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OSF, wine the perfect pairing for expanding cultural tourism

The importance of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, wine and tourism  to Southern Oregon's economy were underscored during Monday's Medford Chamber of Commerce Forum at Rogue Valley Country Club.

There is a growing appreciation for creative expression, said Bob Hackett, OSF marketing director, from food and beverages to performing arts and museums.

When it comes to spending for Shakespeare and wine, Hackett said, "People keep on showing us that it is essential."

Hackett was joined by Southern Oregon University environmental science professor Greg Jones, Oregon Wine Board member Michael Donovan and Don Anway of the Oregon Tourism Commission, in describing the region's appeal.

Cultural tourism, exploring a region's arts, heritage and special character, is growing in its scope, Hackett said.

"People don't just come to see a play at Shakespeare, they don't just go to a winery," Hackett said. "The visitor doesn't draw these kinds of boundaries when they're having this experience in Southern Oregon. The $34 million OSF budget gets combined with the $55 million in spending from the non-OSF stuff. Then you throw in some multipliers and you get our $30 million budget turning into a $250 million impact into the valley; that makes Shakespeare essential."

Art and tourism give people time to connect with family, broaden their perspectives, reflect and connect.

"The definition of cultural tourism is expanding, there is plenty of room," Hackett said. "I'm hoping culinary and cultural tourism become articulated in the same way. We have a wine industry here that is fully matching the art we're doing here."

Medford is becoming the geographic epicenter of the Southern Oregon wine region that reaches northwest to Elkton, Donovan said. But there is more to gaining notoriety from Wine Enthusiast magazine and other publications.

"We'd like to believe we've made a lot of great strides," Donovan said. "We've been working very hard to plant grapes in the right places, to harvest them correctly and make them into delicious wines to drink in the winery. The fact is the romance and appeal in the wine industry has worked hand in hand with a tourism industry that has been in existence here for many years. It has made this destination move much higher than it might have if we just had to rely on winemaking."

Southern Oregon terrain, greatly influenced by the terrain created by the Western Cascades, Coast Range and the Siskiyous, produces more than 70 grape varieties, Donovan said. The latitude fixes the solar angle so that there is a seven-month "European-style" growing period.

In three decades, the region's wine industry exploded from 308 planted acres to 5,886 acres, with production growing from 530 tons to 13,769 tons, while the price has soared from $575 per ton to $2,000.

"The wine industry in many ways is a perfect industry for Oregon," Donovan said. "It preserves our farmland in a manner where we can add value to a crop by producing a bottle of wine."

Jones long has been an advocate of melding the wine industry with tourism efforts.

"I think we've become a critical mass to a point where there are some synergies there," Jones said. "All of the enterprises in tourism are now working together in promoting our region."

Wine grapes are the 10th largest crop in the state of Oregon, producing single varietals, traditional blends, new blends, sparkling wines, late harvest wine and port-style wines.

Oregon is the fourth-largest producer in terms of planted acres of wine grapes, even though it is dwarfed by California and outstripped by Washington. The state boasts the fifth-highest production in tons and there are now more than 1,000 vineyards, and the 676 wineries rank third in the country.

"We have a lot of great craftsmanship-oriented wine production, a lot like the beer industry," Jones said.

Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties encompass six American Viticultural areas: Umpqua (1984), Rogue Valley (1991), Applegate (2001), Southern Oregon (2004), Red Hills (2005) and Elkton (2013).

"The Napa wine region started out as a county-level wine region, now it's divided up into 32 entities," Jones said. "Over time I think you will see our region divided out as well as we become more aware of what we can do in certain places, and being able to define that by people that are growing those grapes and making those wines."

While California has growing seasons that are too long for many varietals, and farther north the seasons are too short, Southern Oregon is in a sweet spot.

"We've got that Goldilocks kind of framework going for us," Jones said. "That produces a diverse suitability for grape varieties that we can do here, much better than many places around us."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.