New school year: Time to try something new

It's been decades since I put on shiny, new shoes and headed off to my first day of school, greeting wriggling classmates, a recharged teacher and, yes, a stern-faced principal I'd eventually have to debate about my unsatisfactory conduct.

Although my memories of math equations are fuzzy, I clearly remember the eagerness and anxiety attached to learning something new in an uncharted environment.

To this day, like many adults, I am a perpetual student, placing my clueless-yet-hopeful self in settings ripe for knowledge but usually devoid of chalkboards, tests and the threat of detention.

When I stumbled upon this wine region years ago, I skipped from one tasting room to another, haphazardly soaking up information about grapes, who grew which ones and who made wine.

Recent Rogue Valley transplant Margaret Pashko is becoming familiar with the local wine scene in a more methodical way.

Days after arriving here in May, she jumped on the Applegate Valley Wine Trail's Spring Uncorked Barrel Tour, visiting as many of the 17 tasting rooms as she could in six hours (the fall tour is Nov. 24; see www.applegatewinetrail.com).

Since then, she's ventured off to such eno pockets as Dancin Vineyards outside of Jacksonville and nearby South Stage Cellars. She's mapping out future visits to the Upper Rogue, Illinois Valley and Bear Creek clusters of tasting rooms.

"If I'm going to live here, I want to find out about this industry, which is an economic engine and a point of pride for wine producers," she told me as we huddled over a bottle of Irvine Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir ($45). "Wine is intriguing. I will never be an enophile, but I want to be a little more conversant about it and know how to pair wine with foods when I entertain."

Like the 'A' student she probably was in school, Margaret even enrolled in extra-credit classes: sniff-and-sip sensory seminars taught by wine expert Peter Adesman and Dwayne Bershaw, associate director of Southern Oregon Wine Institute.

She also has become a member of the Southern Oregon Newcomers Wine Group, which gathers at least once a month at tasting rooms or private homes to sample vintages from around the world, swap stories and get to know each other.

The social group has more than 100 members, and more are welcome to join, says Chuck Reiling, who founded the club last year with his wife, Diane. He posts information on the Southern Oregon Newcomers Wine Group Facebook page and can be contacted at chuck@reilingteam.com.

In October, the group may visit the new Belle Fiore Winery, an expansive Italian villa and French chateau on Ashland's Emigrant Creek.

"When you're new to an area, it's nice to join a group in which everyone has a common interest," says Margaret. "It sparks friendships."

Margaret, may I suggest you meet Sandi Garoutte, the delightful, resourceful owner of Rosella's Vineyard & Winery, smack in the middle of the popular Troon Vineyard-Serra Vineyards-Schmidt Family Vineyards triangle.

Sandi knows all about starting a new adventure and bouncing above all the speed bumps along the way to success.

In 1998, she was working in insurance, and her husband, Rex, was an electrical engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Rex already was recognized for his brewing abilities, but he wanted to make wine. Both of them were interested in cashing out of the urban pressure cooker and returning to Sandi's Rogue Valley roots.

A friend of a friend discovered a vineyard for sale on Missouri Flat Road, and the Garouttes signed the deal weeks before harvest.

Harsh reality quickly set in. Powdery mildew encrusted the chardonnay grapes. Faulty water pipes flooded their house five times, and you don't want the details on the misfiring septic tank.

The next few years weren't rosy either. A grape buyer didn't pay his bill, a freeze wiped out most of the chardonnay grapes and the price tanked to $500 a ton.

Surprisingly undeterred, Sandi and Rex kept moving forward. If they couldn't make money selling cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and other grapes, they would make wine. Rex took enology classes at the University of California Davis. They built a winery and a tasting room, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, and by appointment.

Now, they produce about 1,400 cases a year. Their $30 2010 Reserve Zinfandel probably will sell out within a month of its release, but they also have $18 citrusy white and food-friendly red blends at the tasting room. Their wine also is sold at Medford's Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub, Pomodori Italian Restaurant and Rosario's Italian Restaurant, as well as other restaurants and wine shops.

Months after the couple moved here, their son was born. He's a hard-working freshman at Hidden Valley High, determined and willing to accept the next adventure. But what else would you expect from a boy whose parents named him Rowdy?

EVENT: The eight Bear Creek Boutique Wineries (www.bearcreekwineries.com) are hosting the third annual Wine and Vine Tour ($25) from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14-15. On Friday, Sept. 13, Weisinger's of Ashland is pairing a seven-course, $65 dinner by chef Doug Todd with estate wines made by Eric Weisinger (www.weisingers.com).

TASTED: You can't go wrong with a bottle of wine made by versatile vintner Bryan Wilson. The three judges with Master of Wine credentials, who blind-tasted wines made from Southern Oregon grapes, awarded Wilson 12 World of Wine medals. He earned Best of Shows for the Ellis family's Pebblestone Cellars 2012 Viognier and Wilson's own label Cuckoo's Nest Cellars 2012 Fizze. He earned double gold for Cuckoo's Nest 2012 Pinot Gris and the Gerber family's Foris Vineyards 2012 Pinot Blanc. He also received a gold for the Fernandes family's Serra Vineyards 2008 Bendock Estate Pinot Noir and silvers for a riesling, cabernet franc and syrah.

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


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