Deep garnet stains spill down the sides of oak barrels in the back room at Devitt Winery. Heady scents fill the cool air on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Deep garnet stains spill down the sides of oak barrels in the back room at Devitt Winery. Heady scents fill the cool air on a hot Sunday afternoon.

"Everything we haven't bottled is in here," said owner Sue Devitt.

Sue and Jim Devitt offered glasses of 2006 Shiraz — as well as an appetizer of homemade salmon pâté and dill sauce — to their fair share of the more than 400 wine lovers touring the Applegate Valley during Sunday's "Uncorked!" event.

A $39 ticket bought the bearer the opportunity to visit up to 15 area wineries for Sunday's barrel tastings and food pairings. The Applegate Valley Vintners Association holds the barrel tours in the spring and fall of each year. And the event keeps growing in popularity, the winery owners agree.

Laughter spills out from the front tasting room as a new group arrives at Devitt.

"This is the best chardonnay so far," announces wine-taster Bill Freda to his friends gathered around the wine bar.

Devitt is a small, family-run winery. Jim Devitt said he has been making wine for 35 years and used to own a winery in the Napa Valley. The couple moved to the Applegate Valley "not expecting the Oregon wine industry to take off like it has," he said.

Seventeen of their 32 acres are planted with grapes, and Devitt Winery will celebrate its fifth year of operation on July 4, said Sue Devitt.

Brendon Butler, the owners' 20-year-old grandson, has been learning the business for the past two and a half years.

"I don't see I'm going to leave any time soon," Butler said.

Just down the road, Lelo Kerivan is overseeing the event from one of the largest operations in Oregon. Bridgeview Vineyards and Winery owns 100 acres in the Applegate Valley and another 180 acres in the Illinois Valley outside of Cave Junction, said Rene Eichmann, Kerivan's son.

The Oregon wine business is "still in the infancy stage," said Eichmann, "but it is slowly growing with more and more events like this, and more wineries (coming in). Luckily, we are not experiencing bumper-to-bumper traffic like in Napa, or charging outrageous tasting-room fees."

Offering a 2008 Tempranillo, accompanied with a crab mousse, Bridgeview was third on the list of must-visit wineries for newlyweds Cathy and Sam Beaton of Murphy. Having already stopped at Wooldridge Creek Winery and Rosella's Vineyard, the pair of wine lovers are considering planting grapes on an acre of their own land.

"We have aspirations and inspirations," said Cathy Beaton. "We like to drink wine and it can be expensive. Plus it's also something we can do together."

At Soloro Vineyards, owner June Navarro's file gumbo on tiny corn bread muffins is giving the winery's 2008 Syrah a run for its money in the popularity contest, at least according to one guest.

"You should market this," said Sandra Coyner of Ashland. "I really love gumbo and this is the best I have had. It goes wonderfully well with this wonderful wine."

Soloro is the fifth stop for Coyner and her friends, who planned to visit between eight and 10 wineries on the Uncorked tour.

"I've learned that I have to pace myself," said Coyner. "I can't taste everything that's offered. But I think the wineries out here are all excellent. The Applegate Valley is a wonderful wine region that is growing and changing every year."

After raising cattle on their Applegate acreage, the Navarros began producing wine in 2005. Their property's southwestern exposure was perfect for growing grapes, said Tim Navarro.

With the help of experienced winemaker Linda Donovan, the Navarro's learned how to care for their vineyard and how to deal with frost, weeds, pests, fruit sets and harvesting, said Donovan.

"At first the wine tastes like grape juice, then it gets awful," Tim Navarro said, adding as the fermentation process proceeds, the wine starts to develop its unique and, hopefully, delicious flavors and bouquet. After 16 to 18 months in the barrels, you'll know what you really have, he said.

Solora also was offering tastes of a 2005 Syrah.

"The unusual weather that year gave the wine a peppery, earthy taste," he said.

June Navarro laughed off Coyner's requests to go into the gumbo business. She already works full time as a judge's assistant for the Josephine County Circuit Court. And she devotes all the rest of her time to the vineyards.

"It's paying its way now," said June Navarro. "I love the vineyard. It's a huge garden, this gorgeous living thing. I wish I could be in the vineyard all the time."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.