S. Oregon viticulture - Printable Version

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- cpurvis - 06-15-2001 02:04 PM

Attended an interesting seminar last weekend that included a limited tasting. Hosted by Oregon State Univ. at the local Extension office complex & intended for grape growers & wannabes...approx. 100 attended. Generally informative. Particularly interesting was the LIVE (Low Input Viticulture) program. Oregon is now the first area outside of Europe to be certified by the program.

The tasting occurred just after a very good bbq lunch. The 4 wines were all local, mostly forgetable, & didn't match bbq at all.

1) Foris Pinot Gris..forgetable
2) ?? (obscure) Estate Chardonnay...typical sweet mass-market junk w/ a memorable banana-popsicle (who can forget that smell from childhood? [img][/img]) nose.
3) Foris Pinot Noir..simple, quaffable w/ cherry flavors.
4) Griffin Creek 1998 Merlot...blackberry & vanilla nose, pure blackberry jam start to finish & then some. Wasn't sure whether to drink it or spread it on toast. I'll buy my blackberry jam for less than $30+ thanks.

The guest UC-Davis grad winemaker/wine scientist was asked: Of the varietals not presently grown in this area, what two would he recommend? Answer: syrah & viognier.

My thoughts: we have excellent grapes grown in this area (& recognized outside the area), but an almost complete lack of winemaking talent... S. Oregon needs an infusion. Most wineries are mom-n-pops that just got bigger. It will be 5-10 yrs before you hear really good things about wines from here.


- Bucko - 06-15-2001 02:55 PM

I agree -- the area has great potential.

- zenda2 - 08-21-2001 07:41 AM

Bridgeview is from that region, isn't it? I'm a huge fan of Bridgeview's 'Blue Moon' Pinot Noir ($12 locally), my favorite PN for less than $20. Bridgeviews NV $7 Blue Moon Riesling is tasty, as well.

- cpurvis - 08-21-2001 11:05 AM

Yes, Bridgeview is here...over in the Illinois Valley. Was just there a month ago.

There are three valleys/wine growing areas in this southwest corner of Oregon, & the Illinois is closest to the ocean. Thus, cooler weather that allows them to grow riesling, gewurztraminer, & pinot noir.

Bridgeview's Blue Moon Riesling is a nice summer quaffer & easy on the wallet...often $6 or less here... yet, like many northwest rieslings, lacks the food-friendly balance of flavor & acidity found in better rieslings (Germany/Alsace).

BTW, another value Oregon pinot that I've seen mentioned favorably is Firesteed, but I haven't tried it yet.


- winoweenie - 08-21-2001 01:55 PM

Bought a box of the 97 Firesteed at Sportsman sale last spring. Neat juice for the 8.99 per price. WW

- Cole - 09-07-2001 09:15 AM

I just got back from a So. OR trip to a number of wineries and have a few strong thoughts. In the next 15 years Southern Oregon is where the real action will be in Oregon. If you are a new winemaker and choose to spend your money buying expensive land in the Willamette, you are kind of forced into a market situation where you have to make the best Pinot noir you can . . . which means you have to reach some pretty high standards pretty fast to remain in business. But, if you go south, you can explore a relatively new area where there is much more freedom to make your own individual mark (and cheaper land prices). The region is rife with undeveloped microclimates, and the potential for new varietals (i.e., not Pinot) is vast.

Here is the perfect example. Earl and Hilda Jones searched the country for the best climate to grow Tempranillo. They found it in Oregon's Umpqua AVA. Now they are making Tempranillo, Cabernet franc, Syrah, Dolcetto, and others that are really turning heads. They are making really good wines that will only get better as they learn their terroir and develop their skills. Oh, I forgot to mention, their winery is Abacela Vineyards in Roseburg and I recommend their wines--especially the Syrah and Cab franc.

Another example. Barney Smith retired to the Applegate Valley (the state's newest AVA) to make wine. He is very small, but making some really nice Cabernet sauvignon and (drumbeat here) Pinot noir, and at exceptionally reasonable prices. These are not world beating wines, but they are excpetionally good for their price (generally under $15).
His winery is called The Academy.

It is sadly true that Southern Oregon lacks viticultural and winemaking sophistication. But this is changing and it is a great region to watch.

A final thought. Don't write off the wineries because you get one of their wines that isn't so great. All of these wineries have some real dogs . . . and a few gems that are worth seeking out. Try the Foris "Fly Over Red" for a good value, for example, even though other Foris wines aren't always great. Personally, I haven't seen any good Chards from here (but Oregon Chardonnay is a story unto itself), but I have found some good Bordeaux-style blends and others. Taste around and you'll find the occasional diamond in the rough.

Don't give up on Sothern Oregon quite yet!!

- cpurvis - 09-07-2001 12:30 PM

Cole, no reason to give I said, 5-10 years. Couldn't agree more re: undeveloped microclimates.

Abacela is the most intersting (borderline S. Oregon) pioneer now, but the wines are still overpriced.

Haven't seen Academy wines for "less than $15"...will keep lookin'. BTW, he is able to do pinot in the Applegate Valley b/c he's on the west side & his land faces/slopes east.

Foris' Flyover Red was named as an allusion to this bein' "flyover country" betw. the recognized wine areas of Napa/Sonoma & the Willamette. Will be interesting to watch the direction taken by Foris now that he has a winemaker w/ 20 yrs. Calif. experience. I like the gewwurztraminer.

Try some Ashland Vineyards wines...should be readily avail. for you. Decent, reasonably priced everyday reds.

** The most interesting development in S. Oregon is just now tryin' to get off the ground. An historic mansion / pear orchard being converted to a "wine education center". 14 varietals already planted in a 2 acre demonstration area, tasting room opening this month, "specialty crushing facility" planned so that locals don't have to ship grapes to the Willamette anymore, etc. If all goes well, this could become the cornerstone of S. Oregon viticulture.


- Cole - 09-07-2001 06:42 PM

There's actually more Pinot grown in So OR than people realize. A lot gets bought by Willamette wineries and goes into their "Oregon" blends. There's also more potential for high quality Pinot than most people realize . . . depending on the microclimate. Unfortunately, a lot of So. OR growers aren't yet willing to do the kind of cropping and tending required to produce top-notch Pinot, though this is slowly changing. Despite their high prices, the Griffin Creek label's success is to a large part due to their careful viticulture (and good winemaking from Joe Dobbes) . . . I'd sure like to see other growers follow their viticultural example!

The Academy wines are released with suggested retail prices that range from $12 for his Chardonnay to $23 for his Emeritus blend. The '98 Cabernet is priced at $16, and his Pinot noir is priced at $14. of course, that's SUGGESTED retail prices . . . who knows what the retailer ends up charging (so buy it from Barney!).

Another locally available wine is Wooldridge Creek, with some nice Syrah and Viognier. Valley View has a REALLY nice "Ice wine" coming out this fall, but I'll bet they price it on the fullsome side. They also have a pretty nice blend (go for their higher end Anna Maria line), but overall they can be quite variable. I agree that Ashland Vineyards has some nicer wines as well, but overall I've not been too impressed. Weisinger's is on the upswing with Eric taking over the winemaking. I actually like their Petite Pompadour blend rather well, they have a nice reserve Cab, and their unusual Mescolare Cab/Pinot blend can go down nicely. Finally, a new winery, Paschal, holds some promise. I've done some barrel tasting with the winemaker and saw very nice Syrah and Cabernet . . . even Malbec!

And, oh boy are you right about the Voorheis Mansion! They're doing a great job of renovation, they have big plans, and it is already looking great. It will be Griffin Creek/Quail Run's tasting room at first, which means at least the visitors will get some good (though admittedly pricey) wines to taste! Very soon it should be a high spot for all those Californians coming up for Ashland and the Rogue River.

Exciting things beginning to happen in Southern Oregon (including a pretty big land purchase by the former winemaker at Flowers in CA), and it is really great to see!!

- mrdutton - 09-07-2001 09:50 PM

>>My thoughts: we have excellent grapes grown in this area (& recognized outside the area), but an almost complete lack of winemaking talent... S. Oregon needs an infusion. Most wineries are mom-n-pops that just got bigger. It will be 5-10 yrs before you hear really good things about wines from here.<<

Gee that's what some folks said about the wine from Virginia .......... Thomas Jefferson said something like that in 1803.

Oh well.................

- cpurvis - 09-10-2001 08:58 AM

Cole, surprised you know about Voorheis Mansion project..what's your business/connection that gets you the wine industry info & barrel tastings?

Re: your comments -- Valley View "ice wine"? Hmmm...given their record, I'll stick with Canadians. I've tasted all their wines recently, & I don't buy any.

Weisinger's: "upswing"?..more like continuation of the family experiment. Eric is a nice guy, but, as with others here, it's still an untrained mom-n-pop approach..'let's see, what yeast should I use this year?' Some interesting, overpriced wines w/ a local (Ashland) cult following so that he sells everything every year.

Griffin Creek: I disagree 'bout viticulture as reason for their much vineyard management does it take to make a one-dimensional merlot fruit bomb? Like I said in another post, I'll pay less than $35 for blackberry jam. Their success is due to a)pop culture winemaking, & b)a very good east coast (NY) distributor to the east coast alcoholic fruit drink market.

Ashland Vineyards -- key word was "everyday"..the wines aren't complex, but are decent for +/- $ of the few wineries here pricing at a reasonable QPR.

Paschal -- have heard good things in addition to your comments...lookin' forward to tastin' the wines. Syrah may have a promising future in this area.

Otherwise, just tastin', waitin', & watchin'.

Cheers, cp

- Cole - 09-10-2001 11:28 AM


Southern Oregon is so interesting . . . such great potential, so little realization!

Basically, I agree with you, cpurvis, on your overall evaluation of So OR wineries. I rarely drink any of their wines for my own pleasure, and it is only occasionally that I find a winner from down there. But it is that "occasionally" that intrigues me!

I absolutely agree that there is a vast lack of sophisticated viticulture and winemaking skill in So. OR. But that alone doesn't solve for me the riddle of the variable (and relatively low) quality of the wines. There are a lot of equally self-taught winemakers in the Willamette AVA who are using equally rudimentary facilities and still making outstanding wines--so whay aren't there more from So OR? (I still think it has a lot to do with poor viticultural practices.)

Basically, there are no really great wines that I've seen from down there--"great" meaning that I'd compare them to, say, the top 1/3 of the same varietals produced from CA, WA, FR, or AU.

That being said, I do contend that if you take the So. OR wineries on their own terms, there are some "good" wine values, and that the overall quality is improving--albeit slowly!

For instance, in the case of Valley View, I absolutely agree that they aren't making superb wines (and sometimes not even "very good" wines). But, they aren't trying to. They are explicitly trying to make wines that will sell to their primary market, which is So. OR. They believe (rightly or wrongly)that their market will only buy a certain style wine in a certain price range. In their experience, if they go too much outside what they perceive this style and price band to be, they will not sell.

Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong, but it is their business model. Frankly, I'd prefer to see all wineries make the best possible wines each year, and work to "up" the taste standards of the market . . . but I'm not running their business. (Probably, what they need are more wine buyers like you and me standing up and saying to them "hey, I want better wine from you guys"--which, come to think of it, is just what we are doing!!)

So, within that, I'd rarely expect to see anything really good from VV. Still, I think their wines have gotten a somewhat better--probably due to a few good vintages and some new fruit sources (but with the same winemaker for many years, probably not the winemaking). And when I see something that does stand up from their norm, I yell hallalujah! And I think their ice wine is an example.

(Parenthetically, Abacela--Umpqua AVA is So. OR in my book--IS trying to make so-called world class wines, so I do try to judge their wines against the top 1/3rd, etc., which they miss, but are getting praiseworthingly close).

So, to take the "ice wine" (the "ice" part being artificially induced). Is it a TBA lookalike? Of course not. Is it as good as the Canadian ice wines? Well, as good as some I've had, but certainly not comparable to the best. But it is a damn sight better than ANYTHING else OR has to offer in the way of late harvest wines (I think I've probably tasted them all, and for my money, I've only ever had ONE that rose above the one-dimensional fruit syrup category) and is definitely a surprise coming from VV, and I think deserves huzzahs--and is just another example of that occasional evidence of potential that keeps me expectantly trying every new bottle, hoping for that jump upward in quality that I am convinced is possible. (How they decide to price it is another issue--"value for dollar" being a separate subject!)

So, anyway, sorry for the long-windedness of all this (a congential problem of mine).

And, to answer your first question about my involvement in the wine industry: I publish a magazine called the Oregon Wine Report. Two years old (the magazine, not me), 32-44 pages, quarterly.

And, some last minute quick reactions: All else being equal, the better tended the vines, the better the resultant wine. More viticultural attention goes into the Griffin Creek vineyards than most any other So OR winery (still, not at the same level of what Ken Wright, for example, demands from his vineyards). Sure, their wines are too expensive. Sure, they're not all great. But their average quality is a good step above the So. OR norm (I'm not sure I've ever had a Merlot that wasn't a one-dimensional fruit bomb . . . unless it cost hundreds of dollars a bottle and said domething like Petrus on the label), and more power to them for trying to up the ante for So. OR wines!

Now, if the folks in So. OR just started paying more attention to site selection, varietal/microclimate matching, rootstock selection, vine management, and crop load, it would be a good start!

Anyway, like you, I'm a tastin' and a watchin' and a hopin' for better things to come from So. OR!!

Here's to sumptuous sipping!

- cpurvis - 09-10-2001 03:29 PM

Well spoken Cole. We'll keep our minds, eyes & tasters open. cp