The New Oregon Trail

Oregon wine country used to be so easy. All one needed to know was the Willamette Valley with wineries focusing on Pinot Noir in a Burgundian style and crisp Pinot Gris and Chardonnay — Oregon wine wrapped up in a tidy package.

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View from Weisinger | Courtesy Weisinger Family Winery

But wouldn’t you know it? There’s more to the story. There’s an up-and-coming wine region in the southwest corner of Oregon that has real potential. Starting just outside the Shakespearean outpost of Ashland lies the Rogue Valley where dozens of wineries are making some mighty fine juice.

Ashland is a wonderful base from which to explore with its vibrant cultural scene, great dining and lodging and many wineries just 10 to 30 minutes from downtown. The Rogue Valley is hot in the daytime and cool at night and has complex, well-draining soils and rugged topography that brings to mind Spain’s La Rioja region and various hilly regions in Italy.

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“There’s an up-and-coming wine region in the southwest corner
of Oregon that has real potential.”

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Unlike Willamette Valley, where you are going to be presented with one Pinot Noir after another, multiple varietals are featured here making it a great destination for adventurous wine lovers. We visited many of these wineries and chose two that represent the old and new guard.

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Old Vine Gewurztraminer | Courtesy Weisinger Family Winery

Situated on a hillside at about a 2,000-foot elevation with beautiful views of the valley is Weisinger Family Winery. Founded by Papa John in 1988 with vineyards he planted about a decade earlier, it is now guided by John’s son, Eric, who traveled the world learning grape growing and winemaking before taking over the reins in 2006. Weisinger focuses on the Spanish varietals Tempranillo and Garnacha, but makes multiple wines, including an excellent dry Gewürtraminer that was Papa’s passion project.

Representing the new school is Belle Fiore Winery housed in a grand chateau-style structure with majestic marble-floored tasting rooms, dining halls and verandas where a royal wedding would not seem out of place. Assistant winemaker Will Hoftiezer, formerly of Schramsberg Vineyards and Cain Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley, led me through the state-of-the-art winemaking facility with a full wine lab and rows and rows of French oak barrels.

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Belle Fiore Tasting Room | Courtesy Belle Fiore Winery

Belle Fiore Winery is a leader in viticulture, as well, with plantings of many varietals on the different microclimates of the estate. They intend to discover what will excel here. They currently offer familiar wines such as Pinot Noir, Syrah and Viognier, as well as esoteric bold and spicy, red Teroldego and a vibrant, white Caprettone, both native to less-heralded regions in Italy.

For culture lovers looking for a new adventure, the Rogue Valley is hard to beat. With world-class theater and a scenic, accessible wine region full of new discoveries, this is an experience that is unique and well worth a visit.

 

Lou Phillips is a Level 3 Advanced Sommelier and his consulting business wineprowest.com assists in the selling, buying and managing wine collections. He may be reached at (775) 544-3435 or [email protected] Visit TheTahoeWeekly.com for more wine columns.