NW Destination: Southern Oregon Wineries in the Fall
Head to Oregon’s other wine country for culture, cafés and carafes of wine
written by Kevin Max
Any way you propel yourself through Southern Oregon—walking, cycling or driving—you can connect the natural and cultural dots that make this region the sketchbook of wine lovers. There are rolling hills that run into the forested Siskiyous, valleys with generous exposure to the sun, small towns with upscale dining from local bounty and world-class Shakespearean theater at its heart. Taken together, these things make for the quintessential Oregon getaway.
This trip builds around the tickets for any performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The 2018 season ends in mid-October with Henry V and Romeo and Juliet on the Shakespeare stages and Manahatta and Snow in Midsummer, among others, on the modern stage. The 2019 season picks up again in March, with As You Like It and Hairspray, for starters.
I remember being in the audience for my first big production play. It was nowhere near the professional level as OSF, yet left an indelible mark on the younger me. Bringing your own kids to OSF is more magical than Disney.
Hie thee now from bard to bounty. Southern Oregon wineries are not an undifferentiated bundle of grapes. The wineries and regions here are as distinct as the varietals—from cooler Burgundian pinot noirs and chardonnay in the Umpqua region to Spanish, Italian and Rhone wines in the southern regions.
Irvine & Roberts is a comely winery in the rolling hills of the southern Cascades and Siskiyou ranges 5 miles southeast of Ashland. The tasting room and patio serve as much as a serene getaway as they do a platform for lovely wines. The first acres planted were pinot noir and chardonnay in 2007, before planting pinot meunier in 2012. The chardonnay is exceptional, as is its pinot noir, but the pinot meunier steals the show.
DANCIN Vineyards—a crush of the prenoms Dan and Cindy Marca, the hardworking proprietors of this Italianate retreat in Medford—is another favorite. Not only does DANCIN have the best label art, its dining and wine-tasting spaces inspire conversation. If not for the camera function to capture the beautiful vistas, cell phones would be neglected in favor of old-fashioned banter.
Another favorite of ours is Cliff Creek Cellars. The cabernet sauvignon, syrah and Super Tuscan are fantastic in the bucolic Gold Hill vineyard. Cliff Creek also has a tasting room up north in Newberg. If you’re passing through Newberg on another wine tour, put Cliff Creek Cellars on your list. Set in a renovated bank with Ionic columns and a vault used as a wine cellar, this tasting room has patina.
Augustino in the Illinois Valley offers its visitors two experiences—a tasting in the old red barn near Grants Pass and the more lofty tasting room in a treehouse in O’Brien, 7 miles southwest of Cave Junction. Wooldridge Creek Winery in the Applegate Valley got an early jump on others, planting grapes for hobby wine in 1978. Over time, it grew into a producer of grapes for other regional winemakers. Today, Wooldridge Creek is a farming mecca, producing great wines, cheese at its creamery and its own charcuterie.
Either visit its tasting room, Vinfarm, in Grants Pass, where the winery serves its cheese and charcuterie in a brick-walled den, or head out to the winery and farm for expansive views. There are too many amazing wines and tasting experiences to get to in one visit. Valley View Winery in the Applegate Valley is one. Try the chardonnay and viognier.
In Medford, the downtown wine scene is coming to life with tasting rooms, including Urban Cork and the new Rogue Grape, a brick building with local and regional wines in house. In a climate where wine grapes thrive, naturally so does other produce and meat, setting the table for some of the state’s best farm-to-table restaurants. In Ashland, Hearsay, Larks and Smith fields are a few that top the charts for local and exquisite. In Jacksonville, Gogi’s and Jacksonville Inn are favorites, the latter for its atmosphere and wine selection and the former for its mustard-crusted filet mignon and cocktails.
In Medford try Porters, a renovated train station with local fare and more than thirty wines by the glass. In Grants Pass, The Twisted Cork fits nicely into the theme of local food and wine. Just a few years ago, the Southern Oregon wine scene was sleepy and largely unheralded. Today its wines are garnering top honors and its restaurants are the epitome of bounty.