Barn raisin' or wineglass raisin', it's country to me

I've made no secret of the fact that I am a transplant.

Once an ornery city girl hankerin' for clean livin', I moved to the Rogue Valley eight years ago. Here, I've met some fine kinfolk and have since been havin' a granny-slappin' good time.

So it is with neighborly goodwill that I occasionally go a'callin' on other transplants to see how they're farin' in this fair land.

Recently, I stopped by to introduce myself to Krissa and Scott Fernandes at their spankin' new Serra Vineyards tasting room in the Applegate Valley.

With her bouncy, blond ringlets and smile, Krissa looks like country singer Faith Hill. Scott is no cowboy hat-wearin' Tim McGraw, but instead a gen-you-wine farmer.

I've also made no secret of the fact that I am as happy as a lispy teenage girl without her retainer when I get to say "howdy" to farmers. Farmers plant stuff in the ground to sprout something that I can later eat or drink. I bury my money in the dirt outside my back door, and squirrels dig it up and gamble it away at Seven Feathers Casino.

Anyway, the Fernandeses moved here with their three children two years ago from California's Central Valley, leaving hundreds of acres of almond and olive trees to be tended by relatives.

I like their style.

Their contemporary, hilltop building is sturdily made of American steel. Towering windows frame views of old vines producing syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot grapes, and young tempranillo and malbec vines.

Preserved near the bottom of the sloping landscape is a peewee schoolhouse. This once was used as an Aloha-themed tasting room by the late Frank Ferreira, a lovable, stubborn, self-taught vintner of Hawaiian and Portuguese descent.

Before he passed away during the 2008 harvest, Frank lived here in a paradise of his own creation. He maintained a mesmerizing herd of miniature Sicilian donkeys and hundreds of exotic birds.

Strangers who paused long enough at 222 Missouri Flat Road in Grants Pass got a dose of Frank's laid-back philosophy. He didn't believe in computers, cellphones or irrigation.

Inside the rough-and-tumble tasting room, Frank stood underneath handmade signs: "Wanted: Sugar Mama" and "I hope my ship comes in before my dock rots!"

Big and bearded and always in denim overalls, he poured tastes of his unfined and unfiltered Applegate Red wines from bottles labeled with a drawing of a donkey. And he bragged about his dry-farmed grapes that won awards for winemaking neighbor Herb Quady of Quady North.

While Serra owners Krissa and Scott upgraded and expanded the existing vineyard, installed an elaborate irrigation system and constructed a 3,500-square-foot winery and tasting room, they spared Frank's humble tasting room. Today, it's called Frank's Brew Shak, and it's where beer lovers can quaff a flight of craft brews.

Visitors to the new tasting room, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, also can have a chilled beer from Caldera, Ninkasi, Southern Oregon and Walkabout brewing companies. Or they can ask resident sommelier Liz Wan to set up a taste, glass or bottle of Serra Vineyards 2010 Chardonnay ($24) or 2010 Dry Rose ($22), made from syrah and chardonnay grapes.

To toast Frank, savor his 2007 Syrah ($30) and 2007 Padre Red ($28), a Bordeaux blend.

When you're through enjoyin' the company here, the Serra crew will send you down the road to neighbors Rosella's Vineyard, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Troon Vineyard and Wooldridge Creek Vineyard & Winery.

When it was time for me to go, I let Krissa and Scott know that I was headin' a speck away, over to the Applegate Valley Ranch for the famous Thursday night summer barbecue.

Like the friendly farmer he is, Scott made sure I knew the way by drivin' in front of me, then bringin' me over to greet host Missy Holstrom on the lawn of her plantation-style mansion.

Scott wasn't wearin' a cowboy hat, but he tipped his head nonetheless when I thanked him for his right-good hospitality. Then I raced to find a place in line for grilled tri-tip and chicken, crisp salad with strawberries and crumbled blue cheese, red potatoes, beans, garlic bread and peanut-butter cupcakes ($14). Local beers and wines are sold by the glass.

Meet friendly neighbors (even if they're not your own) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays at the ranch, 13100 N. Applegate Road, Grants Pass.

TASTED: My neighbors are nice, forgivin' people. (I swear that is not me screechin' at midnight "Crazy for tryin', crazy for cryin' and I'm crazy for lovin' you.") But the Applegate Valley folks treat me like family, even though I'm strange.

Before word about me spread, I was invited to dinner at Andy and Peggy Pearl's vineyard home. I had spoken to them only over the phone in the past. But for some reason, they thought I'd enjoy sittin' under their shady trees, eatin' salmon and listenin' to a trio sing the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack. Oh, and taste tempranillo and viognier from their winemaking neighbors.

The Pearls were spot on. I had a great time learnin' about the five clones of pinot noir they grow in their 30-acre Redlands Vineyard and then sell to vintners here and in the Willamette Valley. I also enjoyed sippin' Soloro Vineyards 2007 Syrah ($22) and Plaisance Ranch 2011 Pinot Noir ($25). People should invite me to hang out with farmers anytime. I promise not to sing.

EVENTS: Wine from the Upper Rogue wineries — Agate Ridge Vineyard, Cliff Creek Cellars, Folin Cellars, Kriselle Cellars, LaBrasseur Vineyard — and others will be poured Thursday, July 18, at Best of Britt ($75), a dinner benefit in Jacksonville for Britt Education programs (www.brittfest.org/performances/bobbenefit).

Del Rio Vineyards & Winery, also part of the Upper Rogue vino bloc, is shining the spotlight on its Rock Point Wines Saturday, July 27. This is the only day this year to buy a four-pour, $10 taste of the label's 2011 Pinot Noir, 2011 Pinot Gris, River Rock Red and River Rock White while surrounded by 200 acres of vines at 52 N. River Road in Gold Hill.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com


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