SoO: The Wines of Southern Oregon

There is a saying that when people think of Oregon, they think of the three “Ps” - Portland, Precipitation and Pinot. Yes, there is rain; yes, Portland is the largest city in the state, and yes the main wine coming from here is Pinot Noir. But Oregon, specifically Southern Oregon, also excels at under-the-radar grape varieties an inherent natural beauty, and a road less traveled. Interstate 5 is the artery, which can quickly get you to multiple wine regions and off the beaten path. (Watch my video of Southern Oregon HERE).

Though it’s not always practical, it is essential to visit wine regions to experience firsthand the soil, the climate, people, the food, everything. You simply cannot understand a wine region by purchasing a bottle of wine off a shelf. Oregon is best known for the Willamette Valley and Pinot Noir, however the southern portion of the state, with regions like Umpqua Valley, Red Hills, and Rogue Valley, produce wine of greater diversity than Willamette.

“Pinot Noir is too expensive and Chardonnay is what my mom drinks,” Rob Folin of Folin Cellars in the Rogue Valley, tells Exploracation. Located 250 miles south of Portland, Folin and others like him, including the tiny God King Slave Wines are looking beyond conventional wines in order to make their voice heard. GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), and Spanish and Iberian varieties are what this southern half of the state is finding best expresses their landscape. But Oregon also faces unexpected weather variations and those fluctuations means that wines cannot be replicated year to year – a selling point for some, and a drawback for others. “Winemakers need to be more artisanal and less technical,” says Daniel Rinke of Johan Vineyards. His sentiment is expressed in probably what is the best white grape currently grown in Southern Oregon - Viognier - where its crisp acidity and less perfume characteristics make it a “loud mouth wine” as Rinke calls it, a sort of brash child who demands attention. Many Southern Oregon wineries are succeeding with Viognier including Kriselle Cellars, and Spangler Vineyards.

King Estate Winery
The largest single winery in all of Oregon is King Estate covering 470 acres planted predominately to Pinot Gris, their signature wine. They also have 14 acres of orchards, gardens and bee-keeping which provides food for their lunch and dinner restaurant, as well as local schools they donate a lot of food to. There’s also on-site bakery and charcuterie, an impressive winery and well worth visiting for the wine, the food and the views. Their standard offering is uniformly excellent. I had the chance to taste eight-year-old, and 13-year-old Pinot Gris on my visit both of which still showed extremely well - structured with engaging acids and citrus, caramel and melon flavors.

Pat Spangler (L) & Earl Jones (R) in Southern Oregon
Other wonderful wines come from Abacela and Spangler located in the Umpqua Valley. “If you're driving I-5 (the main highway running through the state) and you don't stop at exit 119 you're making a mistake,” says Pat Spangler. Of course he'd say something like that except that since his tasting room is there except he's correct. Both of these wineries are exemplary of what the mid-Oregon region can do. Pat was a beer drinker until a trip to Napa in 1989 caused him to switch to wine. He owns no vineyards and focuses on direct-to-consumer sales, all the more reason to visit first hand. His Viognier is a spot on example of what the grape can be; clean and viscous with minerality and subdued floral notes. His portfolio includes Grenache and Cabernet Franc.
The winery dog at Cowhorn,: biodynamic winery, blue eyed dog.
By contrast Earl Jones of Abacela Winery is distributed in 26 states and he uses all estate fruit because he doesn’t want to “buy other people's mistakes.” Jones is that type of man who does his due diligence and his climate research showed him that his site was uncannily similar to the Rieba del Douro where Tempranillo is king. So Jones carefully planted specific sites. “We're farming at the climactic edge of grape growing,” he says, due to the unpredictable weather patterns, which plague Southern Oregon. Jones may seem like he is pushing the envelope but he is practical as well. His property boarders a wildlife sanctuary and Abacela has a program called “zoo doo” whereby elephant dung is used as fertilizer for the vineyard. He is making terrific Tempranillo, a stunningly good Albariño (so close to those in Spain it will shock you), Malbec and a Tawney Port than will make you swoon.

It's always Friday the 13th at Valley View Winery!
For sheer fun, Valley View Winery near Jacksonville not only has terrific wines, but if you’re a fan of Friday the 13th – you’ll need to visit. Does this seem like a non-starter? Well…in the original film the sole survivor of the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake was Alice Hardy, played by actress Adrienne King who moved to Oregon after Hollywood and worked for a time at Valley View Winery. Together, they created Crystal Lake Wines, which uses Valley View wines in unique labeled bottles, including a painting done by Adrienne of her character lying in a canoe on Crystal Lake. Jason’s creepy hockey-mask and One Sheets and other Friday the 13th paraphernalia create a novelty shrine of Hollywood and Vine. You can pick up Survivor’s Syrah, and Cabin A Sauvignon to scare your friends. How cool is that?

Outside of McCully House in Jacksonville

If opening that wine is too scary then definitely pick up their Red Rogue wine, an everyday drinker for about $12, one of the best value wines I’ve ever had And a night’s stay at McCully House, a seven-room intimate B&B in the heart of downtown Jacksonville is comfortable without being cutesy; sophisticated and ideally situated within the walkable downtown core of Jacksonville.

Find other cool Oregon things here:

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