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Wineman’s Toast | Sipping students ‘thirsty for wine knowledge’

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Rhett Humphrey leads a class on Merlot at the Jones of Washington tasting room in Pybus Public Market.

WENATCHEE — Rhett Humphrey is a wine buff. A trained one, who enjoys teaching people about wine as much as he enjoys drinking it.

Humphrey, I assume, is well paid for his job as communications director for Jones of Washington, one of the region’s largest and most-awarded wine producers. But he tackles the work with an uncommon knowledge and passion that raises the educational bar for all those interested in drinking and knowing about wine, no matter where they get it or from whom they purchase it.

Humphrey, 34, leads classes in wine education at the Jones tasting room in Pybus Public Market. He recently finished a second series of Wine 101 and Wine 201 classes that he plans to restart next year. It’s part of his ongoing Pybus University offerings there about wine. His monthly classes at the tasting room focus on different wine varietals.

He has a weekly show about wine each Friday morning on KOHO radio. He’s also done some spots on local TV. His blogs about wine and wine pairing can be found on several social media formats, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the Jones website, jonesofwashington.com.

I saw an opportunity for the education part of wine,” Humphrey said. “No one was really doing it. I saw an opportunity to lead that.”

Humphrey tries to tie his lessons to the Jones tasting room and wines, but not to the degree that it comes off as pure promotion. Like many others in the local wine industry, he believes sharing wine knowledge helps all wineries grow and prosper.

The Wine 101 and 201 classes have been very popular. People are very open to wine information. I like to say they’re thirsty for wine knowledge,” he said.

He feels fortunate to be a part of a rapidly expanding appreciation for fine wine in the area, largely due to the commercial success of the state’s wine industry that has grown explosively over the past two decades. The number of Washington wineries has grown from 100 to more than 900 in the last 20 years.

There are still a lot of people who think wine is hoity-toity or too snobbish. We want people to know that wine is for everybody. If they don’t like wine, it’s probably because they haven’t tried one they like yet.”

A dozen people attended a recent class Humphrey led on Merlot at the Pybus tasting room. He talked about Merlot’s historic origins in France, the fact that it’s the world’s second most planted red wine variety, and how its name refers to blackbirds, which also find the grapes delicious. The group tasted four vintages of Jones Merlot, along with tidbits of cheese and crackers.

Merlot’s popularity is making a comeback after being slammed in the 2004 movie “Sideways.” It’s the third most popular wine varietal purchased in the United States, if not the world, he said, trailing only Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. More than 600,000 acres are planted worldwide.

Humphrey grew up in Cheney in a family with agricultural roots. He earned a degree in marketing at Eastern Washington University and then graduated from Central Washington University’s Wine Studies Program. He’s currently studying for his Certified-level credential with the Court of Master Sommeliers.