PHOENIX — The stepping stones of change and transition are evident as Pebblestone Cellars flows into a new era.
Pebblestone drew acclaim for its Best of Class accolades for its 2014 Ellis Vineyards Viognier at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition last winter. This fall, a long-awaited 2,000-square-foot tasting room will open on the estate located five minutes west of Highway 99 between Camp Baker and Pioneer roads. Come harvest time, Pebblestone will split its crush and winemaking activities, sending its red wine grapes to Naumes Crush & Fermentation in Medford for the first time, while continuing to process its white wines at Foris Winery in Cave Junction.
"We've noticed an uptick of visitors over last year," said Pebblestone owner Dick Ellis. "Our parking lot has eight spaces, people are passing us by because there's not enough space in our tasting room unless you come on Tuesday or Wednesday."
With tourists packing the cramped quarters, which opened in September 2010 off Camp Baker Road, there is no time better to build than now.
"We actually wanted to start building a permanent tasting room back in 2012," he said.
But in the agribusiness world, there are always unforeseen obstacles.
"The economy for one thing," Ellis said. "The lending climate was not that great at the time to finance the tasting room."
Next came the regulatory approvals from Jackson County.
"Getting over all the hurdles we needed to for approval took time," he said. "We learned a lot about what it takes from a commercial standpoint and what the county's expectations were. We have a better understanding of what needs to be done on exclusive-farm-use property. I think everybody learns as they do that, reaching an agreement on what needs to be done and go forward."
The tasting room will feature a south-facing covered outdoor deck with views of Wagner Butte and the Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Jerry Toney Construction, whose credits include Folin Cellars' winery and tasting room as well as expansion work at Roxy Ann Winery, has nearly completed framing.
"We're hoping to be in by the end of October," Ellis said.
The vineyards were planted in 1997, six years before Dick and Pat Ellis acquired the property.
"We inherited a restoration project," Dick Ellis said. "Part of the vines had failed, and it took me six years to redo the trellising and getting the vineyard back into a productive state."
Three additional acres were planted in 2015 and four more this year, boosting the total to 24 on the 27-acre estate. The latest varietals are grenache, malbec and albarino.
Since the first harvest, Ellis' grapes have gone to the Illinois Valley where Foris winemaker Brian Wilson has produced a succession of award-winning vintages. With Naumes' custom-crush facility coming online last year, however, at least the reds are staying closer to home.
"It's a transition year for us," Ellis said. "We went to Foris because there was no other custom-crush facility in the area at the time. I've been involved in wine for 40 years, and I like Brian very much. He's knowledgeable and talented. But I like what (winemaker) Chris Graves is doing doing at Naumes, and taking advantage of the investment they have made in their equipment and facilities, I can get the best of both worlds. It's 73 miles out to Cave Junction, so it's nice to get something closer."
Pebblestone is at 1642 Camp Baker Road and can be reached at 541-512-1655. It's open for tastings from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. For more, visit its website pebblestonecellars.com.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.