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The focus is on hospitality at Jaxon Vineyards

Jaxon Vineyards is a small and relatively new Rogue Valley vineyard producing award-winning wines.

Jaxon is owned by Jamie and Katherine McCleary. Jamie’s family has been in the area since 1956; Katherine’s family moved to the valley when she was 12. Both McClearys had taken classes in viticulture at University of California, Davis, and when they began looking for vineyard land, they knew they wanted to be “on the warm side” — the east side — of Interstate 5 between Ashland and Medford.

The McClearys found what they wanted in 2008, a 16-acre former pear orchard on a south-facing slope at 5709 Hughes Road, off Payne Road in Fern Valley.

After they bought the property, they consulted with local vineyard manager Randy Gold of Pacific Crest Vineyard Services and with climatologist and geologist Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University. The experts told them that the climate and soil conditions were suitable for grapes of the southern Rhône region of France and the Rioja region of Spain, regions located at the same latitude and with the same climate as Southern Oregon.

In the spring of 2009, the McClearys planted four acres with tempranillo, grenache, syrah and viognier. Their first harvest was in 2010. They hired Rob Folin of Folin Cellars as their winemaker.

“I’m a hands-on micro-manager,” says Jamie. “Rob and I collaborate closely as to when we pick, how long to age. We strive to make wines that have a balance between fruit and acid, to make food-friendly wines.”

Their first wines were released in August 2013. As Jamie McCleary puts it, “the 2013 World of Wine competition was our release party.”

Jaxon’s 2011 Grenache ($36) won a double gold at WOW and then won a gold at the 2014 SavorNW Wine Competition in Cannon Beach, which features exclusively Pacific Northwest wines.

Jaxon offers two styles of tempranillo wine. The 2011 La Brisa ($20) is a lighter version of the varietal. It’s bright and fruity, low in tannin and alcohol, aged 24 months in neutral oak. Jamie McCleary describes it as “a summer wine.”

The 2011 Estate Tempranillo ($29), which won silver medals at 2013 WOW, 2013 San Francisco International and 2014 SavorNW competitions, is a bigger and more complex wine. Aged 18 months in new oak, it has more intense fruit flavor as well as higher alcohol and tannin levels.

Jaxon’s 2011 Syrah ($29) earned 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast. It has intense berry flavors, softer tannins and will age well.

There are also two proprietary red blends, the 2011 Mistral ($29), a syrah-grenache blend, and the 2011 Tradición, ($31), a traditional Spanish-style blend that combines the intense fruit and structure of tempranillo with the softness, smokiness and vanilla flavors of grenache.

The 2013 Estate Viognier ($20) has just been released. It is a big, fruit-forward white wine, very floral with notes of melon and tropical fruits.

“It was aged 100 percent in stainless steel,” says Jamie. “Everything is the fruit, which was picked very ripe, at 25-26 brix. It is complex without the oak.”

Jaxon Vineyards has no public tasting room at this time, though plans are on the drawing board to build one. The wines can be tasted at a number of local restaurants, including Liquid Assets and the Peerless Restaurant in Ashland; Elements, Pomodori and Kaleidoscope Pizzeria in Medford; Bella Union, C Street Bistro and Gogi’s in Jacksonville; and The Twisted Cork and Elegance in Grants Pass. Retail outlets include Harry & David, Old 99 Wine Shop and Jacksonville Inn Wine Shop.

There is also a wine club with three shipments per year in March, June and November, with pre-releases and special wine-club events and winemaker’s dinners.

The McClearys arrange private tastings and small events at their home overlooking the vineyard and the valley. It includes a spacious terrace, pergola, gazebo and charming garden.

“The focus here is on hospitality,” says Katherine, who has a history in the food industry, including her own local catering business. “Our goal is ‘farm-to-fork’ pairings with locally grown or sourced ingredients.”

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.