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Wine Trail passports a hit with customers

In the midst of the Great Recession, a handful of wineries between Ashland and Central Point conceived the idea of the Bear Creek Wine Trail passport.

It was hardly an innovative idea, but at a time when local wineries needed a shot in the arm, the passport turned out to be good medicine.

“Our main goal to begin with was to capture and circulate the wine-tasting public in the Rogue Valley, whether they were tourists or local people,” said Pebblestone Cellars owner Dick Ellis.

Bear Creek Wine Trail members have collectively won dozens of accolades in a variety competitions — here and elsewhere. But it’s one thing to build a reputation with wine judges in competitions, and another to catch on with the public at large, draw people to tasting rooms and clear the stock on the shelves.

As a result, the passport has taken on an important role.

The passports have proved increasingly popular with 2017’s supply selling out in August. They are good for one year from the day they are sold, allowing holders to space out their visits.

This year’s passports went on sale in April, priced at $30. But on May 19 only, the passports will be sold for $25.

“People buy them for themselves, for business purposes and for stocking-stuffers,” Ellis said.

The passport highlights 33 wines produced by 11 participating wineries, and provides an individual tasting at each of the wineries on the trail. It also secures a 10 percent discount on purchases if the passport is used at a winery during the cycle.

“When we first tried to do it, people tried to make it to eight wineries in two days, but when you’re trying to 11 or 12 wineries, you just can’t do it that quickly,” Ellis said.

Moving from concept to reality took a couple of years, with the first passports appearing in 2012.

Paul and Virginia Lange opened a tasting room at StoneRiver Vineyard seven years ago, not long after the Bear Creek Wine Trail’s formation.

There’s an array of varietals — primarily pinot noir and tempranillo — covering the 35-acre vineyard just west of Pebblestone on Pioneer Road.

Customers buying passports are generally within driving range, tasting room manager Jamie Haight said. But visitors interested in hitting several wineries in a short period also find the passport to their liking.

“Those that come into a town for weekend, and that’s solely what they’re doing, think it’s fantastic,” Haight said. “It’s so funny, sometimes you don’t get anybody with passports, and there will be days where that’s all you see.”

Passport sales are capped at 1,000 annually and the passports divided among the wineries. More recently they’ve also been disbursed to hotels, such as the Neuman Hotel Group, and tour organizations. Proceeds are primarily used for promotions.

“We want to be partners with all hospitality providers in the area,” Ellis said. “The important thing to remember is that we’re just minutes away, whether you’re in Jacksonville, Ashland or Medford. Wherever you are, you can be to one of our places in 10 minutes.”

He said a tear-off map of the wine trail will be available at local hotels.

“We’ve focused a lot more on social media,” Ellis said. “We’re making sure our sites are up and keeping up on Facebook and Google to get our name out there for followers in the area.”

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.