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Welcome to ‘Wine Country Lane’

The portal into Wine Country Lane, at Travel Medford’s Heart of the Rogue Festival, was a tall white archway beckoning, like a secret garden, to see what was beyond.

The blocked-off street was “open” for strolling — tickets bought, stemless glasses in hand — among 17 wineries, a brewer, kombucha maker and chocolatier, ready to showcase samples of their best. On Friday evening, strings of lights lit the way.

At one point, a guy with dreadlocks danced soulfully in the street. Groups of people lounged in areas designed by Rogue Picnics, sporting colorful umbrellas and comfy furniture nested beside the tall grasses. Good, live, local music filled the air from the Pear Blossom Stage. People were happy.

Because it’s an alcohol venue, Wine Country Lane was separate from the main event, but still within a stone’s throw of all going on. Tucked behind a tall picket fence, it was an uncrowded place for relaxing, discovering new wines or sampling favorites, as well as buying a glass once you found something you wanted to taste again. Bottles and additional tasting bands could be purchased.

The event was produced by Rogue Valley Vintners/Rogue Valley Wine Country. Gina Bianco, executive director for the nonprofit, was delighted when she told me, “Being the first year, it was a tremendous success, especially the Friday evening. With the twinkling lights, live music, it was cozy, elite, inviting, and people loved hanging out.

“It’s what we had intended — exclusive, not crowded — so people were able to try wines, talk with the vintners, as well as give wineries more exposure. It was a separate area, but people could come and go to the food trucks, enjoy the music and receive the elevated experience we wanted to offer.”

You’ve seen those Wine Country license plates — they helped fund the beginning of this organization, and it’s ongoing. Rogue Valley Vintners (RVV) is a nonprofit rooted in wine producers and growers, facilitating community collaboration to promote tourism, local businesses and our impressive wine region as a global destination. This group is all about putting Rogue Valley wine lands on the international map, and they have succeeded.

Wine Country Lane also was a fundraiser. “We sold bottles of wine,” Bianco says, “Wineries brought in the wine they were pouring, they were purchased wholesale by RVV and we then retailed it. So it became a fundraiser for us, both through the ticket sales and the bottle sales.”

From a local perspective, they are focused on educating, supporting and promoting Rogue Valley wines. Rogue Valley Wine Country is the consumer side of RVV. They offer the Discovery Wine Club, which is a club showcasing the abundance and diversity of only Rogue Valley wines.

Bianco explains, “Our wine club is a great way to sample the valley’s wines without having to drive to all the wineries. Many of the wines we put in the club are not available outside the wineries. It’s an extension of the idea to expose more people to our small-lot production wine and wineries and the diversity of the 70-plus varietals grown here. There’s opportunity here to taste malbec from five different places because our microclimates are so very different, and then each winemaker puts their own flair on it.”

Put a reminder on your October 2023 calendar for next year’s festivities. “For the first year, we did really well,” Bianco says, “We learned a lot, and next year we’ll make it even bigger and better!”

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine