For Mark MacLennan, there's a blend of attributes that make for a great tasting room manager: a passion for local wine, a thorough knowledge of how wine gets made and an understanding of how the terroir affects the flavor.
Yet, most of all, MacLennan said it comes down to personality — eagerness to be around people, make them feel relaxed and share that passion for wine with them – an "it factor" aptly displayed by his son, Ian MacLennan, in a decade of working in the Willamette Valley.
"He made it really easy for people to understand the terroir, the clones, why this tastes like this, why different ones taste the way they do — but the big thing is he made it fun," Mark MacLennan said of his son. "He was a big guy – he always had a smile, big dimples – and people just gravitated toward him because he was a lot of fun."
Although Ian MacLennan died in his sleep April 16 of an undiagnosed enlarged heart, his family is now working with Fox Farm Vineyards, Ian's last employer, and others to find similarly talented, passionate and personable staff in the Willamette Valley's tasting rooms by offering the "Ian MacLennan Service & Hospitality Award."
Mark MacLennan and David Fish, founder of Fox Farm Vineyards, are calling on customers and members of the local wine industry to help them identify and celebrate employees who make wine tasting both informative and a blast that keeps people coming back for more.
"We are hoping that guests in wine country … if they see other people in wine country that just make it a rock-star experience, we want to know about it," Fish said. "This doesn't sell wine. There's no glory in this for us; this is just about acknowledging greatness in others, and we'd like to know who else has that spark."
Mark MacLennan explained that the family moved from Iowa to Wilsonville in 1992, when Ian was 7 years old. While the father initially took up wine as a hobby by buying into Willamette Valley Vineyards and eventually starting a career with Cliff Creek Cellars in 2014, the younger MacLennan did not make his start into wine until his early 20s when he joined The Four Graces' tasting room staff and made a career in Dundee.
He stayed there for about six years and then moved to Cathedral Ridge Winery for about a year before taking a job with Fish at Fox Farm Vineyards.
Fish and MacLennan described how he set himself apart quickly — not just because he seemed like a big, Midwestern football player at over six-feet three-inches tall with size 15 shoes — but because he could disarm people with his smile and befriend anyone around him in a matter of minutes.
"He would go from total strangers to quite frequently hugging someone on the way out the door in 40 minutes," Fish said.
The factor that gets most people to become members of a wine club, Mark MacLennan explained, is not necessarily the taste of the wine but the experience they have while tasting it. He said the charisma of someone like Ian MacLennan in a tasting room can be that critical difference in a valley teeming with great wine.
Yet, the young MacLennan also made sure to visit other wineries in the area and developed a passion and sense of camaraderie with wineries and tasting rooms between Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville.
The new award seeks to recognize others like him throughout the Willamette Valley through nominations from customers, winery staff and managers.
Five anonymous judges will visit each nominee at work through Dec. 1, with the honor and a cash prize of at least $500 to be announced Dec. 15 this year, and each year thereafter.
"We're not misled, we're not delusional, we know we can't absolutely replace that — Ian can't be replaced — but we can hopefully find some of those same attributes in others and recognize them and maybe reward them for that," Fish said.
Nominations should have "Ian award nominee" written on the envelope or email subject line.