Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Southern Oregon (www.sorwa.org) is home to 70 – 80 wineries including virtual wine brands. The area includes the 3 AVA’s of Umqua Valley in the northern region near the town of Roseburg, the Rogue Valley near Medford, and the Applegate Valley south of Jacksonville and Ashland. A newer region to the east of Grant’s Pass is the Illinois Valley, though not yet an AVA.
The Charming Town of Historic Jacksonville
I flew from San Francisco to the small and homey Medford airport, and was pleased to find that I could claim my luggage and get my rental car in less than 20 minutes. Then it only took an additional 15 minutes to drive to the small and historic town of Jacksonville where I was staying. Jacksonville was a gold rush town established in 1851 and at one time boasted 7 saloons. Today it is perfectly preserved with charming Victorian houses, colorful gardens, unique shops, and great restaurants.
Later, I met my mother, who had driven down from Bend, Oregon, and we had lunch at the Bella Union Saloon, where we marveled at the ancient wisteria that covered the outdoor patio. Afterwards we visited many of the charming shops in Jacksonville before getting ready for dinner in Medford at our cousin’s house. Since the temperature this week is hovering in the low 100’s – part of the reason this region produces such huge red wines – we spent an hour relaxing in the pool before enjoying a big dinner of Oregon tri-tip. They served a 2003 Red Lilly Tempranillo with the meal. We decanted it first, because it is known for its huge tannins. We were amazed at how it progressed during the course of the meal, with the tannins now velvety smooth and some secondary aromas of leather, but the fruit still fresh and vibrant.
White Wine Judging and Tour of Rogue & Applegate Valleys
The next day we judged the white wines in the morning and gave the Best of Class Award to the 2011 Schmidt Family Albarino. It was a beautiful wine with a floral nose that jumped out of the glass, intense white peach and mineral notes on the palate, crisp acidity and a very long finish. Many people are suggesting that Southern Oregon adopt Spanish varietals as their signature grapes, and after tasting this albarino as well as many tempranillos, I can’t help but agree.
Dancin Cellars – A Beautiful Place to Spend the Afternoon
Valley View Vineyards – The Oldest Winery in Applegate Valley
Red Lily Winery – A Feast for the Eyes on the Applegate River
Rachel, the winemaker, provided a tour of the sparkling new winemaking facility located a short distance from the tasting room. She allowed us to taste her 2007 Red Lilly Reserve Tempranillo which she crafts in the same fashion as a Gran Reserva Rioja – aging two years in 100% new French oak and 3 years in bottle before release. It was a deep black red in color, with a spicy nose, and layers of dark complex fruit wrapped around huge chalky tannins with a very long finish. Quite the masterpiece and a good example of the powerful tempranillos made in this part of Oregon.
After the tour, Rachel gave us a glass of wine to take to the sandy beach and listen to the music. She also introduced us to her daughter Lily, age 11, who was wandering around the property meeting visitors. We tasted several more wines in the tasting room before we left, including a beautiful late harvest gewurtraminer.
Troon and RoxyAnn Wineries
I need to mention that on a previous trip to Southern Oregon wine country, I spent a very delightful afternoon tasting multiple wines at both Troon Vineyards in Applegate Valley and RoxyAnn Winery in the Rogue Valley. I ended up buying a bottle of tempranillo at both places!
Dinner at the Jacksonville Inn & Red Wine Judging
That evening, Mom and I dined in the elegant Jacksonville Restaurant with its red lamp shades and piano player. Jerry, the owner, greeted us and helped with the wine selection. I ordered the duck, which was grilled with blueberries. Since I wanted to pair it with a pinot noir, Jerry recommended the 2009 Del Rio Vineyards Pinot Noir which was a bigger, higher alcohol pinot but with a silky body and softer tannins.
Other impressive reds included the cabernet francs, syrahs, and Bordeaux blends. Again, all had the tell-tale tannins, a signature of the terroir, but also, partially the current winemaking style in Southern Oregon. Interestingly the merlots and cabernets on their own were not as distinguished as the blends.
Celebration Dinner at Restaurant 38 on Central
That evening, after a long soak in the Jacuzzi tub in my room, we had a celebration dinner at Bistro 38 in Medford. More than 30 people attended, including most of the winemakers and owners who entered their wines in the competition. The winning gold and silver medal wines were announced, as well as the Best of Class. It was enjoyable to meet many of the people who made the beautiful wines, but especially Mr. Schmidt, the owner and winemaker who crafted the Best of Class Red Wine – 2009 Schmidt Family Tempranillo. Ironically, he was also the artist behind the Albarino which was the Best of Class White Wine.
Another surprising food and wine match was the Rhubbard Crumble dessert topped with Buttermilk Ice cream paired with the silver medal 2011 Serra Vineyards Rose of Pinot Noir. The crisp acid of the rose was a perfect foil with the semi-sweet rhubbard. However, when we experimented with a grenach based rose, it didn’t work nearly as well.
Now, flying home after three delightful days in Southern Oregon, I know I will return again – not just because I have many family members in Oregon, but to continue to taste and watch the evolution of this unique wine region that is quite different from the rest of Oregon.