Today, I'm in Ashland's Fourth of July parade. As I prepare for this appearance, I am thinking not so much about our country's founding mothers and fathers, but about those flag-wavers' pioneering spirit.
Independence. Innovation. Enterprise. Those actions represent America to me. And 236 years later, they are still alive.
Many examples of the pioneering spirit exist right here in the Rogue Valley wine world. In honor of the fact that you are reading this on your day off, I will spotlight just two: Troon and Valley View. Both wineries began in the Applegate Valley 40 years ago by bullheaded businessmen who made rocky soil profitable and now are run by a younger generation intent on braving new viticultural frontiers.
Chris Martin of Troon Vineyard is a big guy with big ideas. Spend two seconds with him, and you'll see he's always thinking. But even with his mind on the future, he keeps his eye not only on Troon's 100-acre property, almost half of it blanketed in vineyards, but the state's southern quilt of 70 different grape varieties. He's the president of the Southern Oregon Winery Association, and his job is to look out for the little guy, too.
Troon Vineyard once was the little guy. In 1972, lovable curmudgeon and man-of-many-trades Dick Troon bought 32 acres in the Kubli Bench after he painstakingly compared the crops, climate and growing seasons with Sonoma. The artist-at-heart farmer, however, planted zinfandel, cabernet and chardonnay not based on research but because he liked the taste.
That same year, he badgered Rogue Community College president to import a viticulture expert to teach him and eight others, including Frank Wisnovsky of Valley View Winery, how to improve the taste of grapes. Over the decades, cuttings from these colonizing vineyards have settled across Southern Oregon.
Troon knew it would take at least four years for his grapes to make good wine, so he did the math and prematurely hung up a sign: "Purveyor of Fine Wines Since 1976." His optimism was a bit off. The first wine was bottled in 1993, and he sold it to neighbors. In 2011, the winery made its 500,000th bottle and sells wine as far away as our nation's capital.
In 2003, Troon sold the land and business to Martin, who launched what could be called Troon II. About 20 varieties, including exotic tannat and vermentino, now grow near old zinfandel vines.
By Martin's account — and I believe him — Troon II was the first to have a tasting room in the north and south of the state, and to print the Kubli Bench designation on the label to distinguish the western part of the Applegate Valley. His winery also was the first to charge a tasting fee ($5) based on Martin's reasoning: "I don't know of any restaurant where I can have a taste for free and then leave."
Martin and his team also launched the now common food and wine pairing and, later, full menus created by chef Matthew Domingo. Raw and barbecued oysters are available on Sparkling Sundays, now through Labor Day. Everyone's invited to the 40th anniversary party Aug. 4 when Martin will debut a 2007 sparkling vermentino.
"Dick Troon was a pioneer and a leader, and our mantra here is to continue the pioneering spirit," says Martin. "If it's not exciting, it's not exciting. New is more fun than old."
In the old days of the 1970s, Troon and Wisnovsky thought about forming a wine co-op. But, as with most cooperative ventures between strong-willed people, it didn't work out for them. But it doubled the number of tasting experiences for wine lovers.
Back then, Wisnovsky, an efficiency-seeking civil engineer who studied wine, dusted off Peter Britt's 1850s Valley View label, the state's first winery. The Wisnovsky family now grows grapes on 76 acres outside of Jacksonville and makes wine for the Valley View and Anna Maria labels as well as other wine producers, restaurants and eno-trophy seekers.
"We bottle 'shiners,' wine without labels, and apply private labels by the order," says Mike Wisnovsky, who with his brother, Mark, is the second generation to run the business with John Guerrero serving as the winemaker since 1985.
Mike Wisnovsky says that instead of restaurants, retailers, hotels and country clubs waiting for a wine rep to come to their door, he works with them to find out what they need. If it's a house chardonnay to sell at $5 a glass, the Wisnovsky brothers will make it.
They still grow chardonnay that their dad planted. Its success allowed them a decade ago to override their family's caution gene and plant then-obscure, still-hard-to-pronounce French viognier and Spanish tempranillo.
"We don't choose the varieties; the varieties choose us," says Mike Wisnovsky. "People like to jump on the latest fad, but if the varietal won't produce every year, it won't work no matter how popular it is."
The same reasoned thinking has the Wisnovskys rolling their eyes at the boast that a wine is made from "estate-grown" grapes. That's a marketing ploy, says Mike Wisnovsky dismissively.
"That my dad found the best place to grow grapes was a shot in the dark, even though he had a 100 years of weather reports to consult," says Wisnovsky. "We make our vineyard as good as possible, but if we can get better fruit someplace else, we will get it. We have no ego."
Wisnovsky says his dad, who died in 1980, would be shocked by the growth in the Applegate Valley. When he launched Valley View, there were as many wineries across the state as those that now dot tiny Bear Creek. And there were only 8 acres of viognier in the world back then. Now, it's on many wine lists, though Wisnovsky says many of his customers still refer to "vee-yoh-n'yea" as "that V wine."
But most of all, he thinks his dad would be surprised to know that his family is not resting on past awards. Working the same land, using some of the same equipment and with a steady winemaker, the brothers still want to stay one step ahead. Like me, at the parade, in front of the speedsters carrying the politicians without brakes.
TESTED: Portland-based wine writer Katherine Cole has released Oregon Wine, the App that works in a wireless-free zone, also know as wine country. I, being of the typewriter generation, appreciate that the app knew where I was located and circled the winery wagons around me. Although only eight Rogue Valley tasting rooms are profiled among the 111 included here, Cole offers a witty history, suggests wines to splurge on and recommends places nearby to eat and sleep. Over time, she'll add to the app, available through iTunes ($2.99) for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.
I tested another wine-related innovation: Pocket-sized wipes that wash away teeth-staining wine with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and other tried-and-true remedies. What was most helpful about Borracha's Wine Wipes ($6.95 for 20) was that the website confirmed my greatest fear: Acid in white wine stains teeth worse than red wine. Will this change my drinking habits? No. I won't even smile less when I'm walking in the parade. Smugly, I know my teeth still are whiter than George Washington's.
EVENT: The Applegate Food Pantry benefits from your purchase of a $25 ticket to taste local beef, goat cheese and bread with wine at 10 Applegate wineries from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 14. The Applegate Feast stretches from one end of the valley to the other, to those with bocce courts, Frisbee-able grass lawns and other outside activities. Call Cricket Hill Winery, Devitt Winery, LongSword Vineyard, Plaisance Ranch, Rosella's Winery, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Soloro Vineyards, Troon, Valley View or Wooldridge Creek Winery for information or see www.applegatewinetrail.com.
TASTED: The Brits at Ashland's meat-crazed Smithfields Restaurant and Bar are throwing their first Fourth of July party by barbecuing brisket, ribs, chicken and hot links. On the menu are wines from Cowhorn Vineyard, Irvine Vineyards, RoxyAnn Winery, Troon and Quady North. My choice: Herb Quady's 2009 Merlot ($45) bottled exclusively for Smithfields under The Hammers label, a nod to Chef Neil Clooney's love of a certain London soccer team. Try it before you take a turn on the 30-foot-long water slide.
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email email@example.com.