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Starting up Simple Machine

Simple Machine Winery, the newest addition to the Rogue Valley wine scene, is set to open late this month on the south side of Talent. The new urban winery is the joint venture of veteran winemaker Brian Denner and his partner, Ashland native Clea Arthur. The brand new corrugated metal building at 717 South Pacific Highway has a clean, informal, industrial vibe that dovetails with the winemaking ethos behind the brand name.

Local wine enthusiasts will recognize the Simple Machine brand from the wine lists of such eateries as Loft Brasserie, Cucina Biazzi and Ostras. They may be acquainted with Denner from his time as winemaker at Agate Ridge Vineyard and more recently, DANCIN Vineyards. His resume also includes stints in California and in the Casablanca region of Chile, a region known for Pinot Noir.

His expertise, gained through a diverse wine-making career since 1997, won Denner a total of eight medals at the 2017 Oregon Wine Experience for wines he made under a variety of labels (Aurora Vines, Daisy Creek, Simple Machine) including a Double Gold for his DANCIN Vineyards 2015 Pas de Trois Pinot Noir. His only submission to Wine Enthusiast so far gained four Simple Machine wines (Grenache, Vector, Leverage and Sauvignon Blanc) scores in the high 80s, results that will appear in the October issue of the magazine.

Having gleaned a thorough understanding of local terroir, Denner decided it was time to go out on his own and establish a winery based on the Simple Machine brand. Founded in 2010, Simple Machine captures Denner’s style of winemaking, in which activities in the winery are kept to basics, a practice of minimal intervention. In essence, this means injecting as little human influence as possible into the natural process of fermentation. “It’s low technology, all hands-on, old-fashioned wine-making the way it’s been done for thousands of years. We foot-stomp all the reds with sanitized rubber boots, what the French call pigéage. We have to do that because all the reds are fermented using the whole cluster. We don’t take the stems off, but just sort and clean the fruit and put it right in the tank. It’s a stylistic choice. It gives the wines a lot more spice, more tannins, more structure and depth. Simple Machine reflects the idea of taking really high quality grapes from great vineyards and just trying to shepherd that fruit into great wine.”

Arthur adds, “I think of it as very gentle winemaking. Brian doesn’t filter or fine the reds, and there’s no pumping. He uses all native yeast, and no flavor additives.”

Currently there are two reds and three whites in the Simple Machine inventory: Grenache, Vector (a blend of 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Grenache), Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Leverage (a blend of 50% Viognier, 25% Marsanne and 25% Rousanne). Starting with the 2017 harvest, Denner will add a Pinot Noir to the line-up, which is great, he says, because “Pinot Noir is one of my first enological loves and the fruit from Andy Pearl’s vineyard in the Applegate is fabulous.”

For the 2017 harvest, Denner will do his winemaking at Herb Quady and Brian Gruber’s Barrel 42 Winery. His own winemaking equipment will be installed on the Simple Machine premises over the coming fall and winter.

Arthur’s purview, based on her experience in the hospitality industry, is the customer experience at the winery. Visitors will find the tasting room welcoming to families, complete with a “build your own picnic menu” and games for kids. “We want to try to make it more accessible to people with children, especially visitors to the area who may not be able to leave their kids with someone while they go wine-tasting.” A visiting food truck for special events is also in the works.

Another important consumer-friendly aspect of Simple Machine is the affordable wine club format. Members will receive only two releases per year and may opt for as few as three bottles per release. Wine club member benefits include free tastings and discounts of up to 25 percent for purchases at the winery.

For more information, including announcement of the grand opening, go to www.simplemachinewine.com or find Simple Machine on Facebook.

— Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."