, Rogue Valley.
The 2022 Oregon Wine Competition is scheduled for July 15-17. Results of the judging will be announced Aug. 17 and followed by a series of public events, seminars and auctions that concludes Aug. 21 with the Grand Tasting under a 38,000-square-foot tent at Stage Pass.
“Stage Pass Development Inc., and the Gambee family were not looking to promote the Vineyards at Stage Pass when deciding to partner with OWE,” Holly Roberts, lifestyle manager of Stage Pass Development, wrote in an email. “This was a decision made by the Stage Pass Development Inc., team to continue their years-long support of OWE and the Asante Foundation.”
The pandemic canceled 2020 and 2021 in-person events and shifted the auctions online. Last year, organizers went on to raise $1.6 for the community’s new women’s and children’s hospital within the new Pavilion at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. The Pavilion will feature a state-of-the-art Pediatric Infusion Center.
Asante is a community-owned and governed not-for-profit organization. Its nearly 6,000 employees provide medical care to nearly 600,000 people in a nine-county area of Southern Oregon and Northern California.