Homage to an Oregon Wine Educator

Homage to an Oregon Wine Educator

Guest article by Paul Omundson

Meet Maxine Borcherding and her Iberian Adventure 

Who is Maxine Borcherding and why should I care? There is a huge lesson here, and that is to never lose vision of what we want to do in life, and then pursue those dreams relentlessly. Check out and follow what Maxine is doing next.

In her mid-seventies, Maxine is exiting her perch as one of Portland’s beloved food-wine-spirits educators and moving to Portugal. “During my first year I’ll just hang out, get to know a lot of local growers and winemakers,” she says. “I’ll be working on my Portuguese language skills a lot,” she adds with a smile. Portugal is not an unknown entity for her. As co-founder of Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food, she offers tours of Portugal, Spain, France and Germany. She and other experts team up to offer some very compelling wine-centric experiences. “The whole focus is wine, food and culture,” she explains. She’s a certified Sommelier through the International Sommelier Guild, a French Wine Scholar via the Wine Scholar Guild, a Spanish Wine Educator courtesy of the Spanish Wine Academy, and a Wine Location Specialist with distinction, certified by the Center for Wine Origins.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. She uses that kind of expertise to provide deeper, richer experiences for students in classes and those on her tours. For her, first came food, then wine. Early on in her career, she delved into the culinary and hospitality management side of things, both as an instructor,  entrepreneur and chef. But during the past decade, she’s concentrated on being a wine educator.

“The journey that led me into a serious study of wine was a teaching assignment,” she recalls. “A class included three lectures on growing grapes, making wine, and pairing wine with food. I’d been drinking and enjoying wine for about 40 years, but there’s a huge gulf between liking to drink wine and having the knowledge and credibility to teach it. So, in self-defense, I took a class; and a funny thing happened. I fell in love with wine, and with everything about wine. I had to learn more.”

Her roots in food and wine go back to a childhood growing up in Brooklyn, New York. “I always was a foodie,” she admits. “My whole family was. Food was security. Food was love. We always had enough food on the table to feed an army.” She remembers climbing up on a kitchen stool and watching her friends’ grandmas doing their cooking. “They would teach me,” she says. And she’ll never forget an aunt showing her how to make terrific gravy with the admonition, ‘if you ever make gravy out of a can, I’ll haunt you like a ghost.’ In high school whenever there was a party, Maxine did the food.

Along with her food and wine path, she came to realize and deeply appreciate the importance of cultural context in how and why people share and pair wine, food and spirits. “It’s the key element,” Maxine says. That emphasis and her ability as the consummate teacher to meld it so well with the academics of wine, is a great part of her appeal as a wine instructor, whether you take an on-line class from her, go to her live lectures and demonstrations or take one of her wine tours.

Why Portugal?

“One very appealing factor about Portugal is being able to attain citizenship in five years,” she says. But actually, the main draw for her is the long, rich cultural food/wine tradition she’s already experienced in the country and shared with her wine tourism clients. It doesn’t hurt that the Portuguese coastline reminds her a lot of the Oregon coast. And like Oregon, this tiny country on the Iberian Peninsula has numerous micro-climates. It’s also a close, easy gateway to the world’s major wine regions nearby. It’s a strategic location for someone like her who plans to offer a new level of immersion in her wine tourism program goals.

Rather than immediately plunging dangerously into unknown waters, Maxine seems to be making the transition the right way. “For my first year living in Portugal I’m mainly going be just getting the lay of the land,” she explains. That entails deepening her already existing Portuguese relationships and adding new ones. It’s a preliminary task she looks forward to with gusto. “It’s all about the local families that have been in wine for countess generations and how they carry on those traditions,” she says.

During her exploratory first year she might also find time “to write, blog, and as a Sommelier maybe hook up with tour operators who cater to English speaking audiences,” she says. “My role will be the education part, teaching about wine.”

But one of her first long-term goals is to assemble an online program featuring local opportunities that capture the cuisine of the regions and, of course, wonderful wine pairings with local vintages. That could be restaurants, markets, local festivals, and special products and producers. “That’s targeted to people who want to create their own adventure rather than sign up for a tour,” she explains. “So, what I’m developing is a do-it-yourself kit for those people.”

Then comes the really fun stuff. That will be when she develops her own custom wine tours featuring full, authentic exposure into Portugal’s awesome wine and food settings, and those of elsewhere in Europe.

But after 43 years in Portland, ties will certainly continue. “Portland has been a huge food town and I really enjoyed that,” Maxine says. She’ll be back in November for the annual Mushroom Camp held at Camp Westwind near Lincoln City. There are plenty of other reasons to come back and visit.

A graceful goodbye at the 2022 McMinnville Wine Competition

As luck and coincidence would have it, Maxine, who is a veteran judge at the annual McMinnville Wine Classic Competition, had a delay in leaving for Portugal and was available for the January 8th event this year. What a nice last-second addition to the impressive lineup of judges this year!

A fellow judge at the event, Hoke Harden, is Maxine’s mentor. Harden, she notes, “originally called my attention to the idea of organizing wine tours to France. He gave me contacts, great advice on locations, and got me grounded in the things I needed to know.” The French tours expanded to Spain, and then Portugal. She and Harden are in the vanguard of a number of individuals from the Oregon wine industry who are deepening their ties with those wine areas.

Here are her thoughts on the 29-year-old McMinnville competition and the state of Oregon wine.

“As the McMinnville event has expanded in recent years to include all Oregon wines, it’s grown in stature and is now a major showcase of new and upcoming wines and winemakers from all over the state,” she says. “This is where you come if you have new, exciting wines and you want to get them known.”

She adds that’s precisely why the event draws an exceptionally high caliber of judges. “They’re curious. They want to see what’s emerging and what the trends are in Oregon.”

Maxine notes that this year’s close competition for Best of Show was one of the most riveting battles she’s seen in the world of competitions. “But Best of Show this year was tough (between Iris Vineyards’ 2020 Pinot Gris and 40:31 Wines’ 2018 Blanc de Noir sparkling wine, with the former winning the title).”

She adds: “a lean sparkling wine and a Pinot Gris are two different animals. It’s hard to say which is better. When it’s this close it gets down to essentially how you as a judge react personally to the wines. In a case like this I think having both as co-champions would have been a good option.”

Regarding Oregon wines in general, she sees good and bad ahead. The good is world-class wine production emerging all over the state. The bad is what challenges all wine-growing regions, and that’s climate change. “I think the warming trend will hit Willamette Valley Pinot Noir more than other varieties,” she thinks. “There will be fewer areas with ideal conditions for excellent Pinot Noir grapes and as a result production will shift,” But she quickly adds: “Oregon growers will adapt. Growing at altitude, and on north, rather than south-facing slopes could help mitigate rising temperatures. Other varieties will come on. It will be interesting times.”

Salud! To Maxine Borcherding, an Oregon wine educator extraordinaire!

About Maxine

Maxine Reifer Borcherding at the Oregon Culinary Institute 

Maxine Borcherding is a chef, sommelier, lover of wine, fine food, and good whiskey; travel enthusiast, writer and passionate educator, and the founder of the Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food. Recently retired from 16 years as Lead Chef Instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute, she is happily spending her “retirement” teaching consumer and professional level classes in wine and food, is the Oregon and SW Washington provider of the  French Wine Scholar Study and Certification Program for the Wine Study Guild.

Maxine also provides operational consulting and staff training for hospitality venues, promotes the wines of France, Italy, Spain, and the Pacific Northwest, and leads food and wine tours to the great wine and culinary regions of France and Spain.

Maxine’s professional certifications include Sommelier (International Sommelier Guild), French Wine Scholar (Wine Study Guild), Spanish Wine Educator (Wine Academy of Spain), and Wine Location Specialist (Center for Wine.Origins). She also serves on the Boards of the  Oregon Wine Education Center and the Oregon Truffle Festival.

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