Raise a toast to sunny days in Southern Oregon’s banana belt.
Wine tasting in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley is a treat any time of year, but visiting in winter is especially sublime. A special set of weather conditions sparks bluebird days — even when the surrounding areas might be blustery and foggy, the valley is warm and sunny.
“It’s a wind-tunnel effect,” says Rogue Weather meteorologist Greg Roberts. He explains that a downdraft pours off nearby Mt. Ashland, then gets compressed and intensified in the narrow Applegate Valley. This scours fog from the wine region, creating a sunny microclimate known by airline pilots as “the blue hole.”
To increase your odds of catching winter rays, head to these especially sun-kissed wineries clustered around the community of Ruch. Visit in the early afternoon, when the sun shines brightly.
The Epicenter of Sunshine at Valley View Winery
One of the sunniest spots in the Applegate is Valley View Winery. Owner Mark Wisnovsky grew up in the area. He remembers the joy of returning to his sunlit Applegate home after fog-filled school days in town. “The winery and surrounding neighborhood used to be nicknamed ‘Sunshine Village,’” he recalls.
Valley View offers a gorgeous vista of vineyards, rustic barns and the Siskiyou Mountains, best viewed from the lawn or tasting room, where rays of sunshine enter its high windows and heat the dark concrete floor. Warming up with a rich, ripe bottle of barbera will help as well.
A Patio for All Seasons at LongSword Vineyard
Located on a wide-open field, LongSword Vineyard enjoys full sun exposure throughout the afternoon. Owner Matt Sorensen says, “I get a sunburn pruning in the winter!”
LongSword has erected a clear-paneled tent on its tasting-room patio that affords views in all directions. Fire pits make for a bright, cheerful ambience where you can enjoy a plummy, spicy 2019 La Espada tempranillo. If you get peckish, order a whimsical bento box filled with charcuterie or a local favorite, Rising Sun Farms’ cream-cheese tortas.
Perch on a Sun-Flooded Aerie at Quady North
Quady North relocated to a new — and sunny — Applegate location in 2022. It keeps table umbrellas out all winter to shade a south-facing patio. When the sun drops behind the ridge, stay outside with fire tables and the winery’s blankets — or head into the fashionable tasting room.
Quady North offers a guided five-tasting flight. It suggests celebrating sunny winter days with a sparkling brut. Pair it with an Oregon Cheese Cave charcuterie plate. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Feel Right at Home at Devitt Winery
The tasting room at Devitt Winery has the feel of a roadside find: Its small, casual tasting room is distinctly welcoming. Soak up the sunshine on the lawn if you can; it’s like lounging in a good friend’s yard. Fire tables will be sparked at your request and can be moved beneath a canopy, under a tree or to any spot of your choice.
All of Devitt’s wine portfolio is winter-friendly, leaning toward fuller-bodied reds like syrah and cabernet franc. Devitt’s key to success? Keeping production small and leaving the wine in the barrel until it’s ready to drink.
River Time at Red Lily Vineyards
Owner Rachael Martin of Red Lily Vineyards finds winter to be the best time to go tasting. “Odds are you’ll run into one of the owners or the winemaker and get to have a more in-depth conversation,” she says.
Sip wine riverside or, if you prefer to be indoors, sidle up to the tasting-room fireplace. For something in between, head out to the semi-enclosed barn where the fire tables cast warm light on the 90-year-old wood-plank walls. Red Lily’s tempranillos recall sunny Spain — as does the winery’s offering of small-plate tapas.
A Winter Wine Retreat at Cowhorn Winery
A rustic barn and vineyard with the snowcapped Red Buttes in the background make for painterly views at Cowhorn Vineyard. The tasting room at this certified biodynamic winery catches rays from sunup to sundown. Cozy up with a guided tasting flight in the outdoor barn. The space is made comfortable with blankets, fire pits and pizzas cooked on open fires. Reservations are required.
If You Go:
Applegate Valley wineries have generous wintertime opening hours. Still, it’s good to check ahead for weather and road conditions. And if a relaxing overnight visit sounds like just the thing, the newly opened Lindsay Lodge (formerly the Applegate River Lodge) on the banks of the Applegate River in the town of Applegate is an ideal spot to unwind for the evening and enjoy the culinary delights and rural quiet of the Applegate Valley.
(Pro tip: You can verify that the sun is shining courtesy of the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association’s webcams.) It’s always a good idea to make reservations ahead of time for wine tasting.