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I traveled to the Willamette Valley in Oregon this past week for my first time. I have been to Portland but had never explored the neighboring wine region until now. But, my first trip there already has me planning my next trip. I tasted so many delicious wines, met so many winemakers and heard so many stories. And throughout it all, I felt welcomed and at home with the warm community and that is why the people and the wines of Willamette Valley are the Please The Palate pick of the week. I am blessed to travel to wine regions around the world and meet winemakers. Every where I go, I meet friendly people who are driven by passion. But there was something palpable in the sense of community among the winemakers of Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley is more than 100 miles long and spans 60 miles at its widest point. It is located between Oregon's Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range. There are approximately 3,438,000 acres of vines planted and more than 500 wineries. As the Willamette Valley has grown, it has become difficult for winemakers to all know each other. Of course, they all feel that the source of their grapes is the ideal location but they share a general love and respect for the entire region. And despite not knowing each other, there is admiration and respect for each other and a sense of community and pride. Throughout the week, I was struck by some of the thoughts shared by the winemakers I met. There is Stephen Hagen of Antiquum Farm who feels his wines are "intense expressions of who we are and where we are."
My newest addiction is food tours. Each time I head to a new country, I search out a food tour to take on my first day in the city. It is a great way to get a sense of the place and an understanding of the cuisine, which I feel enhances the rest of my trip. I shared some of the great food tours I have found in a recent story in the Napa Valley Register which you can read here. The late Anthony Bourdain once said that “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
On his show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” he filmed 96 episodes over 11 seasons in which he shared his passion for culture, food, travel and adventure. His enthusiasm was contagious, and we were all inspired explore the world through food.
Or, at least, I was.
After all, what better way to explore a different culture than through its food? Of course, there is architecture, art, religion and nature, but food has so many meanings and incorporates everything. Food is a cultural identifier. Food is shaped by location and by history. Food can represent status and pleasure or can be for survival. Food is also about community and is a unifier across cultures.
As I traveled to countries for my first time, I have found myself in search of food. Yes, I like to eat. And, I can think of no better way to learn about a city and a culture than through its food. But, how does one decide where to go?