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A look back at our 2019 wine scene

In a year when dire headlines were commonplace, it’s been refreshing to see so much good news about the Rogue Valley wine industry.

Consider the new tasting venues we gained. Simple Machine, once the only Talent tasting venue close to downtown, has been joined by Trium Wines and Parkhurst Wine Cellars. Naumes Suncrest Winery opened a tasting room not far from Paschal Winery. Just south on Highway 99, Lithia Springs Resort opened a wine garden tasting room. Jacksonville added a new wine shop, Kimball’s Artisan Wines. And in Sam’s Valley the once shuttered Folin Cellars winery reopened as the home of Ryan Rose Wine. Here are a few more highlights from 2019:

Three Rogue Valley wineries, Quady North, Troon Vineyard and Upper Five Vineyard, were included in the 2019 Slow Wine Guide. Slow Wine is an offshoot of the Slow Food movement. Centered in Italy, Slow Food has chapters in over 160 countries aimed at fostering high quality food produced in an environmentally responsible way, reasonably priced and accessible to consumers, with a fair reward for the people who produce it.

Slow Wine promotes the same values in the wine industry by publishing a guide to wines produced according to good, clean and fair principles. The 2018 guide included California wineries for the first time. In 2019, 50 Oregon wineries made the guide, including the three Rogue Valley producers listed above, the only ones from Southern Oregon.

Five Rogue Valley wineries, Del Rio Vineyards, Foris Vineyards, Quady North, Troon Vineyard and Upper Five Vineyard, participated in an Oregon Wine Board marketing trip to pour their wines in New York City. These five were the only wineries from the southern part of the state among a total of 60 participating in the event.

This year, Liza Jussiaume, doyenne of the Wine Cellar in Ashland, was the sole person from Southern Oregon nominated to attend Oregon Pinot Camp, an intensive three-day program of lectures, vineyard tours and wine tastings held each year in the Willamette Valley. Through workshops and seminars about all things pinot, attendees have the opportunity to exchange ideas with, to quote the Oregon Pinot Camp website (www.oregonpinotcamp.com), “the people who have worked diligently to build Oregon’s reputation as a world-class, award-winning growing region for wine’s most temperamental grape.”

Barbara Steele, Cowhorn Vineyard and Gardens co-founder and owner with Bill Steele, was appointed by Gov. Kate Brown to a three-year term on the Oregon Wine Board. Steele’s participation will ensure a Southern Oregon perspective on statewide issues.

Winemaking options available at Rogue Valley custom crush facilities expanded to include a state of the art production line for sparkling wine. This summer, with equipment sourced from France, Barrel 42 began making sparkling wines using méthode champenoise.

Sustainability gained traction as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival committed to providing draft wine to theater patrons through keg installation across all OSF service bars over the next couple of years.

“All draft and bottled wines served by OSF come from locally sourced, environmentally conscious local producers throughout the Rogue Valley,” commented OSF Food and Beverage Manager Tiffany Maude. “By sourcing our wines locally and adapting a sustainable, reusable kegging system for draft wine service in our venues, we’ve already significantly reduced our waste and recycling by 50 percent.”

This year, for the first time, three local wineries teamed up to put on a public event to celebrate the wine grape harvest in the Rogue Valley. Patterned after the harvest festival in Beaujolais, France, that has been held on the third Thursday of November for hundreds of years, the local take was dubbed the Ashland Nouveau Celebration.

A wine release party put on by Belle Fiore Winery, Weisinger Family Winery and Irvine & Roberts Vineyards, the event introduced Beaujolais-style wines made from pinot noir labeled Pinot Noir Nouveau. The event was a landmark occasion showcasing a winemaking process never attempted before by local wineries (carbonic maceration). It was also a demonstration of cooperation among three winemakers as they compared notes on making their own versions of Pinot Noir Nouveau. All the attendees I talked to expressed the hope that it will become an annual celebration. I concur!

If 2020 is anything like 2019, we can expect more exciting growth in our local industry. When you consider all the ways Rogue Valley vineyards and wineries contribute to preserving our environment and enhancing our culture, there are more reasons than ever to buy Rogue when you’re shopping for wine. And with that I say, happy holidays to all and to all a good wine!

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mdaspit@jeffnet.org. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.