SUNSET — Even serious enophiles describe Oregon wines with one word: Willamette. And one grape: Pinot Noir. It’s understandable. The Pinots produced in places like McMinnville and Dundee are among the very best in the world.
But another Oregon wine country is rising 230 miles to the south of the Willamette Valley. For the wine-minded traveler, this destination feels almost utopian. Here, tasting fees cost less than a latte; hotel rates are actually reasonable; wineries go way beyond water crackers (wood-fired fig and caramelized-onion pizza with a 92-point 2012 Syrah, anyone?). And, as in Santa Barbara County but unlike many other wine regions in the West—all kinds of grapes thrive.
“We can ripen anything,” Southern Oregon winemakers joke, and judging from the wide array of varieties found here—in this sprawling land of 150 microclimates across three river valleys, high desert, and mountains—it’s true. Roam from the Rogue Valley to the Applegate Valley, all the way north up Interstate 5 to the Umpqua Valley, and you’ll find about as many types of good wine as you would in your beloved bottle shop. Good wine. Albariño, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Cab Franc, Malbec, and yes, plenty of Pinot Noir too.
What you won’t find are crowds. “We are the last undiscovered wine region in the world. Truly,” says Jamie McCleary of Jaxon Vineyards. The secret may not last, with tasting rooms opening all the time and 1,000 acres of grapes planted in a year alone. Talented winemakers like Stephen Hall from Napa, Scott O’Brien Kelley from Paso Robles, Jean-Michel Jussiaume from the Loire Valley, and Chris Graves from the Livermore Valley (who is heading up one of three custom-crush facilities) have moved to Southern Oregon, to be pioneers in a place where pioneering is still possible.
Read the full report by Rachel Levin in Sunset magazine.