The Classic Wines Auction is celebrating its 35th anniversary. What began as a wine exchange is now a yearly sequence of winemaker dinners and a spectacular wine auction. Over the years these events have raised more than 46 million dollars for local organizations. The auction has so much attention that Wine Spectator Magazine ranked this charity wine auction in the top 10 of U.S. charity wine auctions.

Upcoming 35th Anniversary Events

This season the Classic Wines Auction launched their succession of winemaker dinners with the Fall Winemakers Dinner Series on November 11-15, 2018. Twenty-one community-minded restaurants in the Portland, Oregon area hosted dinners and donated the proceeds to five local nonprofit organizations: Metropolitan Family Service (MFS), Unity Center for Behavioral Health, Friends of the Children, YWCA Clark County and New Avenues for Youth.

The upcoming series of events encompasses several opportunities to taste wines and give back to the community:

  • Winter Winemaker Dinner Series on February 19-21, 2019
  • Classic Wines Auction on March 2, 2019
  • Spring Winemaker Dinner Series on April 23-25, 2019.

Each series lines up top-notch Portland chefs and partners them with exceptional Pacific Northwest winemakers to create scrumptious multi-course meals paired with incredible wines.

In November, my friend Debbie and I attended a winemaker dinner at The Hairy Lobster. Owners David and Mellisa Root created a spectacular meal paired with Leah Jorgensen Cellars’ cabernet franc wines.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction

Fall Winemaker Dinner at The Hairy Lobster. Photo courtesy of John Valls.

The Hairy Lobster Owners

David and Mellissa bring a wealth of culinary experience to the Portland dining scene. David’s resume includes serving as a private chef, executive chef for more than 17 restaurants at one time, and a restaurant owner. Today he is enjoying his 49th year in the restaurant business and is co-owner of a third restaurant, The Hairy Lobster. Highlights of Mellisa’s work history including working with 3-Star Michelin restaurants and as the pastry chef in a national Olympic cooking competition where she won several gold medals.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction

Executive Chef David Root. Photo courtesy of The Hairy Lobster restaurant.

Although Michelin does not award restaurants in Portland, the food at The Hairy Lobster is visually appealing, delicious, thoughtfully composed, and made from the highest-quality ingredients. David refers to the restaurant as the proverbial “mom and pop shop” where they do most things themselves: repairs, cleaning, and cooking.

I asked Mellissa why they choose to participate in the wine dinner. She said, “We were invited and we thought it was a good way to build relationships between local winemakers and us while simultaneously giving back to the community. It is kind of a symbiotic relationship.”

Oregon Classic Wines Auction

Pastry Chef Mellisa Root. Photo courtesy of The Hairy Lobster restaurant.

David and Mellisa cooked for benefit wine dinners at previous jobs and brought that mindset with them when they moved to Portland. David declared, “We build relationships with people in different ways, and we make people happy by cooking. If you are going to last in this industry and be a healthy person, you must think about it, have a good attitude and be there for the guest.”

Leah Jorgensen Cellars

The November dinner was Leah Jorgensen’s second Classic Wines Auction Dinner. She shared how volunteer work in the community has always been important to her. Leah made her first barrel of wine, a cabernet franc, in 2011. She said, “I wanted to make something different, and I didn’t want to compete with everyone else making Pinot Noirs in the area. I decided to carve my own path and create wines to complement the wines my friends make.” Leah is the only wine producer in Oregon where nine out of ten offerings are 100% cabernet franc.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction

Winemaker Leah Jorgensen. Photo courtesy of Leah Jorgensen Cellars.

Leah’s experience involves working in many facets of the wine industry: sales and marketing, distributing, consulting, and now production. She increased her knowledge about wine after moving to Oregon and working with some of the founding and most renowned winemakers in the Willamette Valley—Dick Erath and David Adelsheim.

The Winemaker Dinner at The Hairy Lobster

Debbie and I dined at a communal table for six. The Hairy Lobster serves dishes in “shared plate” style with enough food for two to four diners.

The evening began with smoked steelhead over creamed cauliflower, a side of fennel apple salad, and pumpernickel toast points. The acidity of the 2017 Blanc de Cabernet Franc cut through the fattiness of the sturgeon and cauliflower perfectly. Next, a delightful combination of pan-roasted rabbit with puy lentil, spinach, morel mushrooms, and rosemary melded lusciously with the ballet slipper pink 2017 Rosé of Cabernet Franc with grapefruit notes.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction - Rabbit with Puy Lentils

Rabbit with puy lentils. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

My favorite wine of the evening, the 2017 Oregon “Tour Rain” Vin Rouge, is a magnificent blend of 60% cabernet franc and 40% Gamay. Leah designed this wine in honor of one of her favorites, a classic blend from the Loire Valley. The wine married scrumptiously with David’s glazed roast Peking duck served with a cherry and leek pancake and a duck egg emulsion to add richness to the plate.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction - Fabulous Cabernet Franc wines from Leah Jorgensen Cellars. Photo courtesy of John Valls.

Fabulous Cabernet Franc wines from Leah Jorgensen Cellars. Photo courtesy of John Valls.

The final savory course, beef short ribs with silky potato, braised celery and a cabernet franc reduction, paired with the 2017 Cabernet Franc boasting 100% cabernet franc grapes from three different vineyards.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction - Beef short ribs with silky potato. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

Beef short ribs with silky potato. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

David paired Mellisa’s finale—a lemon cocoa nib gateau with crème de cassis coulis and chocolate ancho crème—with a 2015 “Clos Rogue Valley” Reserve Cabernet Franc.

Oregon Classic Wines Auction - Lemon cocoa nib gateau. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

Lemon cocoa nib gateau. Photo by Tracy Ellen Beard.

Savor the Experience

After an evening of sharing tasty dishes, drinking new wine varietals and meeting new people, we left the dinner full and satisfied. The Oregon Classic Wines Auction does a fabulous job of matching up first-class restaurants and exciting local winemakers. Purchase a ticket for one of the upcoming events, savor an incredible dining experience, and support the local community.

Our Wander authors offer ideas for more great things to do while visiting Oregon. Interested in wines? We have some great wine articles on Wander as well.


As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals, tours and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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