Stu Watson
April 14, 2015 | Stu Watson

Joe Garoutte brings love of wine, theater to tasting room helm

Avid readers know the cliché about the author bio on the back of the book jacket: Before diving into novels, Author X followed a storied path through such instructive careers as ditch digger, short order cook, goat wrangler, airline latrine cleaner and more.

Joe Garoutte hasn’t written his novel yet, nor does he plan to. That said, he’s got the book jacket cred if he ever decides to add “writer” to his resume.

As Naked’s newest Hood River tasting room manager, Garoutte brings a love of the theater and people to a role that lets him and his crew stage the variety and quality of Naked wines.

Garoutte studied acting at Eastern Oregon University, with the thought that he would teach other aspiring thespians.

Not yet. For fun, he performs regularly with CAST, a Hood River community theater group.

For pay? It’s all about the Naked way of life.

“It gives us value, giving people a story to tell,” Garoutte says. “We talk about all sorts of things. Why you smell a cork. The legs on a glass. There’s no need for a set routine. You just have to listen. I love to listen, and help people go where they want.”

Before landing with Naked, Garoutte amassed a trove of stories in a variety of gigs worthy of any author’s book jacket.

He supported a young family working the gut line at Armour Beef in Idaho.

Seeking a little more intellectual stimulation (really?), he secured a job installing satellite dishes when satellite dishes sat alongside the house, not on it.

Later in life, he represented recreational vehicles to dealerships, owned and managed a bowling alley, and found his way to the Gorge wine industry.

Garoutte spent five years with Maryhill Winery, as its tasting room manager and then directing events, promotions and media relations.

A brief stint as general manager at Aniche Cellars and a couple of years helping guests select wines at the popular former Hood River restaurant, Nora’s Table, prepared Garoutte to get – and give – the Naked experience.

The way Garoutte sees it, if guests want to play along with the risque thing that Naked does with its tasting room wines, great.

If not, that’s fine, too.

“Not everybody wants to go the innuendo route,” he says. “If people are uncomfortable, we’ll take another tack. We’ll never be the strict and formal tasting room. But we always respect what guests want from the experience.”

Garoutte loves the way Naked Winery emphasizes the guest experience at the tasting room.

“For me, being able to interact is key,” he says. “I’m hoping to help the whole staff provide a good experience.”

Part of what Garoutte wants guests to appreciate is that Naked Winery isn’t just your run-of-the-mill plonk producer.

“I enjoy seeing the interest in guests’ eyes when they encounter our wine,” Garoutte says. “It’s fun to help them leave knowing something they didn’t know before.”


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