Welcome to Notes From the Crush, the Mail Tribune's new wine column. It will visit the new — and revisit the old — wineries of Southern Oregon to sample wines and focus on what owners, growers and winemakers want to achieve as their labels' distinguishing characteristics.
What sort of personality do they strive for in their wines? From where and what do they take their inspiration? Which of their wines achieve that goal?
Notes From the Crush will explore all of this and encourage both the wine connoisseur and casual wine drinker to visit our local wineries and try our wines — and agree or disagree.
The term "crush" describes the process of newly harvested grapes tumbling into a press, where their juice is extracted to undergo its first fermentation. The crush represents the nexus: the end of the growing process and the beginning of winemaking. Notes From the Crush is a shorthand description for a column that will cover all aspects of wine.
This writer's "crush" on wine started with a wine-tasting club in a graduate school close to New York City. Once a month, a Manhattan wine merchant would come with a vertical tasting of reds and whites from a specific European wine-growing region.
I tried French wines from Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley, Burgundy and Provence; Italian wines from Tuscany; Spanish wines from Rioja; German wines from Alsace and the Rhine. The late 1960s was a time when very good European wines were still affordable on a student budget.
As European wines' popularity in the United States caused prices to skyrocket, California wines rose to the challenge of quality. Wines from the Napa Valley excelled first. A trip through Napa then was like visiting long-lost family. Award-winning wineries beckoned with free tastings and competitive prices.
Napa's success was followed by fine wineries in Sonoma, the Alexander Valley and the Anderson Valley. Then, outstanding wines appeared from the Santa Inez Valley near Santa Barbara and the Paso Robles region, nestled in a valley just east of the Coast Range in Central California. These labels were joined by outstanding wines from Oregon and Washington by the 1980s and 1990s.
Sampling good — and not so good — wines develops knowledge of taste and a curiosity about how wine grapes are grown and how wine is made.
Oregon locales east of the Coast Range and west of the Cascades have the ideal combination of climate and soil to produce exceptional wines. So far, pinot noir of the Willamette Valley is the most well-known. But the wines of Southern Oregon — the Rogue Valley, Illinois Valley and Umpqua Valley — are beginning to win accolades in national competitions and from respected wine publications.
Southern Oregon is becoming a wine-country destination. Come travel that country and sample its wines with this column as your guide.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.