by Eddie Wallace
First-time visitors to Wooldridge Creek Winery in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley could be forgiven for thinking they might stay briefly, sample a wine or two, and move on to the next vineyard down the road. But to do so would be to deprive themselves of one of the most satisfying sensory experiences in the burgeoning Southern Oregon wine scene.
Owner-operators Greg Paneitz and Kara Olmo, together with original owners Ted and Mary Warrick, have lovingly crafted a welcoming, eminently enjoyable experience for wine lovers and gourmands to indulge themselves over the course of a leisurely hour or two, or longer.
As you drive into the entrance of Wooldridge Creek, there is an inescapable feeling of coming home. Blessed with one of the most beautiful landscapes in the region, the layout of the winery grounds feels intentionally spare yet very comfortable. Visitors are often greeted by Lewis, the winery cat, or one of the dogs who make Wooldridge Creek their home. Gardens and walking paths invite strolling. The light, airy tasting bar is crafted from madrone wood, and one can view the barrel room from the bar. Panoramic views are enjoyed from the tasting room and outdoor patios.
“I think of what we are doing as re-learning what our great-great- grandparents did as a natural part of their daily lives,” observes Greg. “We are learning how to make our own butter and cheese, how to ferment things, using only salt as a preservative. The winery is gravity-fed, which means that there is no electric pump necessary to propel the must (i.e. the juice expelled from the grapes).”
Of course, the wine is the star of the show. Wine club members and tasting room visitors snap up Wooldridge Creek’s entire 5,000-case annual production (with some wine in keg form sold to local restaurants). Wooldridge Creek grows twelve grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.
Two of the current best sellers are the 2015 Warrick White Reserve, a full-bodied blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, fermented and aged for 24 months in French Oak, with hints of lemongrass, peppermint, and Meyer lemon; and the 2013 Warrick Red Reserve, with notes of warmed cinnamon, creamed coffee and vanilla in a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Zinfandel.
While Greg uses his vast enological experience to oversee the vineyards and wine production, in the last few years Kara has focused on bringing her experience in cheese-making and artisanal foods to launch Crushpad Creamery (begun onsite in 2015), thereby creating Oregon’s first joint creamery and winery. In 2016, charcuterie was added to the mix.
Visitors can enjoy their wine with cow’s milk cheese pairings that include saffron, garlic and lemon fromage blanc, herb fromage blanc, Spanish Gulch fromage blanc (seasoned with smoked paprika, coriander, and cumin), and Greek herb feta. An organic chicken liver pate is whipped with butter, cream, Oso de Oro desert wine and spices, and topped with parsley oil infusion. An array of fermented vegetables is also available. Greg and Kara strive to source their meats and vegetables from farms and ranches that use the highest animal welfare standards and environmental practices, and have the best flavor quality.
If visitors think of Wooldridge Creek as less of a winery and more as a family farm, that’s exactly what Greg and Kara have in mind. Both sets of owners still live on the property, and plan to continue doing so. Since 2005, Greg and Kara have raised their four children in the 1100-square foot log cabin that Ted and Mary first built for themselves in the late 1970s.
Sustainable is more than a buzzword at Wooldridge Creek. The guiding philosophy for the owners is to do no harm, turn the grapes into wines that inspire themselves and others, create a business environment that attracts a long-term work force, and participate in activities that benefit the community. So far, that seems to be a winning game plan.
Wooldridge Creek Winery
818 Slagle Creek Road
Grants Pass, OR.
11:00 AM – 5:00 PM daily