My most impatient self is asking — pleading — with Wayne Hitchings of Red Hill Vineyard to answer a simple question. But he just shakes his head.
Come on, Wayne, before I bean you with soft corks, tell me what is your favorite wine? Just one that summarizes the quality of grapes grown across your 450 acres?
Pinot noir? Chardonnay? Snap, snap, Wayne. I'm on deadline. Zinfandel? Pinot gris? How hard can it be to single out just one? Cabernet sauvignon? Riesling? Once you pick one — Merlot? Gewurztraminer? — I can say goodbye to the entire Red Hill, Douglas County, Oregon, American Viticulture Area (considering you're the sole vineyard here) and head south on Interstate 5 to my home turf where coveted wine appellations are shared.
So boil it down, Wayne. I'm a testy journalist begging for your immediate breviloquence. Other people have complied.
During interviews, I have asked fashion designer Giorgio Armani which was his favorite creation, serial acquisitioner Donald Trump which Miss Universe contestant he preferred and author Francoise Gilot whether artist Pablo Picasso or vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk was the better partner, and if she liked her daughter, Paloma Picasso, more than her son. They all gave me epigrammatic answers, some of which were printable.
Wayne, it's not a lame question. It's not like when people ask me what I think my favorite story is after decades of writing. As if I could choose just one, I puff.
Here, we're just talking about wine, and in that arena, I operate on grabbing succinct statements about a grape, wine or region. If I try Delfino Vineyards 2010 Tempranillo ($25), my pea brain pops up with "spicy." To me, Domaine Paradox 2009 Pinot Noir ($30) is "seductive," and South Stage Cellars 2008 Syrah ($27) is "caressing." (Maybe I have spent too much time alone with my bottles.)
Wine instructor and author Kevin Zraly ("Windows on the World Complete Wine Course") gets it. He doles out wineglass charms that make simple claims such as "tart," "off," "bitter" and "tired" (Wait! Was he speaking to me or about me?).
And perfumer and wine consultant Alexandre Schmitt encouraged people attending his olfaction seminar at the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium in February to just say "fresh" or "warm" or "sweet." I gave Schmitt a standing ovation when he shot down a woman in the audience who compared a nutty scent to "myrrh" while a guy likened it to a baseball card. Winetasting doesn't have to be so esoteric, he said. Bravo!
So make it short and sweet, Wayne. A Tweet-style answer. Pronto. Pick one of the dozens of wines made from your grapes. Maybe the one that has won the most medals, scored the highest, sold the best. Give me a quick spin, not long lectures, on the importance of "terroir," a snooty French term that refers to the characteristics of a patch of dirt.
I don't have time today to draw on my finest Pepe Le Pew accent and say "tehr wahr," let alone hear you explain that this spot is the only one in the Umpqua Valley to have pebbly, volcanic Jory soils to the depth of 20 feet amid landforms and slopes that rise to 1,200 feet, creating a grape-friendly microclimate. This exclusive mix of Mother Nature makes for tight, well-formed clusters that increase the flavors and structure, adding to the ageability of your Sienna Ridge Estate red and white wines ($15 to $25), including just-released 2009 sparkling wines.
Enough facts. Speak, Wayne, speak! Stop muddying up this conversation by trying to make me pay attention. I'm looking for three words, maybe four, that neatly sum up your entire career as a grape grower and wine producer.
Instead, Wayne invites me into his truck, dusted in so much red soil it looks rusted, and takes me on a bumpy ride up and down these Oakland hillsides. Near the top, we cast our eyes across a vineyard he has nurtured for 22 years. The soil and steepness form an oxidized Slip 'n Slide when it rains. But when the skies clear, the water quietly disappears. "On a sunny day," says Wayne, "it hurts your eyes to look at the bright-red soil."
We get back into the truck, and Wayne pushes down on the gas pedal with boots crusted in red dirt. We head to the Sienna Ridge Estate tasting room, a former 1846 homestead he restored off I-5. Here we taste a soft-tannin, bright-blackberry-fruit 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24), Granny Smith applelike 2008 Riesling ($18) and a citrusy 2010 Pinot Blanc ($17).
"They all have a delightful mineral finish," he says, with a "don't-cha-think?" nod. I sigh. I turn to this quiet overachiever. Why didn't you just say so, Wayne?
TASTED: Although Wayne Hitchings culls grapes from a rare, single-vineyard appellation, many wine producers cross AVA lines.
Bob Denman makes Slagle Creek Vineyards 2007 Claret ($19), 2008 Syrah ($19), 2009 Merlot ($19), 2010 White Blend ($18) and soon-to-be-released 2011 Port ($19) from Applegate Valley-only grapes grown on his property or his neighbors'. His wines that contain tempranillo use grapes grown in a small vineyard he helps manage in the hills between Jacksonville and Central Point. Those bottles have labels printed with the larger Rogue Valley appellation.
Denman's wines can be tasted at Matt Sorensen's LongSword Vineyards outside of Jacksonville, along with neighbor Rich Lorelli's wines. Lorelli's 2006 Quattro Foglie is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel and cabernet franc (around $20).
EVENT: Wines from Troon Vineyard, Wild Wines and other local producers will flow at The Pear A Fare (pear-a-fare.com) Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13. Ten taste tickets cost $15. It's free to wander inside the tent, where Harry & David and other producers of wines, artisan foods and brews will offer tastes and sell products. Friday night's Smudge Pot Stroll ($30) includes stops at 17 downtown Medford restaurants offering bites paired with wine.
Jeanne and Jim Davidian of Caprice Vineyards outside of Jacksonville will serve 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), a silver-medal winner at the 2012 Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival, with Sunrise Cafe's culinary creation during the stroll, and 2011 Viognier ($21) and Cabernet Sauvignon Blush ($19) in the tent.
Linda Donovan of L. Donovan Wines will pour Late Bloomer 2011 Dry Gewurztraminer ($9) and L. Donovan 2008 Tempranillo ($20). "I just bottled a yummy sauvignon blanc that if you ask for it, I'll provide a taste," she says.
Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email firstname.lastname@example.org