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Vineyard with a view

The page has turned on one of the Rogue Valley's historic landmarks.

The Carpenter family built a mansion known as Topsides on 47 acres above Old Stage Road during the Roaring '20s. Most recently it was owned by heirs of the last territorial governor of Alaska, Mike Stepovich. Now it belongs to a retired Midwest hog farmer.

Ed and Susan Walk of Cumberland County, Illinois, acquired the one-time showplace for $1.541 million last month after viewing several local properties with their daughter Kristina and son-in-law Tim Alvarez, who live in Southern Oregon.

The property has been rechristened Hummingbird Estate, and their plans call for developing a 20-acre vineyard, followed by a wedding venue to take advantage of the wooded, park-like setting with commanding views of Mount McLoughlin and the Crater Lake rim.

"If things go right, we hope to start having weddings and get-togethers in a year," Walk said.

One of the 1940s-era caretaker residences near Old Stage will be converted into a tasting room.  Walk hopes to eventually acquire approval for a bed and breakfast.

Walk has turned over operation of the family hog farm to two of his six children. He may be more familiar with cornfields than vineyards, but Walk knows the ag business.

"I'm a farmer and I like land," Walk said in telephone interview from his home in Neoga, Illinois. "I looked at a house or two, and I told (real estate agent) Sandy Brown I'd like a place with a little land. I love to tour the wineries and that stuff, so I guess we can hope to be part of it."

With Alvarez taking the lead in construction on the site, Walk has contracted with Chris Hubert of vineyard development and management firm Results Partners to develop Hummingbird Estate.

"We have to work with a lot of people, and Chris is going to connect all the dots as far as wine," Walk said.

Hubert has for several years eyed the estate for its wine-producing prospects.

"I kind of have this disease of seeing pieces of property that would make fantastic vineyards, and this is one of them," said Hubert, whose company handles hundreds of acres of Oregon vineyards. "It's a historic location. We're excited to bring it back for people to enjoy."

Hubert evaluated the land in 2013 for the Stepovich Family and came to the conclusion it was one of the best growing sites in the Rogue Valley. The eastern aspect, looking toward Mount McLoughlin, is inviting for grenache, syrah and viognier.

"Part of it curves off to the north end, giving it really good growing conditions for slightly cooler varieties like pinot noir and chardonnay," Hubert said.

In recent weeks, Hubert and his crew have cleared the property lines with an excavator, removing blackberries and barbwire fences, mowing fields, deep ripping the soil and disking it in preparation to lay out vineyards and pound stakes and posts.

"It's been fallow for many years, so there was a lot of overgrowth," he said.

Although details are still being sorted out, Hubert and Walk said a small-scale orchard could re-emerge, producing peaches, plumbs, apricots and cherries to sell at a farm stand near a tasting room.

Alvarez grew up in Central Point and met his wife while playing college baseball. He returned to Southern Oregon 11 years ago to join his father's construction business and raise his family. Although he drove past the property every day while attending high school in Jacksonville, an assortment of oak, pine, cedar and madrone cloaked the 6,331-square-foot main residence and stately 2,847-square-foot guest house, built in 1947.

"I had no idea what was here," Alvarez said. "We came up here and it was angelic. It has so much character. It's a place right out of a storybook. We don't want to change the feel of the place, we want to lean into what it already is. It's so majestic and beautiful, a place where people in our community can celebrate and enjoy.

"There's a lot of construction to be done, but for the most part the work is cosmetic. Replace the roof, put some paint on, sand and refinish the floors. Kind of make it fresh again."

With three of the Walks' nine grandchildren living here, the Rogue Valley has a certain snowbird attraction during the harsh Midwest winters. He said he figures on spending half the year in the Rogue Valley.

While the topography of Cumberland and Jackson counties couldn't be more disparate, Walk said the people are similar.

"I've found you could walk into some place in Medford and never know you weren't in Illinois," he said. "I play pickleball when I'm in the area, and people are just as friendly and outgoing as they are in Illinois."

— 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.

Tim Alvarez walks past the old Topsides mansion in Jacksonville Wednesday. Alvarez and his family are working to turn the property into a vineyard. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]