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  • Oh, how wine warms the snowed soul

  • Please don't judge me because I'm a snow wimp.
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  • Please don't judge me because I'm a snow wimp.
    Growing up in a desert, I barely knew what to do with the occasional water falling from the sky, let alone storybook snowflakes. The only things white and fluffy I remember were bubbles I'd create by blowing air through a straw into my frosty Alta Dena milk glass.
    So as an adult, when I see real snow on the ground, it feels as familiar as a moonscape, and I walk on it with much less bouncy grace than Neil Armstrong.
    Undaunted, though, at my inability to remain upright on glideable surfaces, I'm trying to learn to ski, and bless those Mount Ashland instructors who have talked me down from that death-defying bunny slope. Or worse: lifted me after a fall.
    Shaking muck from my hair-cicles, I usually waddle over to the T-bar Lounge for an apres-face-plant pick-me-up: french fries and Mt. Ashland Merlot ($15 a bottle) made by Valley View Winery.
    With a few notches in my snow knickers, I recently accepted an invitation to walk on 8 feet of blizzard-born ice near Crater Lake. Strapped into Bigfoot's snowshoes, I smacked down powder as I followed Larry Smith, a retired forest ranger and fifth-grade teacher who knows how to make a story interesting to an easy-to-bore group.
    From Larry, I learned about the animals and insects living beneath the snow and specifically — and in great detail — the inventive way in which bears hold everything in during their months of hibernation.
    After that hunger-inducing chat, I went to Beckie's, a cafe in Prospect named after a man, and gobbled a burger and swigged Crater Lake Cellars chardonnay ($5.50 a glass) before returning home to my quilt of activated packets of toe warmers.
    Unbeknownst to Larry, he had awakened in me a fascination for creatures that can survive the bitter cold. I thus attempted to communicate with Rogue Valley residents who confess to having lived in Alaska.
    The first one, Vicki Nickerson, appears normal enough. I have seen her several times at wine events, blond and bubbly, and pouring samples of her Aurora Vines merlot ($15 to $23 a bottle) and not revealing an inkling of her alienness.
    Get to know her, however, and she'll describe the bunny boots and wolf-fur hat she wore when she lived in Fairbanks before buying a relatively sun-soaked 87-acre property in Talent.
    Sit on her tasting deck overlooking endless pinot noir, pinot gris and tempranillo vines here, and you would never think to ask if she has dealt with pipes bursting, tennis shoes snapping and car tires flattening into squares when the thermometer raced south of zero. But she has.
    In Fairbanks, she owned a wine shop and says that when customers were chilled to the bone, she sold a lot of port and red wine. "It's full-bodied and has lots of layers," she says of red wine, even though at first I thought she was referring to me.
    She continues: "It isn't a light, acidic, summertime cooler like some white wines. Red wine is bulkier, and it warms you up. It feels like a hug."
    This month, she's releasing a 2009 Old Barn Blend ($23) made from merlot, syrah and petit verdot that's sure to shimmy the shivers out of your thermal skivvies.
    Keeping warm was a serious undertaking when Laura Lotspeich of Trium Wine in Talent and her bush-pilot husband, Kurt, lived on the Yukon River, Kodiak and in Anchorage.
    Long woollies were topped with turtlenecks and flight pants, vests and parkas. Scarves muffled noses, and fur-lined mittens protected fingers at minus 60 F. Or as Laura scientifically describes the temperature: "Just damn cold."
    To chase the chill, she'd serve caribou "in every imaginable form" — I can't even think of one — and oven-roasted moose larded with smoky bacon that "warmed the house as well as the stomach," she says.
    She'd make something called Russian tea from tea, spices and Tang, adding a shot of brandy for afternoon tea parties, as well as Thermos-ready, spiced and mulled wine for snowshoeing parties and cross-country skiing.
    Hmmmm. Cross-country skiing? I can do that. Then it's on to dog sledding. I believe there can be an Iditarod in my future if the caribou steaks and cabernet cases show up.
    TASTED: Long before I began covering Southern Oregon wine years ago, I heard about the owners of Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub because they were early, true believers in local wine-grape growers and winemakers.
    Jake Allmaras, Kristi Haavig and son Ben were among the first to support Applegate winemakers Kara Olmo and Greg Paneitz's environmentally friendly wine kegs filled with their Wooldridge Creek Winery chardonnay and zinfandel.
    Today, all the wine poured by the glass ($5 to $6.75) and the majority of wines sold in bottles at the Medford pizzeria are locally produced.
    Oh, did I mention the family lived in Alaska for 25 years and modeled their restaurant after something called Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria in Anchorage? Those snow showoffs are everywhere.
    EVENT: While bears and other lucky souls get to hibernate for the winter, tasting-room owners are busy shlepping their cases to wine festivals. Former Alaskans Steve and Christy Simmons, who own Misty Oaks Vineyard in Oakland, Ore., know the land of the midnight sun and working 24/7 if necessary.
    In their winter "down" season, they will be taking their wine on the road, showing off 2009 Jones Road Cabernet Franc ($28) and 2009 Viper Train Malbec ($30) at the Portland Seafood & Wine Festival (Feb. 1-2), Newport Seafood & Wine Festival (Feb. 21-24), the Greatest of the Grape gala March 2 in Roseburg, followed by the McMinnville Wine & Food Classic ("Sip") March 8, where wine lovers can sample whites and reds under the mammoth wings of the Spruce Goose at Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
    With my newfound survival skills, I'm heading out to Newport for the legendary wine festival that has stood up against tornados and frat boys since 1978. Mush!
    Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.
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