Amid a cluster of Bear Creek-area tasting rooms where people picnic and linger for hours, winemaker Linda Donovan has opened a different type of wine salesroom.
There are no cushy seats in which to flop. No wine sold by the glass. No lawn for Frisbee contests, rock concerts or food trucks.
Linda Donovan's tasting room at Valley View Orchard, 1800 N. Valley View Road in Ashland, is open from 1 to 6 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. For more information, call 541-621-1589 or visit www.ldonovanwines.com.
Tasting room amenities are described in the Southern Oregon Winery Association's listing at www.sorwa.org.
More like a classroom than a party, it's a place dedicated to discussing the pleasures and process of wine.
Here, with a fetching view of far-reaching vineyards, patrons are invited to sample rare varietals, hear about the winemaker's philosophy, and then wander off to savor the next adventure.
"I think people want to try a variety of wines, purchase them, then continue on to other tasting rooms," says Donovan, a longtime producer in the state's wine industry.
Two weeks ago, she opened a wine-only tasting room next to her sister's Valley View Orchard farm stand in Ashland and already experts are praising her bridled approach.
Because, despite looking like a wine bar, a tasting room is not about relaxing over an alcoholic beverage, but a marketing center, they say.
Wineries are lucky to have a product people want to learn about during their leisure time, says Craig Root, a St. Helena, Calif.-based business consultant who was hired by the Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association last spring to give a day-long seminar on enhancing the tasting room experience.
"Target would love to get you in the back room and tell you about their inventory," he jokes.
Tasting room visitors hear about the wine's special characteristics, the owner's passion and the benefits of a club membership, all while sniffing and sampling the goods.
Most tasting rooms throughout Southern Oregon bump up the experience by encouraging visitors to hang out near grapevines, sipping a glass or bottle of wine bought on the spot.
Special events — from live music to grape stomps — lure in more wine buyers.
The flip side of the events-centric tasting room is the spare style where the focus is never off the wine.
This is Donovan's plan for her tasting room, which is open Thursdays through Sundays afternoons.
Her vision is shared by many in Napa, Willamette and Walla Walla valleys and other wine regions.
The wine-centered concept prevails because tourists with serious questions and limited time want to take in as many wineries as they can.
But there are opportunities for all styles of tasting rooms, says Dixie Lee Huey, a wine marketing expert with Trellis Growth Partners of Camas, Wash., which has clients across the Northwest.
"Each winery strives to think critically about the guest experience and design the environment to attract the customers they want," says Huey, who recently surveyed wine producers in Oregon, Washington and California on their sales and marketing strategies.
"A customer comes in with a certain amount of disposable income," she says. "Do they spend it on wine or a fun vibe?"
A tasting room such as Donovan's, she says, is staking a claim as one dedicated to attracting people wanting an educational approach to wine, rather than wine being a part of the experience.
"Traffic and how good the wine is will determine success," says Huey, adding that this style works for wineries with good reputations and higher-priced wines. "Linda Donovan has a great reputation. Every experience should support who winery owners want to be in the minds of their audience."
Ashland neighbor Al Silbowitz of Grizzly Peak Winery, who hosts concerts outside his winery, likes the distinctive styles.
"We're delighted to have Linda's no-frills tasting room approach added to our area's wine bouquet," he says, before ticking off amenities offered by the Bear Creek Boutique Wineries Association.
"From 2Hawk Winery [in Medford], where you can get a leisurely sit-down snack with a glass of wine, to [Ashland's] Dana Campbell Vineyards, with its commanding view of the valley, visitors have choices to create a custom wine tour," he says.
Last Friday afternoon at Donovan's tasting room, all the action was at the wooden counter.
Standing along one side was a group of 30something women who had wandered in after picking organic peaches from the property's century-old orchards.
During an hour, they tasted from an ever-changing lineup culled from Donovan's dozen wines, while Donovan explained her decisions that determined the flavors.
On that day, samples were given from bottles of Late Bloomer's 2011 gewürztraminer ($10), Le Jeune Chien's 2011 sauvignon blanc ($15), Long Walk Vineyard's 2010 zinfandel ($25) and 2010 mourvedre ($25).
When the group was ready to leave with bottles to take home, Donovan punched in the sale on her iPad and swiped the credit card in front of them.
"I need to keep things simple and efficient," says Donovan, who is the fourth largest wine producer in the Rogue Valley. "I want to be able to talk, pour and handle purchases without having to walk away to a cash register."
Next to the group were Bob and Mary Jo Moore of Medford, longtime members of Donovan's wine club, called FOLD (Friends of Linda Donovan). Club members used to buy her different wines at the dock of her custom crush winery, Pallet Wine Co., in Medford.
Now, the Ashland tasting room is the only direct-sales outlet for all five of her labels, including the premium L. Donovan brand.
Her new 700-square-foot space has a steel roll-up door that opens up to postcard-like landscapes of peaches, cherries and apple trees.
Thirteen years ago, Donovan and her sister, Kathy O'Leary, added 12 acres of syrah, grenache and zinfandel grapevines and they introduced new varietals to the Rogue Valley: mourvedre, cinsault and carignane.
"I moved to Oregon to plant these vineyards, so it's a place that I'm passionate about it," says Donovan, a U.C. Davis enology graduate who has worked at prestigious California and Oregon wineries. "It's a well cared for vineyard."
Fast forward: The first day she opened her tasting room, she sold out of wine. The first week, she found more buyers for her $35 L. Donovan 2009 pinotage than the $8 Pick Me white blend or merlot.
"After tasting the pinotage, people understand it's unique," says Donovan of the 300 bottles of wine she made from grapes grown in Talent. "Here, with me, they can taste the value and hear the story."
She says she feels comfortable in the charming setting she created from a fruit-packing area that once didn't have walls or a finished ceiling.
"I don't have the experience of serving food and other beverages," she says, smiling, "but I do know about my wines and I can talk to people interested in what I do."
Wine consultant Root thinks she's on the right track.
"People remember a visit to a tasting room more than any other form of advertising and this 'just the facts, ma'am' style is another item in a smorgasbord," he says. "A variety of tasting rooms with a variety of experiences makes a region more enticing."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email@example.com.