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Wines in the pines

Picture yourself in a treehouse in the woods, drinking good wine and watching a river flow. I can testify that it’s possible and makes for a dandy day trip.

The Augustino Estate Treehouse Winery, part of the 500-acre Rockin’ R Ranch, sits high and cozy among evergreen boughs within the pastoral beauty of O’Brien in the Illinois Valley. From Medford, it’s about an hour and 20 minutes via I-5 and U.S. 199 out of Grants Pass, just southwest of Cave Junction. I’d had this treehouse escape on my list for some time.

Per usual, we opted for the more scenic route and began our excursion with a Sunday brunch at Bella Union in Jacksonville. From there we drove Highway 238, which runs from JVille to Grants Pass and takes about the same time as the I-5 route only without the semis. You’ll cruise through miles of bucolic reverie, pot farms, cows and wineries galore.

If you leave early enough, there’s time for a stop in the historic gold mining town of Kerby (1855). Visit the 1870s Kerbyville Museum, the old schoolhouse, an 1834 miner’s cabin, and the 1871 Naucke House.

As with all best-laid plans these days, I’d recommend phoning first. According to the museum website, they’re open for business from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and noon to 3 Sunday. We rarely leave early enough to pack in a side trip, and this time was no exception, so we blew by Kerby, which appeared fairly deserted.

I say “appeared deserted” because I know better than to believe that about any town, no matter how insignificant or ghostly it seems. If you park and scout around, there are, without fail, discoveries to be sniffed out and characters to meet. Or vice versa. I recommend a good poke-about whenever possible. Maybe don’t go poking off the main drag, though; some of those backwoods places carry secrets best left unpoked, and shotguns best left unfired. You think I’m kidding.

Once “in” O’Brien, you’ll notice it’s mostly trees and farms and such. One could easily miss the left turn into Augustino Estate. Watch for the big, fluttery OPEN sign. This is a sprawling property — 500 acres — and the long driveway takes you through until, there before you stands a tasting room treehouse actually built into the trees. Since the landowners also run a construction company, they did much of the work themselves, with a lot of design help from the “Treehouse Guys” of DIY Network fame. The tasting room has a continuous loop of the episode that aired showing how it was accomplished.

There are three roomy sets of stairs to hoist you up there, or an elevator if you’ve stopped at one too many wineries. No secret passwords or ladders, unfortunately. But there is a friendly looking stuffed raccoon to greet you at the saloon-style doors and a genial ranch dog named Rip.

Judy met us at the desk, making us feel at home with her cordial welcome and obvious people-loving skills. I’d recently visited their tasting room in the Applegate and knew they had a way with tempranillo, so that was my pick.

We sat on the deck in the shade, though chilly, because the corner pocket offered the right vantage point of the Illinois River rushing past. A pyramidal pile of cozy blankets sat by the door, and fire pit tables were available.

After wine, we walked and explored among the vines. The only sound was a generator humming. As we walked, the sound faded out and the solitude settled down on us. I turned Spotify to a song we liked, but reception was iffy. I stuck Big Gladdie, the phone, in my back pocket and soon the tune rang out as we strolled. Long shadows told us it was time to say our goodbyes.

Cabin and RV rentals are onsite for those who don’t want to leave. The Applegate Big Red Barn location is hosting a delicious-sounding Valentine’s dinner with few seats left.

In fine Italian tradition, the Augustino family motto is, “come as strangers, leave as family.”

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.