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Bertony Faustin will speak about power and place in the wine industry



In recent years, Oregon Humanities has brought Newberg such frank discussions as “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” and “Talking About Dying.”

The honest conversations will continue through a program new to Newberg this week, as winemaker Bertony Faustin joins Oregon Humanities director Adam Davis for the most locally-relevant discussion yet. “Think & Drink” will be hosted in Newberg on Friday, presenting “a conversation on land, power, discrimination and the Oregon wine industry.”SUBMITTED - North Plains winemaker Bertony Faustin will speak in Newberg on Friday, appearing at the Oregon Humanities' ‘Think & Drink' event series. Faustin, often referred to as the first black winemaker in Oregon, is working on a documentary about minorities in the wine industry.

“What’s interesting with this Think & Drink event is it’s all about power and place, that’s kind of the major theme,” Faustin said.

Newberg and the surrounding wine country provide an interesting setting for that discussion, as the wine industry has its own power dynamics — and a conspicuous lack of diversity, for instance.

Faustin knows all about that: he’s the owner of Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains and he’s often referred to as the first recorded black winemaker in the state. Faustin has been making wine since 2008 and has taken note of the inequities in the industry. While there’s a large minority presence working in the vineyards themselves, the front end side of the industry in the tasting rooms and wineries has far less diversity.

Last year, during the 50th anniversary of wine in the Willamette Valley, Faustin began a project that continues: a documentary to highlight the stories of minority wine industry figures and share what that experience is like.

The documentary, which is now in post-production, profiles several Oregon winemakers, including Argyle Winery’s Jarod Sleet.

In an interview last year, Faustin described minority industry newcomers who had searched for information or stories of winemakers with similar experiences. They found none as the story hadn’t been chronicled in the past.

So what’s kept the industry so homogenous?

“The industry has painted this picture of this is for the elite,” Faustin said, adding there’s a mentality that makes it harder for outsiders of all kinds to get started. “The No. 1 obstacle is the impression that the industry puts on … To me, it’s part of that whole ‘keeping it untouchable, out of reach.’”

And when an industry gains that image of homogeneity, it can feed into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: an interested winemaker who’s part of a minority population hears the stereotypes of the Oregon industry and decides to travel elsewhere to plant their vineyards.

Faustin hasn’t spoken in Newberg before, but as his documentary project has come together he’s been speaking on the topic steadily for the past six months, from a Washington, D.C., venue to an upcoming talk for a class at Linfield College.

Think and Drink, hosted by Oregon Humanities, will be held at 5 p.m. Friday at the Chehalem Cultural Center.

The talk series has been going since 2009, but this is only the second year it has traveled outside of Portland. The program aims to “spark provocative conversations about big ideas through live, unrehearsed conversations” around Oregon, according to Oregon Humanities. It’s featured such speakers as Cheryl Strayed, Isabel Wilkerson and Ursula Le Guin, to name a few, and this is the first time one of its talks has been hosted in Newberg.

One program begins, another ends

The Think and Drink kickoff comes on the heels of another Oregon Humanities project’s culmination, with a related focus.

“This Place” has brought people together in communities around Oregon to discuss the themes of home, belonging, sense of place and the role of power in the concept of “place.”

They may seem like general topics, but that’s the point: to bring up a topic that can spark any number of conversations between program participants.

“It’s really geared toward starting with prompts and questions as opposed to being any sort of lecture or presentation,” said Annie Kaffen, program officer for Oregon Humanities.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, by its conclusion the program will have traveled to 27 communities statewide, from Astoria to Baker City to Cave Junction.

One of its community conversations was held in Newberg last week and the organization also hosted a discussion through the Newberg City Club. But the city also has a larger role in the This Place project: it is hosting the day-long wrap-up event for the event as a whole.

Given Oregon’s diversity and the many different types of conversations that took place from city to city, it was hard to choose a place that would be fitting to bring it all together in the end.

“Oregon is not ‘one size fits all’ by any means,” Kaffen noted.

Newberg’s status as a sort of midpoint between urban and rural, being outside of Portland but close enough to the metro area that it’s accessible, made it a particularly suitable choice in the end.

Rob Dailey, director of the cultural center, pointed to Oregon Humanities’ choice as evidence of the CCC’s growing recognition around Oregon.

“This is a good example of the kind of resource this building can provide to the state in general,” Dailey said.

Registration for the culminating This Place event was nearly full as of last week, but interested attendees can check for tickets — which are $35 for regular admission and $15 for students, veterans and youth — at www.oregonhumanities.org/programs/one-day-gathering/. Think and Drink registration is encouraged at http://bit.ly/2du2ma6.

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