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  • This property is just fine for wine

  • Irvine Vineyards, hidden a mile and a half up Ashland's Emigrant Creek Road, is a little piece of almost perfect terroir for pinot noir and chardonnay.
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  • Irvine Vineyards, hidden a mile and a half up Ashland's Emigrant Creek Road, is a little piece of almost perfect terroir for pinot noir and chardonnay.
    When Doug and Dionne Irvine bought 80 acres straddling the steep-sided valley, they were entranced by the natural beauty of native pine and oak and outcroppings of limestone and sandstone. They built their dream house, an eco-friendly country chateau, for themselves and their two young daughters.
    They soon became intrigued by the burgeoning Rogue Valley wine industry. They asked local climatologist and viticulture expert Greg Jones to do a study of the property. He told them their microclimate and the decomposed limestone soil was best suited to the grapes of France's Cote d'Or region in Burgundy.
    They planted pinot noir and chardonnay vines at elevations of about 2,100 feet, on east-facing slopes sheltered from the hot afternoon sun. Southern Oregon's warm and dry climate creates more degree days, giving the grapes time for more consistent, late ripening.
    "We wanted to create the best pinot noir and chardonnay possible," says Doug.
    To do that, they assembled their team. The winemaker is Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co. in Medford. "We love Linda's passionate dedication to natural winemaking," says Doug. "She allows the grape to express itself, which is perhaps the hardest thing to do working with a grape as temperamental as pinot noir."
    The vineyard manager is Chris Hubert, a Rogue Valley vineyard-managing veteran. "Chris is committed to sustainable viticulture. We will be getting our LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification this year." LIVE is the gold standard for sustainability in Northwest viticulture.
    They have 28 acres planted on the estate and also buy some fruit from other quality Rogue Valley pinot noir vineyards, including a next-door neighbor's nine acres.
    "We use only the best of the crop from our vines. We barrel-ferment using only French oak," says Doug. "We don't use chemicals in our winemaking," says Doug.
    The 2010 Pinot Noir ($35) has the aroma of Bing cherries with subtle flavors of cherry and cranberry, with earthy notes of cardamom and cocoa. It has a lovely complexity now, and the wine will continue to develop over time in the cellar.
    The 2011 Chardonnay ($32) — with a limited production of less than 100 cases — is redolent of apple, pear and vanilla bean with a hint of citrus. It has a creamy finish in the traditional Burgundy style, rather than the more "oaky" one of California.
    In September 2013, Doug and Dionne hired Michael Donovan as Irvine Vineyards' managing director, overseeing sales and operations. Donovan spent nine years as managing director and director of national sales and marketing for RoxyAnn Winery in Medford. He owned Ashland's Chateaulin Restaurant and Wine Shop from 1973 to 2002.
    Most of Irvine Vineyards' production is sold to local restaurants, although the wines can be found on the shelves of Ashland's Market of Choice. "It is important right now to build the brand," says Donovan. It is on the wine list at Smithfields, Liquid Assets, The Peerless, Coquina, Amuse and Larks in Ashland and at The Twisted Cork in Grants Pass.
    A tasting room for Irvine Vineyards is scheduled to open in downtown Ashland late in 2014 as part of The Vine, a 10-unit boutique condominium hotel on Lithia Way. "The tasting room will be part of the lobby-lounge," says Doug. "We see it as a gathering place for both locals and visitors. We want to show off local vineyards and wineries as well as our own wines."
    They also are planning a production facility and another tasting room on the hills above their vineyard.
    "We are planning to eventually produce 6,000 cases from the estate vineyards, so we will need our own winemaking facility," says Doug.
    "But we also want to share the unique beauty of this spot that drew us here in the beginning."
    Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net
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