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Grizzly Peak's new winery moves toward completion

Al Silbowitz, the patriarch of Grizzly Peak Winery, is something of a Renaissance man.

In 1998, after several careers that included teaching at Berkeley and Golden Gate University, managing KPFA-FM (then a radical public radio station in Berkeley), and building a contracting business, Silbowitz and family purchased 40 acres of cattle land in the shadow of Grizzly Peak.

When he arrived, Silbowitz had no idea what to do with the land. Then he met Ron Stringfield, who Silbowitz refers to the “Johnny Appleseed of grapes.” Stringfield planted 100 grapevines, and they waited to see what would happen. During a tough winter, half those vines died. But half survived; Al took that as a sign. So Stringfield planted another 100. Then the well ran dry.

In order to save water for irrigating the young vines, the family drove their laundry into town. Then the Water District called. Unbeknownst to Silbowitz, the previous owner had applied for a new water right, and the application floated to the top of the pile. Seventeen years later, Grizzly Peak has 15 acres planted to 11 varieties, with another 18 acres to be planted at some point in the future.

For the first five years after the vines began producing, the Silbowitzes made wine on-site, “Garagista style.” Six years ago they broke ground to build a real winery. It soon became obvious that they couldn’t both make wine and build a new winery, so they turned winemaking over to Linda Donovan at Pallet Wine Company. When the recession hit, the winery project slowed to a crawl. Now that the economy has recovered, the winery is nearing completion, but it's without a firm completion date. In the meantime, the space is used for events. It is an attractive, sunny space with concrete walls, metal accents and beautiful, curved beams, giving the feel of barrel staves.

Grizzly Peak is truly a family operation. Wife Virginia is events manager and scheduler, handling the winery’s many social aspects. According to Al, she is also the family “Energizer Bunny.” Daughter Naomi manages the tasting room and online relationships. Daughter Sarah works at Pallet Wine, and daughter Deborah (who Al said was too smart to join the family business) is an RN. Al describes himself as the “green-eyeshade guy.” I would add “Chief Schmoozer” to that description.

Al has a vision of the future of wine tourism in the Southern Oregon. Compared to the cost and the crowds in Napa or Portland, Southern Oregon is still a bargain. Al believes that the “basic infrastructure to make a happy tourist is here.” Things like the Bear Creek Wine Trail Passport are “cheese in the mousetrap.” (If that’s the case, I’m happy to be the mouse!)

In addition to great wine (try the tempranillo, in my opinion one of the best in the valley), Grizzly Peak offers great hospitality, thanks to Virginia. For information on the summer concert series and hours, see www.grizzlypeakwinery.com.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Reach him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.