Getting Honest About Craft Beer

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craft brewerIndustry consolidation is not only a problem in the wine business. Craft beer also suffers from the monopoly practices of big beer companies buying out independent craft brewers. The National Beer Wholesalers Association reports that Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation/Crown Imports, Heineken and Pabst  control 80 percent of the U.S. beer market.

Goose Island, Blue Point, Karbach, Golden Road, Devil’s Backbone, Elysian, Ten Barrel, Breckenridge, Four Peaks, Wicked Weed, Terrapin, Lagunitas, and Ballast Point are among the former craft breweries now owned by the conglomerates.

The result is a lot more bad beer on the market. LIke most big wine companies, big beer companies are focused on profit and minimizing costs rather than quality. Large companies don’t have the personal stake in quality that drives independent winemakers and brewers to seek constant improvement and to avoid shortcuts. And they lack incentive to preserve the individuality of products that may be less profitable. Furthermore, they have the market power to force smaller producers off the shelves. Industry consolidation threatens to send us back to the bad old days when beer was a homogenized product with a few producers making identical brews that differed only in their marketing.

The problem is you often can’t tell the craft brews from the corporate swill by looking at the bottle. This new initiative by the independent brewers trade group seeks to change that:

More than 800 breweries — including Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium — will soon begin printing seals on their beers that identify them as “Certified Independent Craft.” The initiative, which was spearheaded by the trade group for independent craft brewers, is intended to differentiate “true” craft beers from those made by the likes of MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken.

To qualify to use the seal, breweries cannot be more than 25 percent owned or controlled by any alcohol company that’s not itself a craft brewer. Its annual production also can’t exceed six million barrels.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. The problem is that Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are not exactly small, and they have some of the same negative incentives that compromise quality among the conglomerates. The 6-million barrel limit seems arbitrary given that most craft brewers produce a fraction of that amount. That figure seems tailored to getting Sam Adams et al under the limit perhaps in order to give their trade group more financial and political clout.

Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium may be independent but they are not “craft” or “artisan” in any meaningful sense. If including the big independents makes the category “craft” beer meaningless little will have been achieved.

Can Hot Soup Beat the Heat?

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samgyetang11We’re tasting wine in Southwestern Idaho where daytime temperatures are often well over 100 degrees and the heat of the day may be at 6:00 P.M.

So I’m getting desperate for ways to beat the heat. Here’s some advice from across the Pacific:

There are less daunting methods to beat the summer heat than by wolfing down still-boiling chicken soup for lunch. But followers of a Korean tradition say that few are as effective.

Their mantra is “yi yeol chi yeol,” or “fight fire with fire,” and their weapon of choice is samgyetang, a whole young chicken or Cornish hen stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng root, red dates and garlic, served piping hot in its own broth.

The idea is that the hot soup helps your internal body temperature match the temperature of the external environment thus making you feel cool. (Doesn’t this suggest the ideal environmental temperature is 98.6 degrees?)

It sounds counter-intuitive but there is some science backing it up.

Skeptics might ask for scientific evidence — and be surprised that some exists. A 2012 study at the University of Ottawa found that drinking warm liquids on hot days can lower body temperature more than drinking cold liquids can because it activates the body’s natural cooling system: perspiration. When sweat evaporates, some of our body heat leaves with it, making us feel cooler.

Perhaps this is why cultures near the equator like hot peppers.

At any rate, this might be worth trying, except I would have to heat the kitchen up to make the soup.

Misleading Headline: Case #445

misleading headlineMoneyish, a website owned by Dow Jones has an article with the following headline “Why you never have to spend more than $10 on wine again.”

Has the article uncovered the holy grail of cheap wine questing, the secret all of us have been seeking since getting into the wine racket? No such luck.

A $6 bottle of red wine sold exclusively at Coles supermarkets in Melbourne is getting rave reviews from oenophiles who gave it a unanimous gold rating during a blind taste test.

The Aussie wine, St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, earned the coveted “double gold” medal from a panel of sommeliers, retail buyers, distributors and exporters at the Melbourne International Wine Competition last week, beating out 1,100 wine submissions from more than 10 countries around the world.

The article continues in this vein reporting one other instance of an inexpensive wine winning a competition against more expensive rivals. Quoting a retail spirits expert we are told

“You don’t have to spend $50 on a bottle to get good wine. People are making good wine all over the world, and not all of it is expensive.”

There’s a stunning conclusion—some cheap wines are good. Who knew? That’s a far cry from showing that all your wine cravings can be satisfied for under $10 a pop. Try it. I guarantee you will be drinking mostly bad wine.

Wine prices are controlled by supply and demand not intrinsic merit. In good vintages there is always good surplus juice around that can be bottled and sold cheaply. And there are a few producers of bargain wines such as Bogle or McManis who care enough about quality to be consistently good. But they are the exception. Furthermore, those consistent bottles of Bogle Merlot are good but not extraordinary, unique or luscious. If you’re satisfied by “good” and you don’t mind drinking the same thing all the time you can find your bargain wine sweet spot and exist there.

But anyone who really likes wine will seldom find nirvana for under $10.

Wine Review: The Southern Oregon Tempranillo Face-Off

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2012UpquaRiberaTempranilloTempranillo is the grape most wine-focused Southern Oregonians are excited about. It is well- suited to the short, hot growing season here and no other American wine region has claimed it as their own. Given the interest in this grape,  I decided to do a blind tasting comparing three top Tempranillos from Umpqua Valley with the most impressive from the Rogue Valley.

As a comparison of these regions this is obviously a very limited test given the small sample size. The fact that one of the entries is blended with about 20% Cabernet and has an additional year of bottle age means we lack a grapes-to-grapes comparison. But the results are nevertheless interesting. All wines were initially tasted single blind to get initial tasting notes and a provisional ranking. Then each wine was tasted non-blind over several hours to gain greater insight.

The winner? A very close call between the top two.

1.  Hillcrest Vineyards Tempranillo “Umpqua Ribera” Umpqua Valley 2012

Winemaker Dyson Demara made this wine to be a “spittin’” image of Ribera Del Duero’s Vega Sicilia Unico. Since Vega Sicilia happens to be one of my favorite wines it’s not surprising that I picked this out in the blind tasting as the standout. Good aromatic intensity but what sets it apart is depth, a wine that promises mystery with its flavor. Aromas of dark fruit, fig and mocha are set against a background of gentle vanilla and mint emerging with aeration, and indefinable complexity that seems to hover just below the threshold of detection. The palate reveals a long, seamless evolution from dusty earth with coriander notes through waves of cola to a broad-shouldered chewy finish with top notes paradoxically suggesting cool, mountain spring water. Serious, stately but with fortitude and intimations of the mystical. Blended with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon 93 pts.

2.  Paul O’Brien  Tempranillo Cask 11 Umpqua Valley 2014

A very close second, this has bright, fresh cherry aromas, standing out against a duo of leather and damp leaves and  developing coffee with aeration. Great clarity and focus. The palate is juicy, broad and lush but gathers intensity at midpalate with a rush of crisp acidity. The tannins unfurl gently persisting as a low level prickle, supporting a long peppery finish with electric minerality closing the proceedings. I love the finish on this wine. It achieves power without relying on excessive tannin. An extrovert but dignified and graceful. This wine was fermented and aged in a large 900L French cask, very old school.   92 pts.

3. Abacela Tempranillo Barrel Select Umpqua Valley 2013

Dark plum on the nose with enticing leather and wisps of smoke. A note hovering between herbal and floral adds complexity but the aromas are more muted than the competitors.  This wine has a darker aspect, earthy, and brooding with lots of medium grain tannin, which gives it some rusticity. The finish is juicy but shows too much wood. It needs time to soften. Abacela was the first to plant Tempranillo in this region in 1995. 89pts.

4. Kriselle Tempranillo Rogue Valley 2013

What an odd experience with this wine. In the tasting room it was very impressive showing great intensity and originality. During the blind tasting it leaped from the glass with more aromatic intensity than all the others in the line up. But as I continued to sample the wine I became less enamored and the wine started to cloy. Explosive, new leather, smoked meats and caramel on the nose promise complexity. And in the mouth, the first impression is round and full with refreshing acidity complementing black cherry. But a harsh tobacco flavor pushes to the fore midpalate that throws the wine out of balance, giving way to a finish of fine grained tannins but with some exposed wood and bitter wood tannins that become more prominent with aeration. Bombastic and then turning fierce, with 30 months in French, Hungarian, and American oak, 35% new, it just seems overdone.  Points for originality. 88 Pts.

Tempranillo has a lot of potential in Southern Oregon but getting the oak right is a challenge.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

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mechanical harveserIt has been widely reported that due to the Trump-ordered crackdown on undocumented workers and the climate of fear it generates, wineries will have a tough time hiring enough workers during harvest to bring in the grape crop.  We all know what the real reason is for this crackdown but the stated reason is that it will protect American jobs.

Ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve talked to several winemakers recently about this issue, and the common response is that if they can’t get vineyard workers with the experience to do the job they will have to use more machines in the vineyard—mechanical pruning or pre-pruning, mechanical shoot thinning,  and mechanical harvesting. In the early days, vineyard mechanization was associated with low quality as the old harvesters beat up the fruit and the vines. Damaged fruit begins to oxidize immediately compromising wine quality even before the grapes make it to the winery.

But the technology has rapidly improved and today’s technology cuts a much more gentle path through the vineyard.  Most quality, artisan producers would prefer to use human labor because pruning and some harvesting methods require skill and judgment. But they will be forced to mechanize despite their preferences. Once that investment in equipment is made those jobs will be gone forever.

What seems manifestly unlikely is that hordes of skilled Anglo-Saxon pickers and pruners will leave the unemployment line and swarm into the vineyards just before the fall rains intensify.

Like Moths to a Flame

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moths to a flame

We really should not allow journalists to write philosophy. In the Napa Valley Register their wine columnist Allen Balik pontificates on the nature of greatness in wine. After complaining that the word “great” is overused (no doubt) and much rumination on how greatness can’t be measured or quantified (indeed) he spins out this pearl of wisdom:

True greatness cannot be expressed by a high price tag or a critic’s score but rather must be based on our own experience and impression of what is exhibited in our glass. Personal taste ultimately determines our impression of whether a certain wine is “great” regardless of the opinion of others.

So greatness simply means “what I like”. Talk about overusing a word, if “greatness” means “what I like” we could just get rid of the word “great” and replace it with “yum”.

Among the many meanings of “great” suggested by Merriam Webster are “remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness”, “eminent or distinguished”, “principle or main”, “markedly superior in character or quality”, etc.

Nowhere in MW’s careful specification of uses for “great” does “what I like” appear.

I too would not want to define “greatness” in wine in terms of scores arrived at by a consensus of critics, if only because scores might indicate greatness but don’t tell us what it is about the wine that is great. But at least a wine highly rated by most critics has achieved something “remarkable in magnitude”, distinguished and “markedly superior in quality”.  Whether I or anyone else happens to like the wine is immaterial. There are many highly scored wines I find disappointing. But that doesn’t diminish their achievement. My subjective impressions are not the measure of all things.

I recently tried to define greatness in wine as a function of depth, mystery, and resonance, properties which I think are discernible in great wines. Whether that account succeeds or not is not for me to judge but surely we can do better than “what I like”.

Why are otherwise intelligent people attracted to subjectivism like moths to a flame?

Wine Review: Cowhorn Syrah 21 Applegate Valley 2013

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Cowhorn_2013-Syrah-21-1I’ve been tasting lots of biodynamic wines lately and I’m beginning to think they tend to share a common flavor profile—fresh bright fruit and a stony or chalky minerality that is especially apparent on the finish. Cowhorn is Southern Oregon’s only biodynamic winery to date and their wines have that distinctive mineral profile.

On the palate the minerality appears in phases of fluent transitions, a hint of it at inception as the juicy berry fruit dominates, then a dazzling surge at midpalate, and as the fruit fades on the finish it’s like licking a stone. Full bodied yet elegant, the refined tannins are supportive rather than commanding with the finish propelled by acidity and minerality.

Ardent aromas of blackberry and red raspberry mingle with black pepper and a lovely duet of smoked meat and eucalyptus that marry nicely on the nose.

A beautiful wine, and when have you seen a U.S. Syrah at 13.3% alcohol?

The number 21 refers to the frost hours during the growing season, a convention they display on many of their wines indicating the degree of ripeness one might expect. 21 is a reasonably low number for this region.

Score: 91

Price: $45

Alc: 13.4%

Energetic, brassy when that minerality hits, even a little fierce, like Trombone Shorty’s Fire on the Bayou, especially when that “bone” sings:

Rogue Food: Farm to Table in Southern Oregon

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rogue-keltuceThe farm to table thing has metastasized from fetish to fad to flim-flam. What began as a foodie obsession with freshness and an anti-corporate ethos has become a marketing device for conventional restaurants whose idea of a farm is 500,000 chickens stacked in cages sitting on manure lagoon.

“Farmwashing” is now common with even fast food joints displaying photos of weather-beaten farmers toiling in their fields. Truth-be-told, most restaurants don’t have access to fresh ingredients throughout the year even if they’re intention is to source locally.

It’s hard to know when a restaurant’s claim to farm-to-table is genuine but it’s usually evident in the dish and in the frequency of their menu changes. If they have the same menu every week, they aren’t farm to table. My guess is that Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is mostly on the level with their locally-sourced food—the area is packed with small farms, many restaurants have their own gardens supplying produce, continually-changing, seasonal menus are the norm among the restaurants who advertise FTT, and the fresh flavors were explosive in most of the restaurants we sampled. Another indicator of their commitment to locavorism—lots of local wines on the menu.

Any discussion of local, sustainable sourcing in the Rogue Valley starts with Ashland’s Standing Stone Brewery. They raise their own beef and chickens from which they get their eggs, and which are fed leftovers from the kitchen and brewery. Most of the grain and hops used to make their excellent beer is locally sourced as well as is most of their produce when in season. Nearly 100% of their paper is recycled, 99% of their to-go packaging is plant-based and 64% of their by-products are reused by local farms and bio-diesel. Their goal is to reach zero-net energy use. The burgers from their own grass-fed beef is excellent and their beer line up among the best—try their Jasmine rice-based lager. It’s outstanding.

I have already blogged about New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro—an extraordinary dining experience with produce and herbs sourced from their own garden.

Lorella’s in Ashland has a constantly changing menu of exquisitely prepared, creatively designed Contemporary American dishes depending on what’s fresh that day. The Grilled Celtuce with Braised Frisee, French Lentils, Sauce Gribiche and Grilled Bread (picture above) was one of the more interesting dishes I’ve had this year.

Of the many fine dining restaurants in Ashland, Alchemy seemed to have the most creative and enticing menu and it didn’t disappoint. Seared duck breast with prickly pear gastrique, corn puree, charred nopales, and pistachio brittle was a stand out, as was the crab and sea bean salad.rogue-alchemy

If you want to take a break from wine tasting in this up and coming wine region, the burgers at Jasper’s Café are unusual. You can get burgers made from Kangaroo, bison, elk, Kobe beef, pulled pork on wild boar—you get the picture.

Even small towns in the area have interesting food. Grant’s Pass features The Haul, a well-priced gastropub advertising local ingredients and featuring an eclectic menu of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, tacos, falafel, etc. all designed and prepared with flare and enough creativity to set them apart.

And in Medford do not miss the holy trinity all on the same corner—the outstanding Rogue Valley creamery for some stinky cheese, Lillie Belle Farms Artisan Chocolates for such delights as chocolate covered bacon and smoky blue cheese truffle spread, all washed down with Ledger David’s great wines.

As I discussed in an earlier post, Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley is soon to be on the wine map and they already have a thriving food scene to support it. If you’re into wine and food destinations put this on your itinerary.

The Wines of Southern Oregon

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rogue-view-from-serra

The view from Serra Vineyards

As wine regions go, Southern Oregon is under-the radar, sandwiched between the long-established California regions to the south and the more recently prominent Willamette Valley to the north. My crystal ball is as cloudy as anyone’s but, if I might hazard a prediction, you will be hearing a lot more about Southern Oregon in the next decade. The reason is only in part related to wine quality which is quite good here (see below). There is a lot of good farmland available suitable for wine grapes at a relative bargain. The weather is warm enough to ripen almost any varietal and getting warmer as climate change pushes temperatures up. Yet winters are relatively mild, with only occasional damage to vines from hard freezes. The prime growing regions in California are already planted and land is enormously expensive there. The same is true of Willamette Valley where the big corporate wineries are already moving in snapping up vineyards and, of course, bidding up prices. So if you aspire to grow grapes and make wine and don’t have a fortune we’re you gonna go?

Southern Oregon.

Because it’s located near the prime West Coast wine regions, the population is already reasonably sophisticated about wine.  Because Ashland in the southern end of the Rogue Valley is an established tourist center hosting the highly-regarded Shakespeare festival during the summer, the restaurants and lodging options are fabulous, and with the food culture of Portland trickling south even small towns boast good places to eat. Situated on the I5 interstate, the major corridor through Washington, Oregon and California, there is plenty of traffic to keep tasting rooms full. And the gorgeous mountain scenery is a reliable attraction.rogue-wooldridge

Of course, without good wine this will never pan out. But for many years, Southern Oregon has been a mecca for California-trained winemakers seeking a quieter life, and all that knowledge is permeating the wine culture here with quality rapidly improving.

A good  comparison might be Sonoma 30 years ago. Small wineries in a rural, general agricultural community experimenting with many varietals trying to find out what will grow, with some locations growing into destinations, and plenty of Bay Area transplant alt-types to  spread cultural capital. If this isn’t a recipe for success I don’t know what is. One thing that makes this region unique is that it is some distance from a major metropolitan area. Portland is 4-5 hours away; Eugene is on the small side. Thus, limousine traffic is minimal and the hordes that descend on Napa and Sonoma unlikely to materialize. The region will grow, but at a comfortable pace with less population pressure than the more populated California regions have experienced. Corporate influence is not in evidence yet, although many of the vineyards here supply fruit to the large, commercial producers in Willamette Valley.

The Southern Oregon AVA is divided into two distinctly different appellations—the Rogue Valley AVA in the south and the Umpqua Valley AVA in the north. I’ll focus on general characteristics of both but the Umpqua will require a separate post.

Every wine region needs people who can effectively get information to the public about what the region has to offer. In the Rogue Valley one such person is Liz Wan, assistant winemaker at Serra Vineyards, who was kind enough to explain what makes Southern Oregon tick. The character of this region is determined by the surrounding mountain ranges—the Coastal range and Siskiyous to the west and south and the Cascades to the east. The confluence of these mountain ranges create a rain shadow that limits precipitation from the severe winter and spring storms rolling in from Alaska. Rainfall in most of the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys is about half of what the Willamette Valley receives. Although the Illinois Valley sub-region of the Rogue, nestled up against the Coastal Range in the West, receives significant marine influence, as we move inland to the other two sub-regions, Applegate Valley and Upper Rogue, that marine influence recedes and temperatures are higher. Furthermore, as Liz explained, vineyards near the city of Medford in the Rogue Valley are influenced by the built environment that retains heat. Thus, inland valley temperatures, especially the Upper Rogue, are hot during the summer reaching 105 degrees on some days. Spring temperatures are cool with late frost sometimes an issue and fall rains arrive early. Thus, Southern Oregon has a short, hot growing season, with average growing degree days about 2300 compared to 3400 for Napa. But the vines receive lots of light during the growing season due to the northerly latitude, and the diurnal temperature shifts are enormous with night time temperatures often dropping into the 50’s during the summer. The result is sufficient heat and light to ripen almost all varietals, very little disease pressure during the dry summer months, but cool nights that keep acidity in the grapes, resulting in wines that are fresh and crisp with comparatively low alcohol levels.

The ancient clash of the earth’s plates forming these mountains and the sediment from the many streams flowing into the valley have distributed a complex mixture of soils throughout the region, and the foothills of these mountain ranges punctuate the topology of the valleys leaving an incredible array of microclimates. Reports estimate there to be 170 microclimates in the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys. Some vineyards have so many soil types that winemakers have given up trying make sense of it. Hence the diversity for which Southern Oregon will be famous. The list of varietals being planted here is enormous. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay are grown in the cooler sites. The Bordeaux varietals grow in the warmer sites with Syrah and other Rhone varietals, especially Viognier, appearing almost everywhere. Italian varietals are less plentiful but they do well on some sites as well.

As you might imagine, there is now a debate raging among the locals about the region’s identity. Some people argue that the flourishing of so many varietals harms regional identity using Willamette Valley’s commitment to Pinot Noir or Napa’s penchant for Cabernet Sauvignon to buttress their arguments. Soil scientists and viticulturalists have designated Tempranillo to be the-big-red-of-the-future here because it requires a shorter growing season; thus many wineries are promoting it. No doubt the grape does well here, but as a skeptical Herb Quady, owner/winemaker at Quady North and one of the most prominent of the vintners here asked, “are people really clamoring for more Tempranillo” since the Spanish have that market cornered? Tempranillo is surely part of the mix but the diversity fills out tasting menus and makes the region attractive to wine companies seeking to expand their portfolios. That said, Tempranillo shows a unique expression in Southern Oregon. Winemakers are generally restrained in their use of oak. It’s mostly French and mostly older barrels, so the wood, vanilla and dill pickle aromas found in Spanish Tempranillo are muted here allowing more earth and leather to shine.

Herb Quady notes that what matters is that we make “acceptable versions” of each varietal. Sites that can’t get Cabernet Sauvignon ripe should not be growing it and the Cabernet grown here will always be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than, say, Napa’s version of Cabernet given the shorter growing season in Southern Oregon. “We should embrace that diversity”, he argues. I doubt this controversy will end anytime soon.

And one note of caution. Southern Oregon’s relative isolation means they have never confronted phylloxera, the vine louse that has destroyed vineyards in many parts of the world including California. The solution to the threat of phylloxera is to graft vines onto resistant rootstock. Southern Oregon is still using own-rooted vines that lack that resistance. But as more trucks and tourists find their way here, the threat of phylloxera will grow.

 Wine Tasting the Rogue

Since the Rogue Valley and Umpqua Valley AVA’s have distinct characteristics I will cover their respective wineries in separate posts.  Here I will focus on the Rogue Valley and it’s three sub-regions—the Illinois Valley, the Applegate Valley, and the Upper Rogue. (Here is my account of Rogue Valley cuisine)

Tasting rooms in the Rogue run the gamut from small, barebones additions on a farmhouse to elegant, well-appointed venues with stunning views of the valley, entertainment and food service. Apparently the economics of the region support chic, alluring properties on, in some instances, a case production of only 3000 per year, mostly sold out of the tasting room and to wine club members. Go figure.

Where are the best wines to be found? I use a combination of reviews by professional critics and recommendations from the locals to narrow down our search, and then extensive tasting to arrive at conclusions about the top producers. We look for overall consistency among a winery’s offerings rather than individual bottlings that might impress. Here’s our rundown of the Rogue Valley’s finest all of which use exclusively Southern Oregon fruit.

Three wineries are at the very top of my list:

Plaisance Ranch Winery

In addition to great wines, this Applegate Valley winery has one of the more interesting stories you will find in the wine world. Owner/winemaker Joe Ginet is a third generation American whose winemaking family hails from Savoie, France. Joe wanted to make wine as his family had done for generations but he lacked the money to start a winery and couldn’t get financing. So he and his wife Suzy had to raise cattle for years building a ranch business that eventually generated the cash to get the winery off the ground. Today, he still raises cattle but also makes highly awarded, small batch wines, many of them from cuttings brought over from his family vineyards in  Savoie. I adored every wine we tasted including a gorgeous Rosé and rich, succulent Merlot, Tempranillo, and Malbec. But an additional selling point are the unusual varieties—Carmenere and Mondeuse (as far as I know the only one in the U.S.) The Mondeuse was out of stock but the Carmenere was deep, rich and spicy.

Cowhorn Vineyards

As their name suggests, this is a state of the art biodynamic operation, as of now, the only one in Southern Oregon. Every wine we tasted was exquisite. The luscious, off-dry, white Rhone blend called Spiral 36 was textured and rich; the Viognier expressive and also richly textured. Both briefly see 20% new French oak. A pretty, strawberry-inflected Grenache with a mineral core was followed by a blockbuster Syrah from 2013, with the chalky minerality I often find in biodynamic wines. (Here is my review).

Kriselle Cellars

The best of the Upper Rogue, everything on their tasting flight was just a cut above. We tasted several versions of Sauvignon Blanc in Southern Oregon during our stay. Only Kriselle’s approached the grassy, gooseberry-driven flavors typical of this varietal. The same with their Viognier which stood out for its expressive, tropical aromas and rich mouthfeel. Their 2013 Tempranillo was to die for, so good it overshadowed their elegant Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and two beautiful blends, a Bordeaux blend with some Tempranillo call Di’Tani, and a Super-Tuscan of Sangiovese and Cab. These wines were not only elegant but unique with slightly funky, herbal and earth notes that made them interesting as well as delicious.

Other high quality producers include:

Red Lilly Vineyards

The location of perhaps the prettiest winery grounds we visited as they encourage tasters to meditate on their wines down by the charming river that runs through their property. This winery specializes in Spanish varietals—a lovely, off-dry Verdejo, a pretty, yet structured Rosé of 70% Tempranillo, a spicy,leathery Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Red Blanket, and their 100% Tempranillo 2013 which was very complex but needs a bit more time to integrate tannins. These Tempranillos are powerful, complex, yet utterly charming wines.

Serra Vineyards

Scenic views of the Applegate valley from their tasting room set the mood for impressive Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah (see my review). Their Cabernet Sauvignon may be the best we tasted and their Syrah near the top as well, both with great complexity and depth.

Quady North

Several Rosés, intriguing, vineyard-designate Viogniers and structured, expressive Cabernet Franc from Herb Quady one of the early California winemaking transplants in the Rogue. He specializes in red Rhone varietals as well which we did not have the opportunity to taste.

Dancin Vineyards 

This is a relatively new winery that has rocketed to the top garnering a 2017 winery of the year award from Wine Press Northwest. Co-owner Dan Marcon  thinks of winemaking as a ballet and his elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir live up to that conceit. Their Assemblage 2016 Chardonnay was the best Chardonnay we tasted in the valley and the several versions of Pinot Noir from various vineyard blocks and clones all achieve that magical, silken quality expected of this grape. For Pinot lovers this is a fascinating tour through various expressions of Rogue Valley Pinot Noir. Their full service restaurant on premises was hoppin’ the day we visited.

Ledger David Cellars

Maybe it’s the location, a tasting room situated on the same parking lot as the world famous Rogue Creamery and the extraordinary Lillie Belle Farms chocolatier, but we found this whole lineup delicious. The whites were good. Their off-dry Radiant White which includes mostly Chenin Blanc was crisp and expressive; the 2016 Viognier and a Chardonnay balanced and flavorful. But the red wines were extraordinary, all elegant and structured, especially the 2014 Cabernet Franc and a super-Tuscan-style blend called Sublimus. But the show-stopper was the Orions Nebula blend of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Syrah with complex dark fruit and earth on a stalwart frame. The reds show a touch of rusticity which gives them great character.

Devitt Winery

A farmhouse winery in the Applegate dedicated to small-batch, aged wines. They hold wines back many years until ready for release. A 2005 Merlot and a 2006 Syrah were just gorgeous. If you want to know how Rogue Valley wines age, this is the place. In fact, if you want to discover the essence of wine, this is the place.

Also worthy of note:

Weisinger Family Winery

A solid lineup, especially the Viognier, a Marsanne/Viognier Blend, a red blend called Mescolare made of Syrah, Tempranillo and Portuguese varietals, and their estate Tempranillo.

Pebblestone Winery

All around excellent wine but the white wines stood out. Outstanding Pinot Gris, Viognier, and a nice Albarino.

Folin Cellars

Their 2013 Grenache was outstanding and a Mourvedre-dominated blend called Misceo was very good.

Augustino Estate and Vineyard

Located in the Illinois Valley, their Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon were quite good. But their tasting room is their claim to fame. It is a tree house overlooking the river, a lovely site ideal for spending an afternoon sipping wine. Not to be confused with their other property in the Applegate. rogue-tree-house

As for the food available in Southern Oregon that is worthy of a post of it’s own, available here.