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Time to toast our wines

Rogue Valley wine lovers have a lot to celebrate every time they pop open a local vintage.

Locally produced wines may compare in quality with some of the better known regions of the world, but they’re still largely unknown outside of Oregon.

That may be about to change with help from a $50,000 Travel Oregon grant to create a brand for this region.

“We’ve had this organic brand that has shaped around us,” said Ashley Cates, vice president of Rogue Valley Vintners, which formed last year. “We want to take it to the next level and show the world our world-class wine region.”

Her organization is working with Lookout, a Portland marketing company, to design a marketing program that will help elevate the Rogue Valley’s status among wine lovers. Lookout has created brands that help personalize the identities of wineries and wine regions in Oregon.

“We will really set ourselves apart with a brand,” said Cates. “We need a brand that’s going to be a vehicle for our story.”

She hopes the brand will be developed by the end of May or the beginning of June.

Most wineries in Oregon produce 5,000 or fewer cases a year, only enough for the local market.

Local wines win award after award, and many of the grapes are shipped elsewhere, including to prestigious vintners in California or the Willamette Valley producing pinot noir.

Even though there isn’t enough production to export lots of wine out of state or out of country, Cates said a good brand will help bring more tourism to the Rogue Valley, which will benefit many local businesses.

“We just want to put the Rogue Valley on the map as a premium wine-growing area,” said Cates, who helps run Agate Ridge Vineyard in Eagle Point with her family.

Bob Hackett, associate director of Travel Southern Oregon, said the $50,000 grant will be matched by $50,000 locally to fund the branding effort.

The grant is being funded through the Oregon wine license-plate program.

He said the branding will be part of an ongoing effort to bring more wine tourism to the Rogue Valley.

“The country doesn’t know about these wines yet,” Hackett said.

Rogue Valley Vintners formed last year to put the spotlight on this region. The Southern Oregon Winery Association represents both the Rogue Valley and Umpqua Valley.

The Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area, established in 2000, includes the Rogue River and tributaries, including the Illinois River, the Applegate River and Bear Creek.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Ashley Cates, vice president of Rogue Valley Vintners, walks through Agate Ridge Vineyard, which she helps run with her family. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune