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Valley View — It's all in the family

Frank Wisnovsky dreamed of growing premium grapes and making fine wine. In 1971, the young civil engineer from New Jersey moved his family to the Applegate Valley. He planted 12 acres in 1972 and 14 more acres in 1974 and named his venture Valley View Winery after Peter Britt’s 1850s vineyards in Jacksonville.

Wisnovsky’s operation was the first commercial winery in the Rogue Valley since Prohibition.

Wisnovsky initially planted cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot noir and merlot. The first bottling, of cabernet sauvignon, was produced off-site at the Tualatin Winery in the Willamette Valley in 1976. Valley View’s first estate bottling came in 1978. The wines were well received, and Wisnovsky’s dream was on its way to becoming a reality.

As his grapes matured and the winery started producing, Wisnovsky continued to work as an engineer. He died in a 1980 construction accident at Lost Creek Dam, leaving his wife and four young children. Ann Wisnovsky — the winery’s premium label, Anna Maria, is named after her — vowed to continue her husband’s dream.

She hired a winemaker and managed Valley View until her oldest son, Robert, graduated from college, postponed his own dream of becoming a stockbroker and came home to run the winery in 1985. One of Robert’s first hires was a young winemaker who had just graduated from University of California at Davis — John Guerrero.

Her younger sons, Mark and Mike Wisnovsky, each joined the family business when they graduated from college. Guerrero has remained — this year marks his 30th anniversary as Valley View’s winemaker.

As the wine industry in the Rogue Valley has grown and matured, Valley View met the challenge of new competition. Of the original 12 acres planted in 1972 and an additional 13 acres planted in 1976, 14 have been replanted or grafted, adding tempranillo, viognier, sauvignon blanc and syrah.

Valley View’s new varietal wines, tempranillo and viognier in particular, have earned gold medals at several regional wine competitions and are especially popular.

The Wisnovsky family plans to plant additional Spanish and Rhône varietals, some to stand alone and others for blending.

“We are concentrating on growing smaller lots of more varietals,” says Mike Wisnovsky. “The new plantings are closer together, increasing our yields with more efficient use of available land.

Of the original plantings, Valley View has produced a chardonnay every year since 1977 — it’s the only varietal they have made every year. The chardonnay is barrel-aged in “once-used” French oak barrels purchased from premium wineries that use only new oak barrels for aging.

“The older oak barrels give our chardonnay a creamy flavor rather than a strong, toasty, oaky character,” says Wisnovsky. “It is our ‘house style.’ ”

Valley View produces its wine under several labels. The Valley View label, focusing on quality wine at a lower price, sells between $12 and $18. The premium Anna Maria label, reserved for selected vintages, is priced between $20 and $30. The winery created a distinct label, “Rogue Red,” for its non-vintage, proprietary red blend selling for approximately $10 a bottle and, this year, has added a similarly priced semi-dry proprietary white blend, “Rogue White.”

Valley View plans to expand into producing more dessert wines such as a late-harvest viognier and a port-style blend of tempranillo and merlot.

The winery has the capacity to produce 15,000 cases, with “Rogue Red” accounting for approximately 6,000 of those cases.

“We can produce quality wine to sell for lower prices because our cost of production per bottle is lower,” says Wisnovsky. “We have been making wine long enough that our equipment — even our newer equipment — is paid for. Also, we have our own wholesale license, so we sell directly to retailers and restaurants. We sell directly to Costco in Oregon and Washington and Trader Joe's in Oregon, as well as in the Made in Oregon stores.”

And, as of last May, thanks to a meeting with the general merchandiser for Costco Japan while Wisnovsky was signing bottles at a wine event in the Costco store in Issaquah, Washington, Valley View wines are now sold at all 20 Costco locations in Japan.

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