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Q+A: Mallory Smith, co-founder of Alt Wine Fest

Together with business partner Martin Skegg, she planted the seed of recognition for Oregon-grown wines that aren’t pinot noir. The event’s sprouted into a showcase of wonderful lesser-known grape varieties — and it’s back for a third year.

Martin Skegg and Mallory Smith, founders of Alt Wine Fest, sit on the lawn sipping wine with lavender and vineyards in the background.

Martin Skegg and Mallory Smith started Alt Wine Fest in 2019.

When it comes to Oregon wine, pinot noir grapes have spent so long in the spotlight it’s incredible they’re not all raisins by now.

Alt Wine Fest, back for its third year Sunday, July 16, at Abbey Road Farm, aims to give some love to lesser-known vinos and the 80+ different grape varieties that grow in the state.

We spoke with the event’s co-founder Mallory Smith about why novice sippers and oenophiles alike are ready to take a detour from the mainstream.

What was the process of getting Alt Wine Fest off the ground?

At the bottle shop I worked at, the only people consistently excited about Oregon pinot noir were out-of-towners. Local customers were looking for something else.

Not only was it an untapped market, but we saw a huge opportunity to highlight a lot of smaller producers and showcase underdog grapes.

The introduction of something new and different, and the fact that dozens and dozens of these wines would be available in one place, meant that the momentum of the festival and the excitement for it kind of carried itself.

People play lawn games at the Alt Wine Fest.

Lawn games, food, and live music — we raise our glass to that.

Did you have to look far and wide or were there plenty of wineries and vineyards ready for a platform to share their work?

We did not have to look hard. In fact, the hardest part of throwing this festival is narrowing down the wineries. With our desire to keep things fresh and include everyone, plus the number of inquiries we get from wineries hoping to participate, we could easily have close to 100.

What’s new for the third year?

This year we’ve added VIP tickets — one-hour early entry allows guests more intimate conversations with winemakers — and a second food truck, Wooden Heart, will be serving woodfired pizza alongside Ricky’s iconic tacos.

If you had to pick your favorite more-obscure grape variety that grows in Oregon, what would it be and why should people know about it?

Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to pick just one. I love trousseau and mencia, lighter reds grown in Chehalem Mountains and Eola Amity Hills, respectively.

When the Willamette Valley was first planted with vineyards in the 60s-70s, lots of other non-pinot noir varieties were planted and plenty of those are still around today, like for example, semillon vines that are 55 years old planted on historic David Hill vineyard outside Forest Grove.

Three hands raise glasses of wine against a blue sky at Alt Wine Fest.

Parking is limited, but certain tickets include shuttle service. Have a plan to drive safely.

Why did you pick AHIVOY as your charity partner for 2023?

AHIVOY offers vineyard stewards — the backbone of our industry, who often get little or no recognition — professional wine training and education. The hope is that this specialized knowledge can open doors for them to advance their careers in the industry.

The notions of breaking down barriers and education-as-empowerment is the entire mission of our parent company Sunday School Wine and the same ethos under which Alt Wine Fest was founded.

We feel there isn’t a more natural fit, nor an organization that we could be more excited about supporting.

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