Roadtrips and wine tasting are one of my favorite pairings: you get to put the juice in context by seeing the scenery, sampling the food and talking with its people (including winemakers if you’re lucky). Greg and I were 16 days into a South-to-North-to-South West Coast adventure that included stops in California, Washington and finally Jacksonville, Oregon. While not as well-known as the pinot-centric Willamette Valley, I had great hopes for our jaunt through the Southern Oregon wine country. I love exploring new regions, especially if the area is undiscovered or at least underappreciated. Jacksonville, Oregon in the Rogue Valley had a promising ring to it.
We were off to a good start, arriving noonish at the Back Porch Bar and Grill, highly esteemed by Yelpers for their hand-ground half pound burgers and old west flair. Splitting the massive burger (enhanced by blue cheese and onion rings) was plenty satisfying, especially since we chose to start with their deep fried green beans. This hearty meal served as a good “base” for the wine tasting to follow. Troon, Cowhorn, DANCIN Vineyards here we come.
Or so we had hoped. As it turned out, many of the tasting rooms along the Applegate Valley Wine Trail near Jacksonville, Oregon are only open on the weekends or by appointment. Ditto for the promising Quady North tasting room in town. So we hit the trail to sample what we could find. Stop number one was the Valley View Winery, the first post-prohibition winery in the Applegate Valley. The Wisnovsky family were pioneers and darn good marketers– their Rogue Red is quite popular in Costcos from here to Japan. I found the red wines a little thin, and even a bit sour. But they were running a good deal on a case of a lively and aromatic 2012 viognier ($22 by the bottle but $99 by the case). We passed however, reserving our cargo area for more distinctive examples.
Next stop was the charming riverside Red Lily Vineyards. Although they’re known for their award-winning tempranillo (and it was good, a smooth spicy explosion of dark red fruit), I opted for their Red Blanket Tempranillo blend, which is 21% cabernet sauvignon. A well-crafted blend can be more balanced and is usually less expensive than a pure varietal. But here’s one irksome detail that bit into my budget: the policy of charging a tasting fee even when you purchase a bottle or two. In any event I was conserving cash since we still had our new favorite wine destination, California’s Anderson Valley, up ahead.
Our final wine tasting destination was in Jacksonville proper at the South Stage Cellars. This refuge from the hazy, triple-digit heat was manned by an informative, friendly and generous pourer. I guess the third time was the charm– South Stage’s thirteen vineyards grow twenty-eight grape varieties offering plenty of opportunity for discovery. As a riesling fan, I savored the refreshing apple-fresh La Brasseur, the wine was a Gold Medal Winner at 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and held its own in a recent Finger Lakes, New York competition. On the other end of the spectrum, South Stage has a 100% carmenere (usually found in blends) that was redolent of green pepper, jalepeño and smoky earthy fruit. My fave though was a marsanne/rousanne blend called Romeo & Juliet. The two varietals were meant for each other, one supplying structure, one providing aromatics and minerality. And, unlike the play, it ends well.
What tops off an afternoon of wine tasting? Pairing your latest wine discovery with fine local cuisine. Unfortunately, events conspired against us again. Even though we were smack dab in the middle of the Southern Oregon Wine Festival every single restaurant we’d read about was closed: Gogi’s, C Street Bistro, Déjà Vu at the historic McCully House Inn… We ended up eating peanuts and deep fried jalepeño poppers at the Boomtown Saloon and drinking the beer on tap at the Jville tavern. My advice, if you plan to visit Jacksonville, Oregon go on the weekend. KEN