I've been to six Pre-IPNC Dinners. They've all been good. Some have been excellent. But none have approached this year's dinner at Penner-Ash. I'm not sure I know what the perfect evening would be...but I'll explore that thought, because I think this dinner must have been very, very close.
A perfect evening would be in a lovely place...and the Penner-Ash Winery is a very lovely place. The hilltop location northwest of Newberg has a commanding view across the valley toward the Chehalem Mountains. The beautifully-designed and landscaped winery fits into the pastoral scene like a glove.
A perfect evening would make you feel welcome. I'm not sure if it was the smiles...the sense that they knew who we were when we walked in the door...or the glass of rosé that was quickly pressed into our hands...but I had a feeling they were glad we were there. And that was nice.
A perfect evening would have a sense of fun. And if you've ever spent any time around Lynn Penner-Ash, odds are you ended up laughing. Who else could describe the grape reproductive process and call it "kinky!" That sense of fun lasted throughout the evening as she teased the chef (her husband) with gentle humor. She told us just enough about the winery and wines--but never dragged on.
A perfect evening would have outstanding food. And this dinner was unique. It's almost counter-intuitive, but one of the reasons I chose this dinner (one of many reasons) is that the head chef for the event was Ron Penner-Ash--not a famous chef like most Pre-IPNC dinners. My logic was that because Ron was doing it, he and Lynn would be fully invested in making it a great evening. They advertised the menu as a "wine barbecue." Ron was proud of his grill skills--but he'd never tried to cook for this many people. He acquired a special new grill for the occasion--and he practiced and practiced. To be clear, Ron was responsible for the centerpiece, the meat. His choice--prime rib. Never seen it done on a grill before. It was fabulous! But it wasn't the only thing that was fabulous. Penner-Ash is now part of Jackson Family Wines--a collection of high-end wineries in California and Oregon. JFW sent two of their chefs from Sonoma to assist Ron. The vegetables and salads they prepared were absolutely delicious. How fresh were they? They came directly from the JFW gardens in Sonoma to the kitchen at Penner-Ash and on to the table without ever even being refrigerated!
A perfect evening would have wonderful wines. And we did. Lynn presented a number of wines, highlighted by a vertical tasting of recent vintages of the Penner-Ash Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir. For those whose experience with Penner-Ash goes back a few years, that's the vineyard surrounding the winery that was once known as Dussin Vineyard. The Dussins were partners with Lynn and Ron at the launch of Penner-Ash--but sold their interest to Ron and Lynn six or seven years ago. The wines were just excellent--each slightly different, reflecting the differences in the vintages, but all pairing beautifully with the prime rib.
A perfect evening would include great entertainment--and I found the folk-rock group Ages and Ages charming. They played on the terrace, just outside the open doors of the dining room. As the picture shows, it was lovely to see them silhouetted against the valley and mountains beyond. You could take your glass of wine out and listen, if you wanted to focus on their tight harmonies (I did) ...or you could chat at your table and enjoy their songs as background music (Gayle and a number of others did). The ~90-minute concert was really a treat.
A perfect evening would have a higher purpose. It would be great fun. But it would be more than fun. The dinner at Penner-Ash supported the Children's Cancer cause. There might be a more worthy purpose...but I can't think of one.
And a perfect evening would be shared with friends. We had two tables worth of friends surrounding us. Such great people....
Come to think of it, I believe I do know what the perfect evening would look like. I think I saw it the night before IPNC started. And I'm grateful for the experience--it was wonderful!