Unless you’re involved in the Oregon wine scene, you probably won’t know much about the southern Oregon valleys for wine tasting. When you think of Oregon wines, most people will immediately cling to the idea of rich and earthy Pinot Noirs like what you’d find in the Willamette Valley. And although you’ll still find plenty of those in southern Oregon, there are even more varietals down south than you could begin to imagine.
Southern Oregon has 6 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or in plain English, 6 distinct grape-growing regions. These regions actually have some of the most diverse growing conditions in the world. A simple definition of “terroir” is how a region’s climate, soils, and overall environmental factors effect the taste of the wine. Southern Oregon has more terroirs than most wine growing regions in the world. In addition, it was named as one of the top 10 global wine destinations by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2016.
And when you look at the facts, that’s not surprising. There are nearly 6,000 vineyard acres and over 150 wineries to visit in southern Oregon.
So, what makes southern Oregon such a unique and diverse wine growing region in the first place? Well first off, it has a long growing season, about 7 months to be exact. This is an ideal amount of time for growing grapes and it’s similar to the European growing season. In fact, the latitude of southern Oregon is on par to France, Spain, and Italy – a few of the best wine growing regions in Europe.
Secondly, southern Oregon has the largest diurnal temperature swing in the world. The diurnal temperature range or DTR is the change between daily high and low temperatures. Since there is a large DTR in southern Oregon, the grapes are able to maintain their fresh, fruity, and natural acidity during harvest.
Lastly, the mountainous nature of the region creates a handful of mesoclimates, which allows for a lot of different wine varietals. You can find everything from award-winning Chardonnay to award-winning Tempranillo here. This shows through if you spend a couple of days wine tasting around the southern part of the state.
Okay, have I convinced you yet that you need to make a trip to southern Oregon if you’re into your wine? Good. I also wanted to mention a few wineries around the region that would be perfect stops for a wine tasting weekend. Also, these wineries are listed in the order of location (northwest to southeast) to make it easier for you to put together your own wine weekend adventure. Here we go!
Schmidt Family Vineyards
If there ever was a winery in southern Oregon that made you want to never leave Schmidt Family Vineyards is it. Between the extensive outdoor area that you can relax in with your glass of wine, to the ridiculously welcoming staff and atmosphere, this vineyard is not one to miss. They even have walking paths near the vineyards that are named after their grandchildren. There’s really no such thing as a bad picnic spot at the Schmidt Family Vineyards. Not to mention, they had some of my favorite wines from my three days of wine tasting in the area.
The vineyards were started by Judy and Cal Schmidt with the first vines of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 2001. And in addition to their outdoor area, their tasting room has to be one of the most impressive ones I came across in southern Oregon.
Their 2014 Albarino and 2012 Chardonnay were two of my favorites.
Practical Info: Address: 330 Kubli Road, Grants Pass, OR 97527
Open 7 days a week from 12-5 pm, year round. Extended Friday hours 12-8 pm with live music 5-8pm
Speaking of picturesque vineyards, Serra Vineyards was right up there with Schmidt in terms of natural beauty and a well manicured experience. The one advantage that Serra has is height. The vineyard and tasting room are elevated and provide a grand view of the rolling hills of the Applegate Valley. It was one of the most stunning spots I found in southern Oregon.
Serra is another family-orientated wine operation – are you sensing a theme here? I enjoyed their reds slightly more than there white wines. My personal favorite was their 2011 Pinot Noir.
Practical Info: Address: 222 Missouri Flat Road, Grants Pass, OR 97527
Open seven days a week 11am – 5pm, except major holidays
Red Lily Vineyards
If you’re looking for a classy and elegant wine experience, look no further than Red Lily Vineyards. I lucked out in enjoying a dinner at the vineyards. Walking along the Applegate River at dusk and heading into a rustic barn with a multi-course menu ahead of me – it was all of my Pinterest dreams come true. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by the elegance of a winery. Red Lily truly knows how to decorate, cook, provide a hell of an ambiance, and of course, make really good wine.
Their goal is to produce the best Spanish-inspired wines possible and I would say they exceeded that goal. They have a beach concert series along the river in the summer and of course they offer a romantic venue for all types of events. They’re especially proud of their Tempranillo and my favorite wine of the night was their 2012 Red Lily Tempranillo.
Practical Info: Address: 11777 Hwy. 238, Jacksonville, OR 97530
Open seven days a week 11am – 5pm
South Stage Cellars (Quail Run Vineyards)
South Stage Cellars is actually a tasting room that is located in Jacksonville, Oregon, and the best place to taste Quail Run Vineyards wine. The wine from Quail Run comes from 14 distinct vineyards across the Rogue Valley and they grow 29 grape varietals commercially.
Their tasting room is located in a historic brick building from 1865 that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its rustic charm is the perfect place for a classy afternoon or evening of wine tasting, and the back patio is a beautiful spot to listen to live music. Furthermore, it is Oregon’s only vineyard-based tasting room and they are especially known for their Pinot Noir.
Don and Traute Moore, the owners of the tasting room and vineyards, are seen as the pioneers of the southern Oregon wine scene. They introduced a variety of wine grapes from around the world to southern Oregon over 25 years ago. Moreover, they were the first to grow Syrah, Viognier, and Grenache in the state. Today over 30 of Oregon’s best winemakers still use the fruit from Quail Run Vineyards. It’s the best place to learn more about the history of the region and how the wine industry started in this area of Oregon.
Practical Info: Address: 125 South Third Street, Jacksonville, Oregon 97530
Summer Hours: Mon – Thurs & Sun: 1:00 – 7:00 pm; Wed, Fri & Sat: 1:00-8:00 pm
Dinner Wednesday $10.00 & Friday $10.00 (reservations). Live music Wednesday, Friday & Saturday in the summer ($3 cover charge)
I didn’t get to visit DANCIN Vineyards myself during this trip, but I did get to try their wine at my first night’s dinner at the Jacksonville Inn. I’ve heard the DANCIN property is charming and gorgeous if you make it out for wine tasting in person. They’re especially known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with my favorite being their DANCIN Pinot Noir.
DANCIN is named after the two owners, Dan and Cindy who came together to bring the beauty of science and art to winemaking in southern Oregon.
Practical Info: Address: 4477 South Stage Rd., Medford, Oregon 97501
Open Thurs – Sun 12pm – 7pm
Grizzly Peak Winery
I toured Grizzly Peak Winery and had lunch among the vineyards before catching an Oregon Shakespeare Festival matinee when I was in Ashland. Another incredibly stunning winery, Grizzly Peak is a place that has a classy exterior without the pretentiousness.
I met both of the owners, Al and Virginia Silbowitz, who are originally from Berkeley, California. Their laid back and friendly attitudes emanated from their business as well. Although you can tell they put a lot of energy, passion, and work into the winery, Grizzly Peak is an approachable place where it’s easy to spend an afternoon. I love wineries that allow you to get lost amongst the vineyards, there’s something so magical about that on a sunny day.
Grizzly Peak is especially proud of their 2014 Reserve White Tempranillo, a very unique wine that I found to be delicious. With flavors and aromas of apricot, peach, and ripe melon combined with a creamy mouthfeel, it was the perfect paring with our lunch from Sesame Asian Kitchen. One of the best aspects about Grizzly Peak is that it’s only a handful of minutes from downtown Ashland, so it’s the ideal wine experience to add on to an Ashland trip.
Practical Info: Address: 1600 E. Nevada St. Ashland, OR 97520
April thru October: Thursday – Sunday 12 – 4pm; November thru April: Saturday – Sunday 12 – 4pm
Weisinger Family Winery
Sometimes remembering the stark difference between wineries in popular viticulture regions is the personality or story behind the business. That was especially the case for the Weisinger Family Winery. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Eric Weisinger, the winemaker, at dinner for my last night in southern Oregon. His story combined with tasting my favorite Chardonnay from the trip stuck with me.
What I appreciated about Eric was his worldly inclination to understand the wine industry as best he could. His father, John Weisinger, started the winery after he moved to Oregon in 1979. Eric took over as winemaker in 1997, and expanded his knowledge as much as possible through classes at UC Davis.
He also took a break from the winery to travel to other wine regions around the world at one point. He spent time in New Zealand and Australia, specifically, to learn more about the wine culture abroad. This was one aspect I could definitely relate to having spent two years living in Oceania myself, although I was investigating the different beer cultures instead.
You can tell how passionate Eric is about his winemaking and the family business from the moment he starts talking about the winery. That is something that I appreciate in an area that has so many wineries to choose from, personal stories go a long way.
The Weisinger wines come from grapes grown in the Bear Creek Valley. The philosophy behind Weisinger is doing as little as possible to the wines, letting the grapes speak for themselves. Their most signature wine is their 2014 Estate Gewürztraminer, but my personal favorite that I had a chance to try was their 2015 Chardonnay.
Practical Info: Address: 3150 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland, OR 97520
May-September: 11am-6pm, daily; October-April: 11am-5pm, Wednesday-Sunday; Monday & Tuesday by Appointment
Another great wine from my last dinner in southern Oregon was the 2014 Pinot Noir from Irvine Vineyards. Similar to Weisinger, I had the chance to meet Michael Donovan, the managing director of Irvine during dinner. His affable and knowledgeable nature only made me want to learn more about the Irvine Vineyards and how they began.
The first vines were planted in 2006 by Dionne and Doug Irvine, the founders and owners of the vineyards. They started out on an 80 acre ranch after moving back to the Ashland area to raise their kids in the place they grew up. In 2012, Doug’s sister and her husband came on board to expand the vineyard acreage and wine production.
The vineyards are run on sustainable farming practices and they’re best known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their winery is one of the higher altitude wineries in the region at 2,100 feet, which allows for a distinctive soil profile and room for quality grape growing practices.
Practical Info: 1614 Emigrant Creek Road, Ashland, Oregon 97520.
Tasting room opening in May 2017. In the meantime, you can arrange a private appointment by calling 541-482-9383.
How Best To Get to the Wineries
- Drive Yourself – There aren’t a whole lot of options for wine tours around southern Oregon, so if you want to go at your own pace and do the most cost-effective option, drive yourself (or find a friend that’s willing to be a designated driver).
- Wine Hopper Tours – If you don’t want to worry about driving and potentially getting lost or holding yourself back from wine tasting, there are two other options. Wine Hopper Tours offer daily wine tours from Ashland, Medford, and Grants Pass to the Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley AVAs. Both this option and the Trolley option below are also great ones if you want to learn more about the history of the region from a guide. They offer group and private tours.
- All Aboard Trolley – If you really want to have a wine tasting experience with personality, All Aboard Trolley is the ideal option around town. Owned by Kerri Sauve, All Aboard is a relatively new addition to the transportation options around Jacksonville and southern Oregon. They can put together custom tours for you and they also run wine tours specifically as well.
Obviously, with over 150 wineries in southern Oregon I wasn’t able to mention or visit all of them, but these would be my picks for a wine weekend getaway in the area. If you happen to have more time and want to fit in even more than these 8 wineries, I would also highly recommend Folin Cellars, Valley View Winery, and Wooldridge Creek Winery.
Have you been wine tasting in Southern Oregon? What is your favorite type of wine? Do -you enjoy wine tasting when visiting a new region?
Note: I was a guest of Travel Southern Oregon during my few days of wine tasting extravaganza, but all opinions as always are my own.
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