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Tour the valley's wineries in style

Rogue Valley wine lovers now have another reason to pop a cork.

Southern Oregon Winery Tours, a new enterprise from Merlin-based Rogue Wilderness Adventures, is offering daily winery tours departing from Ashland and Medford for a five-hour trek to some of the Rogue and Applegate valleys' premier wineries.

Customers are shuttled in a custom-built Mercedes Benz 13-seat Sprinter van, said Brad Niva, owner of both outfits, but guests should wear sturdy shoes, as each tour includes a walk through uneven vineyards and slippery barrel rooms in addition to tasting rooms.

"It encompasses the entire winemaking process," said Niva. "We want to do all Southern Oregon wineries, as well as top culinary."

For its first season, which was announced May 16, SOWT has included 12 wineries to tour, a hard choice to make, said Niva.

"A program like this will definitely be beneficial to Southern Oregon wineries," said Kristen Barleen, wine club manager at Roxy Ann Winery, which is on the list of stops. "We're honored to be included."

There are three tours to choose from and they rotate, so call ahead, said Niva. One allows patrons to visit wineries such as Roxy Ann, Edenvale Orchards and Del Rio Vineyards and experience top cuisine in the Rogue Valley. Another focuses on wineries and cuisine in the southern Applegate Valley. The third winds through the northern Applegate Valley.

Troon, Cowhorn, Schmidt Family, and Valley View vineyards are some of the Applegate stops, he said. For more information, visit southernoregonwinerytours.com.

The tour has two pickup locations: the Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St., Ashland, and Harry & David's Country Village, 1314 Center Drive, Medford.

The cost is $125 per person, and includes lunch and a ride back to the shuttle points. Patrons will receive club pricing in winery tasting rooms while on the tour, and will be allowed to buy wine during the trip, said Niva. "We'll even mail it to them if they're visiting the area," he said.

Niva said the tour, which departs from Ashland at 9:30 a.m. and from Medford 30 minutes later, is designed to return in time for people to catch evening performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The shuttle returns to Medford at 4:45 p.m. and to Ashland 30 minutes later.

"It's starting to pick up," Niva said of the tour's attendance. "As Ashland fills up this summer and as OSF attendance goes up, we will see a larger increase of wine connoisseurs in the area."

Reservations are required, and can be made by calling 1-855-550-Wine. The tour is for those 21 and older only.

With an already robust knowledge of Southern Oregon, Niva decided to embark on the wine tour endeavor after hearing from Ashland-based hotel and bed-and-breakfast owners that their guests were inquiring about a consistent and timely tour of the area's wineries, which departed from Ashland.

"As a bed and breakfast owner, you want to recommend all of these amazing wineries that are popping up all over the region, but it's hard for our guests to drive themselves to all these places," said Drew Gibbs, Ashland's Winchester Inn general manager.

"It (SOWT) is one of those things I think has all the perfect components," said Gibbs. "I think it's a great, great expansion for Ashland."

Gibbs, one of the Rogue Valley's wine sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, said he is glad to see some of the region's roughly 130 wineries get the attention they deserve.

"It's a great idea," said Brittanie Bellamy, front desk clerk at the Best Western Bard's Inn of Ashland. "I always have guests asking about wineries and things to do in the area."

As the full swing of the tourist season nears, people are starting to stay for days at a time with the inn, she said.

"I'll definitely recommend this to guests," she said.