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MailTribune.com
  • Slow and steady, from vine to glass

  • Maybe I've just grown tired of waiting. It seems that all I do is work, wait for the reward, work, see a peek of payoff and then work some more. The middle child in me is yearning to be first in line for an unearned prize.
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  • Maybe I've just grown tired of waiting. It seems that all I do is work, wait for the reward, work, see a peek of payoff and then work some more. The middle child in me is yearning to be first in line for an unearned prize.
    Imagine, instead of a delay, I received instant gratification. A Lotto win. A jet pack that transported me in seconds across the globe. Or better yet, a cup-of-noodles-like column maker for which I just peeled back the cover of my computer, poured in hot water and watched all the squiggly letters swim around until they formed a sentence that makes more sense than this one.
    I'm not the only one patiently laying ground to sprout a jackpot. Few in Southern Oregon can just express a dream and then write a check to get it done. Besides lack of moola, nature prevents good-hearted people like farmers and winemakers from ever striking instant pay dirt.
    Grapevines take years to produce luscious fruit. Wine may need to be aged in barrels and tanks, then cellared in bottles for years to reach peak flavor. And brands and regions take eons to get noticed. Although Peter Britt planted the first vine in Southern Oregon in 1852, we are babies compared with the Old World, where druids guzzled wine instead of unhealthy water.
    With this long-winded start, I'm finally reaching my point: In Southern Oregon, most wine producers have been working for decades to deliver a bottle of wine to you in a tasting room. Old-timers started as grape growers who eventually made wines from their fruit, then painstakingly earned enough followers to finally attract a steady crowd inside a modest structure with their name on it.
    That structure usually began life a century or so ago as something else: A firehouse became a tasting room for Crater Lake Cellars, a barn for RoxyAnn Winery, a fruit market for StoneRiver Vineyard. South Stage Cellars' brick building has undergone reincarnations to please dusty gold miners and picky tourists since the end of the Civil War.
    Agate Ridge Vineyard operates its tasting room inside an old farmhouse, Del Rio Vineyards in a stagecoach hotel and Pebblestone Cellars in an ivy-covered inn. The list — and the charm of repurposing a habitat with a past — goes on and on.
    Then there are those tasting rooms that were built from the ground up over time. It took Abacela 20 years to move from its viewless tasting room crunched underneath second-floor offices into the captivating Vine & Wine Center. Folin Cellars, Red Lily Vineyard, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Troon Vineyard and Trium Wines also grew grapes and a fan base long before owners sprung for fancy tasting rooms.
    The work goes on. New winery Ledger David Cellars has plans to erect a tasting room alongside its vineyards in Talent but, for now, has set up shop in a rental near Rogue Creamery in Central Point.
    David Mostue of Rocky Knoll Vineyard confesses that progress on his Medford tasting room stalled in the framing stage this winter because he was busy farming. But he hopes to have it completed for summer. Dana Campbell Vineyards has the same goal in Ashland, and Serra Vineyards should have its new tasting room in Grants Pass finished before fall. Expect to hear announcements soon from Irvine Vineyards, Genesee Estate and others.
    As you can see, s-l-o-w and steady is the usual MO here. There are blueprints rolled up on wine producers' desks from Ashland to Eugene.
    Here's a microwaved version of this approach. Around Labor Day, you will be introduced to Kriselle Cellars' wines (if you haven't already tasted the 2010 Viognier at The Peerless Restaurant & Bar in Ashland), and you will be invited inside its new, 5,000-square-foot building reached by a private drive off Modoc Road in White City.
    Inside, there will be a large tasting bar, private tasting room and catering kitchen. Outside are decks and views of farmland, Table Rock and the Rogue River. The building, sited on a hill, was raised another 2 feet so guests could see over the tops of the oldest vine blocks planted in 2008.
    Twenty acres of vines already are producing with 225 more acres planned for the 2,000-acre, river rock-rich property owned by Winslow Buxton. The brand is named after his daughter, Kriselle Steingrabber. Son-in-law Scott is the winemaker with help from Eric Weisinger.
    On a Friday afternoon, Weisinger and Nora Lancaster, who is Kriselle's marketing and sales director, greeted me at the property with opened bottles. A close look at the classy label reveals that it's an image of a wine bottle in soil. Hmm. They understand that good wine starts in the ground.
    I tasted and liked the estate-grown 2009 Cabernet Franc ($27), 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) and 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($19). The 2009 Alluvium ($25) is a blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. A malbec is soon to be released. Sheesh. I guess I can wait. Kriselle, reserve me a seat on the deck.
    But first, back to the traditional way to open a tasting room here: Beth Baker, a jazz singer and effusive reader of this column, is selling her parents' 1887 farmhouse on the corner of West Main Street and Hanley Road in Medford, a location she colorfully describes as "the big toe of the Applegate wine region."
    She contacted me because she doesn't want the Bybee House on 2.1 acres to be bulldozed. Instead, she envisions a tasting room where people can buy a glass of wine and explore the four-story water tower or sit near the antique, cherub-carved fountain in the courtyard.
    The property has been used as a bed-and-breakfast, antiques store and spiritual center. "It is a beautiful, historic space that deserves to have someone come along and fall in love with it, as my father did," says Beth, who coyly directed me to the website www.thebybeehouse.com.
    Because I don't know Beth and I'm assured she has no plans to split the proceeds from the sale with me, I decided to do my journalistic duty and call Janet Ouellette at Oregon Liquor Control Commission to see if this pinot pipe dream was even legal. Janet says simply: If it's OK with the city and county, it's OK with OLCC. Just apply for a license.
    EVENT: Sleepy, wintertime tasting rooms are rolling out of hibernation and planning concerts, classes and tours of their vineyards and wine-production areas. Call up your favorite winery and ask the tasting-room staff if they have a scheduled tour or if they can accommodate your group on a private tour. Unlike Napa, where they charge a couple of Jacksons for the privilege of hearing an infomercial about their label, generous Southern Oregon wine producers offer tours and smiles for free.
    TASTED: Oregon was the featured region at this year's sold-out Seattle Wine and Food Experience. Crowds went crazy over the varietals, from A to Z Wineworks 2010 Pinot Gris ($14) and Wine by Joe 2010 Chardonnay ($14) to Henry Estate Winery 2009 Pinot Noir ($18) and RoxyAnn 2008 Tempranillo ($30).
    I tasted ongoing favorites from Brandborg Vineyard & Winery — three tiers of 2008 Pinot Noir ($22 to $38), 2006 Syrah ($20) and 2010 Gewurztraminer ($18) — and fell for the spiel delivered by an entertaining, bearded James Padilla about Bendistillery's Cascade Mountain gin and hazelnut-espresso vodka (a breakfast drink?). He promises more pours at Medford's Sky Bar, Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge and Habaneros Mexican Restaurant. I may have to pull myself away from work, but I'll be there.
    Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@mailtribune.com.
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