In 2020, Dave and Lois Cho started CHO Wines, the first known Korean American-owned winery in Oregon.
Now, just in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Oregon Wine Month, the Chos will celebrate their third year in business by creating a showcase for other AAPI vendors.
The first Oregon Asian American Pacific Islander Food & Wine Fest is scheduled to be held this weekend on the grounds of the Stoller Family Estate Experience Center in Dayton. The festival will feature food from popular AAPI-owned shops like Baon Kainan, HeyDay PDX, Matta and Kau Kau.
“We will have five chefs on each day,” says Lois Cho. “And then five wineries will be sharing their wines on both days. Attendees will have 10 bites and 10 wine tasters.”
The Chos’ winemaking journey began while playing music on the wooden piers of Santa Monica, California.
“We would play on the weekends. And somebody came up to us and gave us their card and asked us if we wanted to play at their winery,” recalls Lois Cho. “And naturally, when people pour you free wine, you get curious about how it’s made.”
Their curiosity turned into an instant passion for winemaking and a new life in the Willamette Valley quickly followed.
“It’s nice to be the first Korean American owned winery and to be able to say, ‘Hey this is a space that is for us too’ and to show people that there is room for us here.”
Lois Cho dreamt up the festival idea in January with her friend, photographer Joshua Chang, who started the Foundry 503 marketing company.
“He told me it would be really cool if we could get together all these Asian American Pacific Island chefs from Portland and just have this huge potluck,” she said. “I stewed on it for a couple weeks and I said, we should make a food and wine festival, and went a hundred fold with that idea.”
Not long after, Cho formed the nonprofit organization AAPI Food & Wine, with a mission to promote diversity in Oregon’s food and wine industry. Part of that mission, says Cho, is to use the AAPI Food & Wine Festival as a tool to teach people about nontraditional food pairings with glasses of reds, whites and rosés.
“To bring the AAPI experience to wine because wine is something that has traditionally felt a little bit more higher class. ... When you meld the two together, it brings diversity to a traditionally very Eurocentric industry,” she said.
Likely when most people think of traditional wine pairings, they’ll generally picture red wine with red meat, like a cabernet sauvignon with steak, or a white wine, like champagne, with seafood like oysters.
But Cho wants to challenge typical tastes by pairing wines with foods that people might not normally associate with wine, like Korean bulgogi or Thai phat kaphrao.
“When I say education, it’s more so let’s open up that conversation about why is it that we don’t pair wine traditionally with like a bulgogi or, you know, like a phat kaphrao. A good dry Riesling with phat kaphrao is delicious,” she said.
Having the festival during AAPI Heritage Month was especially important for Cho because it gives her a chance to not only celebrate AAPI culture, but also normalize AAPI food, especially for her children.
She recalled having a conversation with her child about how rice should be considered “normal” food.
“And that conversation of ‘Did you know that there are so many people in the U.S. that have never left this country and how lucky it is that you have two cultures to share?’ That sums up exactly why this whole event is important to me,” she said. “For my kids’ generation to realize that there’s space for them and that we’re normal.”
Since opening up three years ago, CHO Wines has received an outpouring of support from the AAPI community and Oregon’s wine community as a whole.
Cho recalls celebrating the Lunar New Year at an event in McMinnville and being overwhelmed by how many people came out to show their love.
“And it was just bursting at the seams, and there were more than a thousand people that showed up. And it was like, wow, like Oregon is ready to support.”
General admission festival tickets cost $65, for either Saturday or Sunday. The ticket covers all wine and food tastings. Guests can also purchase $105 tickets that include a shuttle ride to the estate grounds. As of Tuesday, Cho said they have sold about 800 tickets.
“We’re seeing in wine country that there’s this overwhelming support of different cultures. And I also want to bring Portland’s foodie scene to wine country.”