By Dan Shryock
The best wine country tour is the one you want to tell your friends about. It’s the one with that special winery discovery. It’s the tasting room with the great conversation. And, of course, it’s the trip that compels you to buy a bottle at each stop.
Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley checks all the boxes.
With so many Oregon wine regions to choose from, the Applegate Valley offers some convincing reasons to visit.
Start with the location. The valley is easily accessible from Grants Pass, Medford and Jacksonville, and secluded state Highway 238 and its tiny side roads make finding each winery a geographic treasure hunt. The fertile valley floor, with its web of creek beds, is protected from cool coastal breezes. That creates pleasant touring weather and a warmer growing climate than most any other wine regions of the state.
More Information: For a closer look at the Applegate Valley, visit the Applegate Valley Wine Trail website - www.applegatewinetrail.com
And, of course, there’s the wine. In a state where so much is said about Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon and the Applegate Valley in particular take pride in producing great Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Bordeaux styles in addition to Pinot.
“I think what’s really great about the Applegate Valley AVA is that there are 18 wineries in a small area,” says Rachael Martin, Red Lily Vineyards owner and winemaker. “People touring here can go to a lot of different wineries and have a unique experience at each one.
“There are a lot of micro-climates where people are growing different warm weather varieties,” Martin says, “and I find it refreshing to have a very cohesive group of people in the wine business here. There’s a lot of forward momentum. There’s a lot of sharing of ideas.”
“We ‘Applegaters’ are the real deal. There’s no snobbery here. We have award-winning wines and a naturally spectacular, yet affordable setting,” adds Liz Wan, Serra Vineyards’ assistant winemaker. “We are all so small that we need one another to grow. We have learned that a rising tide raises all berries, so regardless if it is Sandi Garoutte from Rosella's giving me a crash course on selling wine grapes or Wooldridge Creek helping us make our wines while we built our winery; if you need help as an Applegate Valley producer, all you need to do is ask.”
Growers and winemakers cite several key reasons for the Applegate Valley’s quality wines:
- The valley runs north-south providing great sun exposure to ripen the vines.
- It’s a relatively narrow valley with plenty of trees that enjoys good air flow.
- The one-time riverbed left behind loam soils which holds plenty of moisture but also drains well.
- Some of Oregon’s oldest wine producers – and vines - are here.
Our recent tour led us first to Serra Vineyards and Jackie Bryant, a one-time Serra wine club member. She was so enamored with Serra Vineyards she went to work there.
“I fell in love with this property. I fell in love with coming out here,” Jackie says. “I still pinch myself all the time looking at the view.
“It’s amazing to see the quality that goes into their wines. The owners (Krissa and Scott Fernandes) are very patient. They’re not going to let anything go out until it’s ready. They take great care with everything they do.”
Our next stop was at nearby Schmidt Family Vineyards where tasting flights were served in test tubes set in wooded racks. This allowed guests the option to linger inside the tasting room or on the garden patio and sample at their own pace.
Valley View Winery and Red Lily Vineyards rounded out this day’s tour. At every stop, tasting room pourers emphasized the passion for making wine as much as the wine itself.
That doesn’t surprise Rachael Martin. The wine industry in this valley is still in its infancy, she says. Winemakers continue to explore the possibilities in an artisan environment.
“While the idea is to make a living with this business, it’s so much more than that,” she says. It’s a lifestyle. It’s farming. And, it’s fun.”
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.