On a clear Oregon autumn morning I slipped a small suitcase into the back of my Subaru and headed south. An exploration tour of Southern Oregon had been meticulously planned for me by Sue Price of Southern Oregon Marketing Consultants and I was as excited as a kid on a treasure hunt. I invite you to come along as I share the first three days of my six-day journey in this first of a two part installment.
Most people think of Oregon as the Christmas tree state. True, Oregon grows and exports 92% of it’s trees out of state * but Oregon is much more . It’s a state of contrasts; mountains to beaches, rivers to desert. It’s a state of people with a similar state of mind. They all share a joyous pioneer spirit, a respect for the land, and a passion for what they do.
* statistic provided by Mr. Bruce Eklund Deputy Director Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service
The Lodge at Riverside
Four hours and change from my home in the foothills of Mt. Hood, I rolled into the former logging town of Grant‘s Pass tucked along the Rogue River and booked into The Lodge at Riverside by one of manager Tamara Larson‘s friendly staff members. The spacious, restful room overlooked the soul of Grants Pass; the wild Rogue River. They put out a substantial complementary continental breakfast with cereal, yoghurt, fruit, and sausage and biscuits with just-baked cookies in the evening. For a single traveler this is a very comfortable place.
I wandered the small town a bit before turning up at Terry Hopkins and Dennis Hansen’s The Brewery restaurant in downtown Grants Pass. The chef/ owners were up to their eyes with a winemakers dinner but made sure I had a good meal paired with a silky local Syrah. This kindness was just the prelude to my “Southern Hospitality” experience of Southern Oregon. You’ll be welcomed as a friend by all of the folks in this spectacular region. For the lodge go to www.countryhouseinns.com, call the Brewery at 541-479-9850
Hellgate Jet Boat
Grants Pass is a perfect starting point for an extended exploration of the Southern Oregon area. You can duck into the antique stores and art galleries, take a picture with one of the large art bears that line the streets downtown, enjoy a seasonal celebration, wander the river-side park or hop on a Hellgate Jet Boat for a ride that will make you remember that you are alive! Hellgate Jetboats operate several different tours on the Rouge from a dock just below the Riverside Inn . You’ll blast down the Rouge in a hydrojet and see flora and fauna from a river‘s perspective. Some tours stop for a meal at the private O.K. Coral lodge overlooking the Rouge and most nearly bump the 250 ft high rock “gates “ of Hellgate Canyon. Perfect for most ages, this is a thrilling ride. Look out for the crazy boat captains! Reserve online at www.hellgate.com
Clarke Gable’s favorite fishing lodge had seen better days when Carl Johnson and his family bought it in the 1990’s. But to the Vintage Hotels/Country House Inns owner, this crumbling log lodge on ten acres sprawled along the bank of Rogue was worth saving. Fishermen and travelers no longer arrive by horse nor early horseless carriage but generations still come to enjoy the famous lodge or to set off on a fishing trip for salmon, steelhead or rainbow trout. Accommodations are available in the lodge for the star- struck; yes Clark Gable really slept here! Others might prefer the modern cottages with their spacious baths, romantic fireplace and deck overlooking the river. A wonderful continental breakfast awaits in the morning. This place is a classic, named by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the country’s “great American Lodges,” and a “do not miss“! You will love the playfully- lit jumping fish on the roadside sign welcoming you at the turn in. www.weasku.com
The Vines of Applegate Valley
You may have heard about Southern Oregon wines but perhaps never had a drop? Oregon wines are more than Pinot or Merlot. Lusty Cabernets, properly-oaked Chardonnay, cherry- peppered Syrahs, surprising Tempranillo and Viogniers, are creating a buzz, responsible for this area becoming one of the fastest growing wine destination regions in the U.S. according to orbitz.com research. The sunny vine growing clime of Southern Oregon includes the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois valleys. The Applegate follows the Applegate River a few miles out of Grants Pass with a distinct change in topography and climate. You can get some direction for planning a self-guided tasting tour of the varied wineries by checking out www.applegatewinetrail.com There are as many wines out there awaiting your discovery as there are personalities.
Schmidt Family Vineyards
Cal and Judy Schmidt have a fabulous property, exquisite garden and 24 acres planted since 2000 in Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Cab Franc, Malbec and Zinfandel. Schmidt produces intense wines in small lots and per Susie,” I know hand-crafted is an overused term, but that’s what we do. We pay attention to detail.” Both judy and Cal cook so the pairing of wine and food is important to them. As Susie points out, “all of our wine labels feature an herb we feel seasons the food that pairs with the wine. The cab has an illustration of basil to go with a red sauce. The syrah, black pepper; perhaps pairing it with a chocolate- frosted mascarpone torte seasoned with black pepper.” I took a sip of the 2005 Soulea, an acronym of their family names, and allowed the blend of Merlot, Syrah , and Cabernet Sauvignon to glide along my tongue.
When I asked Cal what he could share with our wine loving readers he managed this before bustling off to his cellar, “our wines are probably very intense, lots of fruit in the nose, because of climate and soil.” Meet Cal and Judy and their award winning wines at www.sfvineyards.com
Ask Chris Martin of the Martin family that now owns pioneer winemaker Dick Troon’s winery what his vision for the winery is and you’ll get what seems to be his personal mantra;” to create a place dynamic, linking good times and good wines.” Indeed just looking at the very eloquent art adorning the wine labels and you get a sense of the individuality and playful spirit that pervades. As Chris explains, “ each label is different. I believe that (each wine) appeals to a different set of people. Every wine has a story, how it came about, where it‘s from, who grows the grapes . . .people like to discover a wine for themselves. Diversity of varietals is our strength. “ Troon itself has more than 20 varietals planted on the estate. Go to www.troonvineyard.com to find out about “Druid’s Fluid”, meet Chris, winemaker Herb Quady and marketing director Liz Wan. Something fun is always going on here and the wines are recommended!
Jacksonville Vineyards/Fiasco Winery
This is a family run operation in the best sense. When I visited this vineyard mom Pam Palmer was in Italy, Dad Dave was flying his FedEx route and son Derick was manning the tasting room. Derick told me the family “moonlights as winemakers.” Founded on organic principals, this vineyard raises reds only, has no partners and embodies the old European style of planting, harvesting, vintning, bottling, corking , labeling and selling each bottle from vine to glass. Indeed European visitors to the tasting room have told him this is ” old- life style.” Derick, who has a child of his own is proud of his families connection to the land,” this is life as it used to be- we are involved beginning to end.” Their 2007 Sangiovese Chianti style is their signature wine. And why the moniker “fiasco”? According to Pam, fiasco means “to make a bottle” in old Italian. Derick wants to pass along an insider’s tasting note; “try our 2003 Claret with a bit of Dagoba chocolate.” Divine! www.jacksonvillevineyards.com
Valley View Winery
Mike and Mark Wisnovsky are second generation winemakers. Relaxing in the tasting room overlooking their 77 acre property they related in tandem, that their father Frank, an engineer, selected this particular site with great forethought considering the “dynamics of climate.“ What makes this story so compelling is that after the untimely death of their father at 44 years of age, described in these parts as a1970’s wine pioneer, their mother Anna Maria with children still at home and their winemaker persevered and continued the wine. How did they survive? Supporters would make the wine their own. Thirty years ago Jacksonville Inn became on of the first restaurants to carry their wine; the interest spread by word of mouth and “ still enough people would search you out.” Mike adds,” I think because of that we had more of a hard core following.” Both brothers agree as Mark outlines their tasting room philosophy, “ It’s what’s in the bottle, here’s a glass, taste it- no ego.“ Try the exceptional 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon named after their mother Anna Maria, the flowery-citrus 2006 Viognier or join their wine club online at www.valleyviewwinery.com and they’ll send you a special selection.
The entire town of Jacksonville is on the historic register. And Jacksonville is but a few miles down the road from your last winery for the day so pull up to Gary Renniger Balfour and Tim Balfour’s glorious three-story Stickley influenced B & B and settle in. You are going to feel at home here. But I have to confess as a rule I am not a B & B fan. I prefer the anonymity of a hotel to slapping on a happy face in the morning sitting across from a talkative stranger at a way- too-early breakfast. But the vibe here is relaxing, due in no small part to Gary and Tim’s gracious approach to their business, the dimension of their space and their impressive collections displayed throughout the house. Discovery is at every turn. And I really did enjoy my fellow travelers at TouVelle’s most reasonable breakfast hour.
One afternoon as I lingered poolside in the garden, Tim told me the real secret of the house, “ the property is large enough, people can be around but not on top of each other. ( They find it ) peaceful, relaxing, embracing.” Tim describes the property as “an orchard boom house.” Indeed Judge Frank TouVelle and his wife Elizabeth built this fine home with proceeds from their successful pear and stone fruit orchard ventures in the early 1900’s .
TouVelle House is within walking distance to everything in Jacksonville; the Britt Festival and downtown dining and shopping. Golfing, airports, fly fishing, area sites are within a reasonable distance. Because of this , Gary reminds me” TouVelle is a good jumping- off point.” Reserve a room and enjoy this wonderful place- do not miss Gary’s tender scones and flaky quiche for breakfast! www.touvellehouse.com
Jacksonville Inn Hotel
Dinner at the Inn is an event in these parts. Built in gold rush 1861, it is one of the earliest permanent structures in this historic town. The wine cellar alone boasts 1500 bottles of Oregon, domestic and imported wines! The menu is varied; appy’s, steaks, seafood, and pasta- but they also feature an evening special. Here is where you get the freshest regional and local bounty. How about Chanterelles with a garlic Chardonnay sauce, Salmon stuffed with Dungeness Crab and brie? I began dinner with their signature Hazelnut Prawns with dill beurre blanc sauce paired with a smashing Valley View Viongier and finished with a Belgian Chocolate cookie- topped mousse paired with a merlot ice wine . Sensational! www.jacksonvilleinn.com
Rising Sun Farms
This was my first stop of the new day-how appropriate. Rising Sun Farms, makers of cheese tortas, wines, sauces and purveyor of gourmet nibbles is a pleasant spot to stop and taste what‘s good in the Valley. Ask retail sales manager Anjali Altman about any of the products made in their sparkling commercial kitchens and she can also pair it with a wine! I sampled their Artichoke Lemon Torta with a crisp Lavelle Charrdonay and it was delightful. Rising Sun owners Elizabeth and Richard Fujas’s philosophy is to “seize the day” and go as green as possible; grapes grown organically, a no GMO policy, their own five acres planted in basil for their pesto. They exceed specifications for “ natural and organic “ product even exporting to the tough- to- get- into Japan market for years. Look for their products in a, Costco, Trader Joes or by private label with Nieman Marcus. www.risingsunfarms.com
Side bar: THE 5 “S’s ” of WINE TASTING:
Dianne Sanny, long- time tasting room manager and my guide for the first day of tasting sends along the 5 S’s of Wine tasting:
1. See (look at the color, clarity, density)
2. Swirl (get a sense of the viscosity as the “legs” run down the glass and oxygenate to release bouquet)
3.Smell (experience, relate to familiar smells in your repertoire)
4. Sip ( cover the entire mouth; tongue has 5 areas of perception)
5. Swallow, ( or spit )
Eden Valley Orchards/Eden Vale Wine
Statuesque Anne Root presides over the National Historic Places registered Voorhies Estate, an elegant mansion still partially planted in pears. Eden Valley Orchards, founded in 1885 by Joseph H. Stewart, a stalwart progenitor of the commercial pear industry in Southern Oregon puts forth two tiers of production in their wine brand. The Eden Vale label has two small production blends – red and white- and two classic Oregon varietals -Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Under the Pear House Collection label the premium-tier wines are the more unique varietals to Oregon: Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Syrah and late harvest Viognier. I loved their citrusy-melony 2006 Voignier.
Old school in her devotion to using cork in her bottles; Anne also see’s her winery as a modern hub of social activity. They host weddings, dinners, fundraisers and concerts throughout the year. About their convivial “Jazz in the gardens” the popular Thursday night summer series held at the winery, Anne tells me that “a good mix of out-of-towners, locals with family and friends enjoy the musical al fresco, drink their favorite wine and order our light plates.” www.edenvalleyorchards.com
Anne is also a part of the success story of the “Wine and Farm Tour.” A self-guided romp through the valley to visit winemakers, farms and artisan foods. Think chocolate, meat, cheese, milled grains, produce- all the best in the Rogue and Applegate valleys. www.oregonwineandfarmtour.com
Just as each vine has a personality, I found that each winery tasting room does too. This Italian inspired airy abode soaring above the valley between Medford and Ashland was designed for hanging out and enjoying life. The deck here is the place to be for it’s panoramic vistas of the hills and the pond below.
It’s where I encountered a spandex- clad, long-haired, frustrated musician of an age to know better named “el greco,”trying his best moves on the ladies! I overheard from my stool at the wine bar anyway that Manager Aga( Agnieszka) Stachurska wouldn’t let him play the piano.
Paschal laid down it’s first vintage in 1998 and in 2001 opened the tasting room. filled me in on the style here as she poured a taste of 2006 Maja’s New White a blend named for her young daughter; “we do good blends and are known for our syrah.” The wine was light and Aga nodded,” definitely a deck wine” she smiled.
A most interesting 2005 Civita Di Bagnoregio named for a tiny Italian hill town village of fourteen people in Tuscany was a blend of 60% Tempranillo, 15% Sangiovese, 15% Dolcetto and 10% Syrah. Aga describes it as “ Italian, Spanish and French by the grapes, but by the heart Italian.” It’s a very full bodied wine with fruit- forward spice finish and yes it is loud! But not as loud as “el greco “ as he followed me to the parking lot telling me why he thought I was left-brained and then hoping back on his bicycle for home! A gregarious place, Paschal is a young winery with a loyal local following. They are known for their community involvement and always have something wonderful going on. www.paschalwinery.com
Ashland Springs Hotel
Ahh . . .Ashland Springs Hotel -a haven from the rigors of wine tasting and the road. Ashland is a magical place, a great walking town and famous for the Shakespeare Festival.
Doug and Becky Neuman’s labor of love; the restoration of the old Lithia Springs Hotel now the Ashland Springs was built in 1925 before the Shakespeare Festival was even conceived. In those days the draws were mineral water cures, naturist lectures, and concerts at the nearby Chautauqua Assoc. brought culture and entertainment ( rural areas of the U.S). Several re-incarnations later the nine-story hotel with the lemony exterior is still the tallest building in town. Re-opened in 2002, a step through the doors is a step back to a graceful time. Guided by the opulent sensibility of Becky Neuman; the square hotel pool became an outdoor English garden, a concrete slab next to the ballroom- a conservatory. Designer Candra Scott and Becky also decided against the obvious Shakespearian theme and instead focused on the naturism of it’s early Chautauqua days accenting the public rooms with displays of bird nests and seashells and adopting drawings of various flora and fauna throughout their branding and written materials.
My room boasted high ceilings and a view over the town to farmland and range on the hills beyond. Soft tones and comfortable beds complimented a dressy space that also begs you to relax , although there is much to explore in Ashland. But you needn’t go far. Chef Damon Jones puts an elegant spin on comfort food in Larks Restaurant off the main lobby using local organic produce and seasonal ingredients. Well done!www.ashlandspringshotel.com
The Winchester Inn, Restaurant and Wine Bar
Any restaurant that offers a “daily Crème Brûlée” has my heart. I love this establishment run by the Gibbs family. Set on a tree-lined side street, the Winchester’s brunch, dinner and bar menu take advantage of what’s fresh and local and combines ingredients in surprising ways. I feasted on Grilled Wild Salmon with a Corn and Blueberry Salsa and a Chipotle Blackberry Potato Griddle Cake. A glass of rich, raspberry- red Lorelli Cabernet from the Applegate Valley selected by my waiter for me, broke all the rules but what a way to go!
Drew, the Gibb‘s son provided this info about the Inn owned and operated since 1983 by his parents Laurie and Michael;” the Winchester received its moniker from a previous owner due to the many doors walled over, stairs inside closets and windows boarded up like the famous ‘Winchester Mystery House‘ in California. When the Gibbs began their ambitious re-hab of the building, they uncovered 11 windows and 13 doors – no skeletons! Laurie (an avid gardener) transformed a barren, hilly lot with a pick-ax, establishing the flowing lines and the foundations for the( award-winning) tiered gardens.” Plan a visit to the Winchester and as the Gibbs say “ we hope that you will take time to stay and smell the roses.” www.Winchesterinn.com
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Ashland and the Festival are magically intertwined. According to the latest statistics 83% of respondents stated that their primary reason for visiting Ashland was to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival( OSF). And a whopping 37% visit every year! *
But just what is the festival? By name you’d think it an immersion of the great Bard’s prose. But the Tony Award winning festival presents an eight month season of 11 plays, – four by Shakespeare and seven by classic and contemporary playwrights along with conducting educational programs in three theatres; the outdoor Elizabethian Stage, the Angus Bowmer Theatre ( The 1935 founder of OSF) and the intimate New Theatre.
This is important theatre. The OSF is one of the oldest and largest professional non-profit theatres in the nation. It employs 450 theatre professionals, has over 600 volunteers and this year broke all attendance records with ticket sales of** 404,730 and revenue at $15.5 million. The leading “seat filler” this season? “The Taming of the Shrew.” Performed under the stars in the Elizabethan theatre, the audience is transported to a piazza in Padua as Petruchio comes to woo a wealthy wife. Enchanting! Contact early for tickets to plan your trip around theatre dates. Look into their back stage tour. www.osfashland.org
Sources- *stats provided by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2004
**Associated Press- The Oregonian newspaper 11/4/07
Anyone in the know wanders down the short hill from the theatre after the plays let out for a sweet before retiring for the evening. Chateaulin’s desserts, brandies and ports are a sublime dénouement to a perfect night. My choice? The Gateau au Chocolate, a layered dark chocolate mousse resting on chocolate cake covered by a creamy chocolate much lighter than a cheese cake. Try it with a 2005 Harris Bridge Pinot Noir ice wine. Chef David Taub offers a prix fixe menu of three courses earlier in the evening or offers a full menu of French cuisine and bistro fare. Recommended. www.chateaulin.com
Take a rest dear reader. I’ll see you again next time as we continue our sojourn. We’ll visit an award-winning creamery, a mad chocolatier, a wizard that floats in the bluest water you’ve ever seen and one of the greatest fly-fishing rivers in the world. More wine? But of course! Go to www.southernoregon.org for more info on Southern Hospitality-Oregon Style.