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Celebrating fine wine and friendship

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for the Sequim Gazette

After a long day, Cat Xander likes to “wine” down.


She pops the cork off a bottle of wine, pours a glass, takes a sip and savors the delicious flavor. It’s not about the quantity, she emphasized, but rather the quality.


While California is well known for its fine wines, some people might be surprised to learn about — and pleased to experience — the wealth of Washington vintners and winemakers. One way to learn more, Xander said, is to join the Olympic Peninsula Enological Society.


The club has about 80 members from all over the North Olympic Peninsula. While members come from different walks of life, they all share a common interest in good wine. The group meets about once a month and hosts various educational and social events throughout the year.


At a recent shindig, members indulged in a selection of hors d’oeuvres and desserts paired with wines. At another gathering, members “blind tasted” without knowing the winery or any specifics about the wine and then evaluated them on a rating scale before finding out the details and prices.


Events generally are open to the public but members get a break on the cost. Most of the time, the price of admission to such events pays for all of the wine and food served.


Xander visited Sequim for the first time in 2002, shortly after the society formed.


“My husband was interested in moving here and, because I was reluctant to move, I wondered whether there would be anything or anyone I would enjoy here,” she said.


The couple attended the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival where Xander met a few society members who were pouring wine at one of the booths.


“I met people who loved wine and were open and generous about sharing their knowledge and expertise about the area and I decided I could be happy here.”


Two days after the couple moved to Sequim from San Diego, Calif., Xander attended her first OPES event — and she hasn’t missed very many since.


Xander’s love for fine wine started when she worked as a television reporter and producer in Texas and increased exponentially after traveling across the country back to California, visiting the wineries of Napa Valley along the way.


“On that trip, I visited the highly rated Cakebread Cellars in the company of winemaking students who were making truly snobbish remarks about the wine process and matching wines with food,” she recalled.


“They left before I did and the winemaker looked at me, disgusted, and said ‘You should be able to drink wine with anything. My wine goes with meatloaf.’”


So much about wine fascinates Xander.


“The infinite variety … How winemakers can use the same grape and yet wines can taste so different … That wine is made in every state, even South Dakota and Utah … How the same wine tastes different from year to year … That the climate conditions can make so much difference,” she said. “That the same wine which was too sweet when you took a small sip is pure bliss when drunk with white chocolate cheesecake … That your tastes change and expand as you experience more.”


The club always is looking for new members — especially ones with ideas and suggestions for future events.


“Any member who wants to organize an event is cherished and supported by one or more board members to help make it easy for them and memorable for attendees,” Xander said.


A select group of area merchants, including Bella Italia, Michael’s Seafood & Steakhouse and the restaurant at Lake Crescent Lodge, offers members a 15-percent special benefit discount.


But the biggest reward of joining the club, Xander insisted, is getting to know fellow members and developing lasting friendships.


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