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The Legacy of Papa Ginet

After seven years of toiling behind the scenes to build the Rogue Valley's largest wine event, Joe and Suzi Ginet get their turn in the spotlight.

The Williams couple's Plaisance Ranch numbers among a dozen labels new to this year's World of Wine Festival at Del Rio Vineyards & Winery. Plaisance could be just another face in the crowd if it wasn't for the Ginets' determination through WOW to showcase the region's grape-growing and winemaking potential.

"It's grown bigger than us now," says Joe Ginet, 58.

Testing their mettle annually as event planners, the grape growers, cattle ranchers and former dairy farmers were too busy to produce wine commercially until 2006. They poured their signature wine — a blend primarily consisting of the French variety mondeuse — for tasting at 2008's WOW. This year, Plaisance has entered for judging its cabernet franc, merlot, petite sirah, syrah, tempranillo, "Ranch Red" and the mondeuse blend dubbed "Rouge Prestige" — all 2008 vintage.

"I hope he wins a medal," says event chairman Lee Mankin, who founded WOW in 2003 with Ginet and Cal Schmidt of Schmidt Family Vineyards.

Plaisance is competing in a record WOW field of 150 wines from 55 wineries, all of which must use Southern Oregon grapes in their entries. Other new labels this year are Deer Creek Vineyards, Dana Campbell Vineyards, Daniel Joseph Wines, Eliana Wines, Ellie Wines, Hellgate Cellars, Irvine Vineyards, LaBrasseur Vineyard, Ledger David Cellars, Philanthropie Wine and Pomodori Wine.

"This is a crowded year for Joe (Ginet)," jokes Mankin, who owns Carpenter Hill Vineyard of Phoenix.

Mankin is a satisfied customer of Ginet's first foray in the industry. Following nearly 20 years tending dairy herds, Ginet planted his first vineyard in 1998 and soon became the first regional producer of grapevine starts. Plaisance propagates more than 20 grape varieties on two root stocks, among them the riesling that Mankin planted three years ago.

"The fruit looks great; the plants look great," he says, adding that riesling made in a "dry" style will become a star in Oregon.

Plaisance's star — mondeuse — has roots that run deep in Ginet's family. His grandfather, Joseph Ginet, traveled from his native Savoie, near the French Alps, to settle near Jacksonville in 1898. Jackson County's first Ginet planted grapes from his family's French stock, only for the vines to die of neglect after Ginet's death in 1928 amid Prohibition. In 1972, Joe Ginet sought out his extended family, which still grows grapes and makes wine in St. Jean de la Porte, France. Despite speaking not a word of French, Ginet endeared himself to the family after initial suspicions subsided.

"They were a little concerned that I'd come looking for my inheritance," he says.

Ginet took home inspiration for viticulture and determination to learn French. Twenty-five years later, Ginet renamed his property "Plaisance," meaning "pleasantness." In 2000, he brought mondeuse cuttings home to Williams with the blessing of his French cousins, who visited every year for five years to help him start a vineyard — planted according to the French system of meter spacing and trellised low to the ground so the soil's heat will ripen the fruit.

"The French, they're very structured," says Ginet. "This takes generations for them."

It didn't take long for Ginet's wine to catch on. Known as "Papa Joe's Private Stash," Ginet's first bottlings were popular gifts with family, friends and other winemakers. Unlabeled, they weren't for sale.

"Nobody could buy it, so we drank it all," recalls Mankin.

"We made a lot of wine, and we gave it all away, and it really paid off," says Ginet.

Planning to produce 500 cases this year composed of five single-varietal wines and two blends, the Ginets still rely on personal interactions to market their wine. It's sold — along with their certified-organic, grass-fed beef — at local farmers markets. Plaisance also self-distributes to local restaurants and stores.

The mondeuse blend, however, practically sells itself. With light, peppery flavor reminiscent of pinot noir, the grape is cultivated by only one other vineyard in the United States, says Ginet.

"I figure his grandpa knew something ... when he picked here to plant it," says Suzi Ginet, 60. "We love it."

Plaisance Ranch wines can be purchased at Corks Wine Bar and Bottle Shoppe, Harry & David Country Village and Pacific Wine Club in Medford; and Elegance Fine Wines and Oregon Outpost in Grants Pass. Restaurants that serve it are Gogi's and The Nunan Estate's Carriage House in Jacksonville and Medford's Pomodori Ristorante.

The ranch, winery and tasting room are located at 16955 Water Gap Road, Williams. Call 541-846-7175 for tasting-room hours. See www.plaisanceranch.com to buy online and for more information.

The Legacy of Papa Ginet