Cruising Southern Oregon – winegrowing area

Cruising Southern Oregon – winegrowing area – Cover Story

Philip E. Hiaring

Welcome to fly-over country!

No sign proclaims this as you enter Oregon from California on Highway 101, but that’s what some Oregon winemakers call the winegrowing area south of Eugene which, according to maps published in the Portland Oregonian, is where Oregon wine country ends.

It doesn’t, actually, and Wines & Vines breached fly-over country last fall in a most appropriate manner: by car, and on foot.

Oregon has become widely-known for its Pinot noir, which is a mainstay of the Willamette Valley just south of Portland.

This is a done deal for writers, since you fly into cosmopolitan Portland, known for its friendliness, cleanliness and restaurants and brew pubs, then motor south to visit the likes of David Lett at Eyrie, David Adelsheim at Adelsheim or Dominique Drouhin at Domaine Drouhin.

Well, having done most of the above – deja vu, which means been there, done that, in French – Wines & Vines opted for the Bordeaux side of the Oregon wine house, with visits to Roseburg and south to the Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley and the Medford orchard area and Ashland, home of the famous Shakespeare Festival.

It’s a long haul by auto up the coast on 101, so the best plan was a quick flight to the Eureka-Arcata airport on a prop plane out of San Francisco. At 20,000 feet, with a clear sky, the view was terrific.

Magnificent Coast

The drive, incidentally, up the Northern California and Southern Oregon coasts is magnificent, and is one I hadn’t taken in far too many years.

The first stop was Brookings, a town geared to retirees, fishermen (Chetco River) and tourists. But more importantly, it’s the home of Brandy Peak Distillery, a premium spirits producer owned and operated by R.L. Nowlin and his son, David, a “fur piece” up on Tetley Road, a place where you could envision meeting Bigfoot.

R.L. Nowlin was a former chief engineer for Gallo and for years operated his own manufacturing firm (L & A Engineering) in the San Joaquin Valley. He began brandy-making in 1946, and designed the pot stills in place at Brandy Peak.

We’re not talking Gallo-like production here: while the distillery can produce up to 5,000 cases, it had yet to produce 1,000. Brandy is made from purchased grapes (Sauvignon blanc and Riesling were fermenting at the visit) plus pears. Brandy Peak is growing Colombard, that Cognac staple, Muscats, Pinot gris, Pinot noir, Gewurztraminer and, experimentally, Concord. The vineyard could expand to 10 acres.

Equipment is, well, adaptable, you might say.

There’s a Mortl field crusher for destemming, and a press that could be used for apples (Calvados!). Currently, the stills are being used as fermenters. Incidentally, when distilling, the stills are fired by wood, not your usual occurrence. As for the final product, no flavorings or colorings are added.

Aside from the fact that its operation is legal, Brandy Peak (named for Curry County’s highest elevation) could be likened to a moonshine operation, in size if not in quality. Each still has a 200-gallon capacity, and the winery is about four miles up from 101. (Going north on 101, you take a right at the lumber mill and go four miles, exactly, to where Carpenterville Road meets Tetley.)

R.L.’s journey to brandy and marc resulted from a chemical engineering degree from the University of Texas, a stint in the Navy as a radar officer and a job producing industrial alcohol. Then he went with Schenley, still-maker Oscar Krenz, then Gallo and his own company.

The roster of product includes marc brandies (Pinot noir, Muscat and Gewurztraminer), pear brandies (natural and barrel-aged), single-barrel brandy and grappa. Poo-pooed by some (grappa, that is), the Brandy Peak grappa is clean and zesty and has a light touch of Oregon oak. Excellent digestif.

Spirits Not Cheap

As with many artistan products, Brandy Peak products are not cheap. The marcs, for example, are $24.95 the 375 bottle, the Barrel-Aged Pear, Grappa and Single-Barrel Brandy are $21 the 375 and the Natural Pear is $18.85. Incidentally, it takes 14 pounds of Bartlett pears to make a single bottle of pear brandy. The spirits are available at the distillery or through Oregon’s (horribly antiquated) state liquor store system.

How good are the products from this “backwoods” distiller? Well, the San Francisco Fair International Competition yielded a Double Gold for the Barrel-Aged Pear Brandy and the grappa bagged a gold at San Francisco and a silver at the Los Angeles County Fair competition. Not too shabby.

Son David is more marketing-oriented and left San Diego with wife Georgia for the “wilds” of Oregon and brandy making. David has taken distillation courses at U.C., Davis and is the main truck driver who picks up grapes and pomace (for grappa) around the state.

As part of its quality statement, Brandy Peak tosses the heads and tails of the distillate, retaining only the “heart” for its brandy. All product is bottled and labeled by hand.

Oregon law permits Brandy Peak to open a second retail outlet, and, as production increases – if it does – a second store may be opened in a more metro market like Portland.

So Long, Brookings

After Brookings, the rent-a-car was pointed north to follow the Oregon coast until 101 more or less intersected with Oregon highway 42 south of Coos Bay and headed east to Roseburg and the Umpqua Valley.

Just before you hit Highway 5 you take exit 119 at, appropriately enough, Winery Lane for La Garza Cellars (formerly Jonicole). The label features a heron – LaGarza – and a metal sculpture of same on the premise has fooled more than one budding wildlife photographer.

Donna Souza-Postles, the proprietor, also operates a popular gourmet restaurant at the facility which attracts not only tourists but locals as well. She began her wine career as an expatriate Californian picking grapes. She went on to manage another Umpqua area winery (Hillcrest) and founded La Garza in 1991.

As for the Oregon 1997 vintage, things were quite a bit different in the Willamette Valley as compared to the Umpqua and Rogue valleys (doesn’t Rogue River Valley sound better?). Still, La Garza, which suffered one vineyard failure (young vines) reported that rain caused the winery to scramble for grapes inasmuch as sugar/acid ratios were distorted.

In common with many other Oregon (or California or New York State) wineries, La Garza has relatively small production, 2,000 cases. Its max is 5,000 cases. Labor was a problem for the winery in 1997 as others have found out this crush season.

It was no day at the beach complying with zoning and other hassles, but La Garza did add its Gourmet Kitchen in September 1992, seven months after the tasting room/gift shop opened. The restaurant sells wines other than La Garza, tending to emphasize to date Northwest wines.

While La Garza offers Chardonnay (the ’93 was still tight, with good acidity) 90% of the action is in Cabernet Sauvignon. The regular ’95 bottling retails for $14-$17. The current release Chardonnay was $12, a Dry Riesling (yes!) was a most reasonable $7 and Reserve Cabernet ranged between $15 and $30, depending on the seller. All estate vineyards are hillside and all purchased grapes come from hilly sites.

As of the W&V visit, 17 acres had been planted to vines, with one parcel perhaps in need of replanting.

La Garza is marketed in California, most notably in Southern California restaurants and major retailers like Wally’s.

Henry Estate

Getting on I-5, the next stop was off the main drag on a meander to bustling Umpqua, a community which bears no resemblance whatsoever to Manhattan, and Henry Estate Winery.

Henry Estate, marking its 20th anniversary this year, is owned by the Henry family, which has farmed there for more than 75 years. Scott Henry had been an aeronautical engineer in California for 13 years when he decided to convert part of the homestead to vineyards.

He and the late Gino Zepponi, himself an aerospace vet and co-founder of Napa Valley’s ZD Wines, determined which parts of the farm would be suitable for grapes and initially 12 acres (40 now) were planted to vines by the family.

Henry has the oldest vineyard in the region, planted in 1972. Pinot noir and Chardonnay are the major players with Muller-Thurgau replacing Riesling (except for a late harvest Riesling). There also is a Merlot blended with Cabernets franc and Sauvignon.

The winery produces 12,000 cases and has the capacity to increase to 25,000. At the visit, picking was by hand but that bugaboo, labor, was causing Henry to look at rig-picking. This could come about sooner, rather than later (production included) as a neighbor has begun planting what is intended to be a 220-acre vineyard, sizeable for the area.

What is unique about Henry’s site is a gap in the mountains which provides access for ocean breezes to cool the area. It’s doubtful the nearby Umpqua River has much climatic influence, although it is soothing to see boaters angling for salmon, steelhead and smallmouth bass.

Henry, developer of the Scott Henry Vertical Trellis now used in many growing regions in the U.S. plus New Zealand and Australia, said the valley is versatile in terms of growing different cultivars. He thinks Cabernet Sauvignon could be successful (soft tannins) in warm years. “We need to wake up to better ways of growing grapes,” he said.

Henry acknowledged that phylloxera was “around” and that experiments to date show well for 101-14 (Millardet et de Grasset, a cross of riparia by rupestris) and 3309 (Couderc, another riparia/rupestris cross).

After a festive dinner at the revived ghost town of Oakland and a good rest at Valley’s End Farm B&B at Umpqua (perhaps the world’s smallest, one room) it was south to Callahan Ridge Winery on Busenbark Lane.

Callahan Ridge

Callahan Ridge began as “DiMartini” under the hand of the late (1989) Frank Guido in 1979. At first, only red wine was made but this changed when Guido entered into a partnership with an Oregon grower in 1982. By 1987, Guido and his wife, Mary Sykes-Guido, assumed full ownership and renamed the winery Callahan Ridge Winery after a local landmark. Production of 10,000 gallons as of 1989 was mostly Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot noir.

At W&V’s visit, crush was on and fingers were crossed. Incoming fruit looked good with minimal rot.

Mary Sykes-Guido, a CPA, said about 80% of sales were in Portland to the north. At the same time, the winery sells in the Northwest, Canada and Japan. About 40% of sales are in white Zinfandel. She expects production eventually to reach 100,000 gallons, or some 50,000 cases. The top three varietals are Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir. As elsewhere, a white Zinfandel ($7) is marketed for cash flow and easy drinking. The winery is working on selling in Kansas and Idaho, and its visitor log shows visitors from as far away as England.

Prices are reasonable: a late harvest Riesling is $30 and 1996 Chardonnay is $10. Specialty wines include Summer Splash and Winter Warmer.

Since Callahan Ridge has just 4.5 acres of vineyard it is a strong buyer and can anticipate more grape availability once the 220-acre vineyard mentioned earlier comes into bearing.

Equipment includes a Willmes press, Pasco Poly Tanks and Macro Bins.

As for promotion, Callahan promotes a July blues festival (the Roseburg area is popular with retirees and is on or just off a major interstate).

W&V found 1996 white Zinfandel clean, fruity and not too sweet with appealing color. 1996 Chardonnay showed citrus on the nose and nutmeg spice on the palate. ’96 Pinot noir had good legs and nose and finished on the fruity side. A buyer should put away the ’96 Cabernet (with Merlot); it’s got a peppery nose and good zip. The ’96 Zinfandel (red) was a bit thin and light and, perhaps, is an indication the area isn’t particularly suitable for heat-seeking Zinfandel.

The winery does good chain business with Albertson’s, Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Applegate Valley Beckons

Oops.

Lunched too long at Callahan Ridge so making the next appointment in Applegate Valley obviously is dicey.

There are two ways to connect with Applegate Valley, and W&V missed the first one – near Grants Pass – in part due to freeway construction and in part to the inability to (1) drive, (2) read the handwritten map, all scriggles, and (3) do all this at the same time. The bottom line was an exit in Medford and backtracking on Oregon 238. This was definitely not a bum deal as the route takes one through Jacksonville, a partially-restored former mining hamlet past the Jacksonville Inn, a restored facility housing a gourmet restaurant, hotel and very fine wine shop. Jerry Evans (co-proprietor with wife Linda) will be heard from in a future issue of Wines & Vines.

The first stop in the scenic Applegate Valley was The Academy, just off Highway 238 near Applegate (basically, a lovely hotel, restaurant, gas stop, post office and ma/pa grocery.)

Barnard (Barney) Smith is co-founder, with wife Betty (also vineyard manager) and winemaker. The name stems from the fact he is a retired professor of engineering and management with stints at Oregon State University and Stanford. Not content with having home winemaking as a hobby, he also “dabbled” in gliding and building experimental aircraft. At retirement, he found a suitable spot near Grants Pass for the five-acre, Geneva Double Curtain-trained vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot noir. Plantings took place in 1989-91, so vines are both productive and yielding mature fruit.

It was crush-time, of course, at the visit so I knew the proprietors, aided by daughter Eileen, wouldn’t be going anywhere even though I was late. Wines from The Academy are sold at 30 outlets. Wholesale is $12 each for the Chardonnay and Pinot noir and $14 for the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The vineyard, incidentally, is basically organic although not so certified.

Professor emeritus Smith took winemaking courses at U.C., Davis prior to bonding the family winery. While he admits to utilizing traditional “hand” methods, he emphasizes they do not stomp the grapes by foot.

So O.K., what can Applegate Valley do in terms of grapes? How about 1995 Pinot noir, estate. It’s got total acid of .535, pH of 3.53 and 12.5% a.c. Clones were Pommard and Wadenville and the vines were planted in 1989. Half the grapes were left as whole berries and must was punched down four times a day. The wine was racked three times and fined with one egg white per barrel without filtration. What’s it taste like? Pinot noir, mate, with good color and lots of fruit on the nose.

The 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon was bottled in French antique glass from Demptos, had great color and fruit and soft tannins. Still, further cellaring would be advisable.

The 1995 Chardonnay (“we are pursuing a style closer to Meursault than to a more steely [French] Chablis”) is crisp (.64 t.a.) with Chardonnay character already apparent on the nose and palate.

No need for concern that The Academy is setting its cap on being the Gallo of Southern Oregon: production is less than 500 cases per year. Minimal intervention, in the vineyard and winery, are watchwords here.

Say Hello, Dick

Every wine region should have a character, preferably a lovable one. The Applegate Valley has (at least) one and his name is Richard (Dick) Troon of Troon Vineyard on Kubli Road. I asked Dick if his family was at all related to Scotland’s famous golf course at Troon, and he replied “my family were smugglers.”

Now, this is a guy – 70 years old then – you have to like. When you find out he had been, among other things, a fly fishing guide on the Rogue River and a noted – nay, renowned – carver of wooden duck decoys – you like him even more. It doesn’t hurt that he drives a Porsche convertible around the valley at what some might call break-neck speed!

Further, I liked his winery slogan: “Purveyors of Fine Wines Since 1976.” He also gave me a “River Guide Red” T-shirt and said to let him know when I’d be back in Oregon so he could get the boat out and we’d have a go at those steelheads.

A longtime farmer, Troon planted his vineyard in 1972 and says the area is “a lot like Sonoma County.” Fair enough, so bring on the Zinfandel!

He does well with that varietal and Cabernet Sauvignon, also no stranger to Sonoma. He poured at a Northwest tasting in London the previous November but said that was an excuse to get his wine to Scotland for a clan meeting. The smugglers, one presumes.

A native of South Dakota, Troon has raised cattle and been in catering and engineering before becoming a winemaker. Technically, his winemaker, since 1982, is Donna DeVine.

His total, again no threat to Gallo or Mondavi, is up to 1,500 cases per year, mostly sold in Southern Oregon (Ashland) and Portland.

The ’95 Chardonnay was barrel-fermented and crisp and would work handsomely with food.

His ’96 Cabernet blanc had no skin contact or oak. It’s fruity and was picked early for higher acidity.

The Cabernet Sauvignon wholesales for $96 per case as does the Merlot and the “River Guide Zin” is $90/case.

The next day took the rental car east to Ashland – getting lost in the process – and Ashland Vineyards and Winery, operated by Kathy and Phil Kodak just off I-5.

Once again, Ashland is home to the nine-month-long Oregon Shakespeare Festival that, in 1995, drew more than 359,000 fans of the bard. Gee, don’t those people have to eat, sleep and drink something?

Let it be said that Ashland has bird concerns, if not problems. Pinot gris was being picked under netting and the sound of cannon fire. Next on the picking list were Muller-Thurgau, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This, by the way, was Oct. 18, warm and sunny.

Phil Kodak said one gauge as to harvest is keeping an eye on when the neighboring alfalfa dries.

The winery is expanding its acreage, having bought an adjacent 88 acres. While a half-acre each is being planted to Syrah, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Sangiovese and Viognier, 50 acres will be planted to Merlot. Kodak looks to plant more Cabernet franc as well. The property consists of 120 acres, with 114 set aside for eventual vineyard planting. This, perhaps next to the 200+ acres to be planted in the Umpqua Valley and the new Del Rio planting at Gold Hill of 300 acres between Grants Pass and Medford (Peach City), would constitute at least one of the largest vineyard operations in Southern Oregon.

To keep up with demand while vineyards are maturing, Ashland buys a good portion of its grapes. On his own vineyard, Kodak, who doubles as many do in the wine business as vineyard manager and winemaker, uses three vertical wires and will add crossarms and catch wires. He pulls leaves to expose fruit, uses grow tubes, and hand picks (labor is a major issue).

Marketing efforts including drawing attendees to the Shakespeare Festival to the tasting room and using the Internet. Sales, 5,000 cases, are in Illinois (Chicago), and, of course, Oregon. Potential markets include California, Nevada and Washington State. Sales are 50% on-premise.

Ashland Vineyards has its own greenhouse and was propagating and grafting rootstocks 3309 and 101-14. There are raptor perches for gopher control as well as nesting facilities for red tail hawks and barn owls. The eye is on organic farming. Phylloxera is known in one site and suspected in two others.

In the winery, Phil Kodak is looking at rotary fermenters and uses JV Northwest tanks, including variable capacity tanks. He ferments Sauvignon blanc in puncheons and barrel-ferments Chardonnay. He uses both French and American oak barrels.

Another well-known vineyard pest is/are deer. Mac and Misty are two dogs trained to chase deer out of the vineyard. The vineyard has an invisible fence which prevents dogs from straying outside the containment area. A collar device alerts the dogs as to the presence of the wire, as in “shock.”

The winery has doubled its oak cooperage and was looking to expand “soon” so, apparently, things are looking up

The Kodaks were perhaps the first to mention the similarity between the Medford/Ashland/Applegate Valley areas and Bordeaux, noting similarities in soils, degree days, latitude and the buffering effect of the ocean. Bud break is later than in Sonoma (in normal years, if “normal” can be defined) and Cabernet normally is picked the first week of November. Great for “hang time”.

The 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon is not pricey at $20; nor is the ’93 Cabernet franc at $14. Sauvignon blanc at $9 is downright decent and a ’95 Cabernet/Merlot blend is friendly at $13.

Pinot gris, led by King Estate out of Eugene, is proving to be such a winner in Oregon that more and more operations in California are planting it. So is Ashland, and the ’95 estate, planted about 1990, showed crisp fruit and clamored for something from la mer. ’94 Chardonnay showed good balance and the 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon was rated Oregon’s #2 Cabernet by Wine Spectator. So, it’s clear the area can grow grapes that have what it takes.

Enter Weisinger’s

You cross the freeway and head west a bit and take Exit 11 and you’ll just about run smack-dab into Weisinger’s of Ashland, another family-operated winery just off the interstate and with a terrific view of the valley.

Weisinger’s may be a family winery, but it’s no small family! A family reunion was held this past summer with more than 500 family members from the United States, Germany, Austria and Mexico in attendance.

Eric Weisinger, assistant winemaker, did the honors at our visit. He pointed out that the vineyard and winery site originally was a hay field and sheep ranch.

Trust me, it’s being put to better use today.

Actually, the winery’s origins date to, of all places, South Texas where John Weisinger grew up in Montgomery County. His first wine was from wild Muscadine, though this didn’t stop him. In 1978, he and his parents purchased the current “spread” and planted Gewurztraminer in 1979. The winery was built a decade ago, and Donna DeVine was winemaker until 1997.

Tasting with Eric Weisinger was instructive as to what the area can produce on the wine side. This was reinforced both before and after the Weisinger visit, so for Oregon, it’s the best of both worlds, as both Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals can thrive.

Take a barrel sample 1995 Semillon, for example. We’re talking Sauternes style, but without a lot of botrytis. Great with dessert, roquefort cheese or, pre-prandial, pate.

Just to review a few of the wines, let’s check out the 1995 Gewurztraminer, of Alsatian origin, not Bordelaise. Splits only, it’s aimed at B&Bs and retail outlets. Spicy, not bitter, and about $6 the split. Non-vintage Mescolare ($10.95) is a blend of Pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Zinfandel. And it’s a dandy, just the fruity type of wine you’d like with linguine con vongole (red clam sauce) or other pasta. 1993 Merlot was a smoothy at $17 and grown at the Pompadour Vineyard. Petite Pompadour ’94, also $17, is bigger than the ’93 Merlot and is tannic and more complex

The label shows a kestrel, and traces its origins to South Texas. It seems John killed one by accident and that incident preyed on his mind, so when it came label time…

An archaeologist might have a field day in this area, inasmuch as rocks dug up for the cellar reveal fossils.

The winery sports a Willmes press, Pasco Poly tanks and a GAI filler.

Eric Weisinger said the winery has about 5,000 visitors per year, thanks to its prominence along I-5 and the aforementioned Shakespeare Festival. He reports lots of sales in the attractive gift shop of both wine and wine-related items.

On the marketing side, Weisinger isn’t missing many bets inasmuch as it has a wine club, promotes its cottage in the vineyards and holds winemaker dinners.

Although many winery operators today are looking up, thanks to handsome profits, Weisinger’s is looking down: in five years, look for caves overlooking I-5.

And more fossils?

Valley View

Heading back west on 238, through Jacksonville, we detour slightly off the main road to Upper Applegate Road and Valley View Vineyard.

This operation, under the auspices of the Wisnovsky family, was founded in the early 1800s in Jacksonville by Peter Britt. The Wisnovskys came to the area in 1971 and planted vineyard the next year (12 acres) followed by an additional 14 acres in 1976; the plan is to plant from five to 10 acres each year to such cultivars as Cabernet franc, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon to double estate acreage by 2001.

Wines & Vines interviewed Mark Wisnovsky as he waited for a grape shipment. He said his late (1980) father was a construction executive who worked on Bay Area Rapid Transit and visited Northern California wine country. The winery now is run by Mark’s mother, Ann, for whom the Anna Maria label was developed for special wines.

Feeling the area best suited to Bordeaux-type varieties, 10 of the first 12 acres were replanted to Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and some (non-Bordeaux) Syrah. Valley View has its own greenhouse and had a Hungarian grafter working as an intern. The winery buys from 40% to 60% of its grapes, pretty much a common thread with wineries visited on the trip.

One thing you can like about Valley View wines is the effect on the pocketbook. The winery says its best vintages have tended to come in even years, although the 1995 produced two Anna Maria wines. The Anna Maria Cabernet franc – sorry, no case discount – went for $20 per 750 as did the ’94 Reserve Red. The 1995 Fume blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot and door.

Cabernet was still out, and about an inch of rain had fallen in the past five days, but at the visit it was warm enough late afternoon for Mark to fetch a couple of brews to help with the crush.

Mark said Merlot was an easier sell than Cabernet because the latter has a “Napa” image. His Incidentally, the 1994 Anna Maria Merlot, $20, was tasted and yummy, with good fruit and liquid velvet. The 1994 Anna Maria Reserve Red is a blend of Merlot and Cabernets franc and Sauvignon.

This is interesting: years ago, some Oregon vintners, and we won’t say which ones because they know who they are, straight-jacketed themselves by insisting on regulations that required a varietal to be 90% of that varietal. But, somehow, some clever (smart) folks managed to get the regs to allow a Cabernet-type blend to be called Cabernet even if it’s only 75% Cabernet. The rest could be Merlot, Cabernet franc or whatever, thus foiling, at least at the time, the 90% rule.

The Illinois River Valley

From Applegate Valley, the route to Cave Junction pointed west and south. There’s not a lot to mention about Cave Junction except it is the location of the Oregon Caves National Monument and two wineries – Foris (Latin for “out-of-doors”) and Bridgeview, a neighbor in this section of the Illinois River Valley southwest of Grants Pass.

General manager and viticulturist Ted Gerber of Foris was pondering the fate of a marauding vineyard bear at our visit. Born in San Francisco, the son of a dentist, he was reared in Chico and graduated from Hayward State in public administration. But he yearned for the outdoors and learned viticulture, he says, from Oregon State University, Wines & Vines and the late A.J. Winkler’s General Viticulture.

The state of Oregon offers very poor guidance when it comes to bears that knock down your deer fence (come on in, deer) then parade through the vines eating your Muscats or whatever else the bear deems succulent. The state says property owners can trap the pesky bear, then tow the trap to Medford where it’s tagged, recorded, etc. Then, the property owner gets to haul the damn thing to the wilds and release it. Now, if that tagged bear should return to a populated area, and maul or kill someone, that property owner is responsible. The result: well, more than likely a lot of bearskin rugs, claw necklaces and bear meat in the freezer.

Gerber is known as a pioneer in the area, first planting vineyard in what had been cattle, timber, pear and gold mining turf. The first plantings were in the mid-1970s and, after custom-crushing its first vintages, the winery opened at the end of Kendall Road near the old Holland store on Holland Loop in 1987 with the first crush following two years later.

Incidentally, bears aren’t the only carnivores in the area: Gerber has seen cougar on his driveway.

Dijon Clones

In addition to the fact that Ted and Meri Gerber acted as pioneering winegrowers, he is known for his championing and developing Dijon clones of Chardonnay and Pinot noir. He and his wife are partners with Elizabeth and Russell Berard, also vineyard operators.

Foris also discovered the potential for Merlot, Cabernet franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the warmer sites of the Rogue Valley.

For a location as remote as Cave Junction (it’s about 19 miles from the California border and you enter that state through the Jedediah Smith State Park), it’s interesting that Foris has such a sophisticated winemaker: Sarah Ann Powell. She was graduated from U.C., Davis in fermentation science then went to degrees at Lycee Agricole de Macon Davaye and the Sorbonne, plus the University of Washington. She has made wine in Bordeaux, California, South Africa, Washington State, New Zealand and Australia and has been with Foris since 1991. She contributes much learned information to the winery publication, “Vintnarium”, one of the best such publications I’ve seen.

Oh, and just because Cave Junction might seem to be near the end of the earth, unless you’re into caves, you can call up Foris at (800) 84FORIS or check out the Web site at www.foriswine.com.

There are about 110 acres of vineyard, bears, birds and deer permitting, at the site. There are three estate vineyards: Gerber, planted from 1975-’95; Maple Ranch, planted 1987-’92 and Three Creeks Ranch (1990-’96). Estate cultivars include Pinot noir, Gewurztraminer, Early Muscat, Pinot gris, Chardonnay and Pinot blanc. There are experimental plots as well.

Foris has contracts with vineyards in other parts of Oregon for Cabernet franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, plus Washington State (Klipsun Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

The top four varietals are Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also made are a methode champenoise champagne and a port made of Pinot noir.

From a first crush of 10,000 gallons, production now is about 40,000 gallons, or 16,000 cases. Marketing is in 22 states, including California, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Illinois and New York State. Julianne Allen, formerly with the Oregon Wine Advisory Board, is marketing director and operates from a location giving new meaning to the term, “high-rise.”

Marketing from a Tipi?

Her base of operations during the good weather months is a “tipi” in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico! In not-so-good weather months, she’s in a home eight miles from the tipi at 9,300-feet elevation.

F.O.B. pricing isn’t too terrible, either. As of Jan. 1, 1997, 1993 Chardonnay Reserve was $76/case, ’94 Klipsun Cabernet Sauvignon was $108, ’95 Pinot noir was $62 and ’93 Ruby (port) was $62.

If anyone has his ear to the vineyard in Southern Oregon it’s Ted Gerber. He told about – and we visited – the 300-350 acre site being planted by Clay Shannon (Sutter Home) near Medford off 1-5.

At the winery he uses a Europress, poly tanks and jacketed stainless tanks, and ferments his Pinot in plastic-lined wooden bins used for pears. He uses only French oak, with 10-15% new oak for Bordeaux varieties. He said the winery tried Oregon oak. Foris still sells grapes plus bulk wine and juice.

For its purchased grapes, Foris has worked closely with a small group of independent growers (like the folks at Klipsun in Washington State and Evans Creek near Grants Pass) in communicating the fact that great wine comes from great vineyards.

Ted Gerber also operates a nursery and has sold grafting wood to Bien Nacido, Gallo, Robert Mondavi and Beckstoffer in Napa and King Estate in Oregon. To his knowledge, Foris has the largest bearing acreage of Dijon clones in the “new” world – 25 acres. The Chardonnay clones are 76 and 96 and the Pinot noir clones are 113 and 115. Foris began propagating these clones in the mid-’80s. Like many wineries, Foris barrel-ferments its Chardonnay, using old and new barrels in each lot; lots are kept separate.

Frost can be a problem as early as Sept. 17 but hadn’t occurred as of the W&V visit in October. And, although weather had been characterized recently as “wet” it was mostly Indian summer days with brisk evenings and mornings.

Gerber expected Dijon clone 95 to be available from either Foundation Plant Materials Service (FPMS) in California or Oregon State.

Among the winery promotions are selling “leakers” in the tasting room during “white” sales. He said the winery is open 363 days per year and that about 10% of sales are via the tasting room.

Out-of-state, his best markets are Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, and Gerber said he has bought into the Sonoma County co-op. Vineyard spacing now is 8×5 as compared to the original 12×8. All grapes are hand picked and good pickers can earn $200 per day.

Export markets include Canada, especially Toronto, and Hong Kong.

How good are the wines? Robert M. Parker, Jr. rated a Klipsun Cabernet ($17) at 90 points, compared to Tom Eddy Cabernet at $40-$55 at 88 points, hair-splitting, to be sure, but certainly great company for Foris to be in.

Bridgeview Vineyards

Next on the Cave Junction circuit was Bridgeview Vineyards, operated by Robert and Lelo Kerivan with much assistance from her son, Rene Eichman, who now operates the former Siskiyou Vineyards/now Bear Creek) nearby.

Bob Kerivan came to the Illinois Valley in 1979 and planted vineyard the next year. Ultimate capacity, large by Oregon standards, is 100,000+ gallons. Not there at my visit was Bryan Wilson, formerly with Benziger.

Kerivan operates an airfreight service out of Florida and is in trucking and has a home there as well as in Oregon. He also operates one of the best bed-and-breakfasts I’ve ever seen in what once was the winery tasting room on the outskirts of Cave Junction. He converted it into a B&B because he found people would rather taste wine at the site, even if that site is in the boonies, than at a more convenient, roadside locale.

Popular at Bridgeview is a Riesling in a blue bottle – Blue Moon, from Vitro – that enjoys brisk sales to the tune of 20,000 cases. As seen elsewhere, colored synthetic closures from SupremeCorq were in evidence. A Blue Moon Chardonnay is next, per Kerivan, who reminds one of John Kautz in that he is a scrounger.

Maybe “scrounger” isn’t the right word, but both men like to buy items seemingly at random for which they have no immediate use. Of course, they eventually use the stuff.

Ted Gerber once told Kerivan about an auction of winery equipment in Canada that called for cash only. Kerivan hopped a plane with a satchel and bought, among other things, a wine tank too big to fit into the winery’s doors. So, he cut a hole in the roof and had a helicopter lower the tank into place, then fixed the roof.

In addition to the Riesling, the line includes Pinot gris, Pinot noir and Chardonnay; Reserve wines include Chardonnay Barrel Select and Pinot Noir Winemakers Reserve.

In fact, Bridgeview was the first to use synthetic corks and Kerivan said their use adds to the “fun” of the blue bottle and the low a.c. wine itself.

Kerivan said he got a crop off of two-year-old Pinot gris vines thanks to vigorous training. The area otherwise is cool and overhead sprinklers are used for frost. At 1,800 vines per acre he gets five tons per acre. He uses drip irrigation on rocky soil. He eschews roostock and said he got his original wood from OSU via Dick Erath.

Kerivan said half of his vineyard is in Riesling, unusual in and of itself. He averages about 100 tons for his estate Riesling and buys about 300 more tons each year. His own grapes take care of about 25% of the winery needs.

Because of his German connection, Kerivan planted Rulander, Sylvaner and Muller-Thurgau along with Riesling. He trains some vines on two main wires with ratchets with four catch wires in an upright trellis system.

Like Gerber, Kerivan has his own nursery. In the winery he uses mostly French barrels which are kept in an old tank used to raise trout; the temperature is a constant 60 degrees in summer.

In addition to his vineyards around the winery, Kerivan has some 80 acres of vineyard in the Applegate area.

During hot harvests, fermentations are kept cool with water baths from an onsite lake. Reds are punched down for 60 minutes each day. His biggest stainless tank is 12,500 gallons. His total is 240,000 gallons in stainless. There is a GAI filler/corker and he uses pressure-sensitive labels. In addition to synthetic cork, he uses natural corks from fp Portocork.

In tasting, we noted the Chardonnays were consistent and found 1996 Pinot gris spicy and typical of the variety. The non-vintage Blue Moon Riesling had residual but was pleasant with 11% a.c.

New was a Paso Robles Black Beauty[TM] Merlot from Paso Robles at $17.95.

Rolling Through The Valley

After visiting Bridgeview, Ted Gerber took a day off to show W&V some new vineyard plantings to get a feel for the future of winegrowing in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.

For one thing, he sees no “north-south” conflict, i.e., between the Pinot noir faithful – 80% of Oregon wine country is around Portland – and the Bordeaux-style producers in the south. He said that overall in the Rogue Region, mining was a major enterprise until World War II, when ranching, hay growing, lumber and dairy ranching became the industries.

He is fond of saying that while poor soil may not be good for some crops, such as the ubiquitous pears, it’s just fine for grapes.

Medford, on the warm side of the growing region, has some 7,000 acres of pears. Bob Kerivan expects some two to three thousand acres of that will be in grapes within 10 years.

There is a big swing in rainfall in the region, with something like 10 inches in the Illinois River Valley compared to 30 inches in the Applegate.

Gerber said vinifera was no Johnny-Come-Lately to the area as Cabernet Sauvignon had been grown in the Jacksonville area near the turn of the century. The area grew table grapes such as Emperors from 1890-1920. These lasted until the 1930s and ’40s, when competition from the San Joaquin Valley did them in. Interestingly, he said foreign competition was doing the same thing to pear farmers today.

We visited Evans Creek Vineyard, which grows Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon on a steep hillside, and may add Cabernet franc.

Then we visited Gold Hill and the Del Rio Orchard, where Sutter Home’s Clay Shannon is planting 300 acres of vines overlooking the Rogue River itself. Shades of Zane Gray!

Pears vs. Grapes

Gerber has discussed grape growing with large-scale growers of pears and apples in Oregon, Washington and Yuba City, Calif.

Incidentally, Porter Lombard, retired from OSU, lives in Medford and consults. Unfortunately, the OSU vineyard near Medford is badly tended due to lack of funds. The experiment station also grows corn, pears, table grapes and row crops.

Another viticultural region in the area is Bear Creek Valley, placed between Ashland and the Rogue River. A crop research effort there is planned with five growers and OSU with the research emphasis on clones, especially Merlot clones.

There is suitable vineyard acreage to the east of Medford, the home of the old Harry and David’s direct mail fruit operation now owned by Japanese interests.

A sloped field west of Medford was going into wheat, although with its southern facing could easily have gone into more economically-beneficial grapes.

Economics should ring a bell for some non-Oregon winery and/or vineyard operators looking to expand: suitable vineland runs about $6,000 per acre.

As we angled back west through the Applegate Valley, Gerber pointed out vineyards near Medford operated by Don Moor, a former Pasadena physician, now growing grapes off Griffin Creek Road. He noted the champagne cellars of John Milhad on Humbug Creek Road as well as the 70 acres of the previously-mentioned Dick Troon. He also introduced Roger and Barrie Layne, W & V subscribers who sell to Foris (he took a couple of clusters of Pinot noir to Sarah Powell for analysis).

The Rogue Valley presently has about 700 acres of vineyard, per various sources. But it’s clear that more and more grapes are going in to serve real winery needs.

When this all comes into being, you won’t be hearing Southern Oregon called “flyover country” any more.

Resources:

Oregon Wine Advisory Board, Christine Pascal, executive director, 1200 NW Naito Pkwy., Ste. 400, Portland, Ore. 97209; ph: (503) 228-8336, fax: (503) 228-8337.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group