Wine isn’t the first thought that crosses your mind when you think of the redwoods, but vineyards, and wineries that bottle some exceptional wines, are closer than you think. For us, it took a guest who shared a bottle of Red Lily tempranillo. He bragged about the fantastic wines, mellow scene and friendly tasting room at Red Lily, and the close proximity of other equally appealing wineries. Having lived in the Bay Area for a decade, — and having a nephew living in Sonoma County, with connections to the local wine industry there — we’d been conditioned to think along narrow terms. The origin of good wine was circumspect: Napa, Sonoma, maybe Paso Robles, maybe even Washington State. But Oregon? Little by little, though, our guard was eroded through the unintended efforts of our guests. And if I had to point a finger at what was most corrosive to our California-centric paradigm, it would have to be the pinot noirs and tempranillos from central Oregon.
Bottles of the stuff started to appear and we were amazed. Oregon pinots as rich and persuasive as California cabernets. And this wine from the Abacela winery…tempra-what? Tempra-NI-yo? Hmmm. We started to take notice. And then we became curious. We did a little research on this Red Lily label and discovered a small but authentic grape-growing region less than two hours away by car. A little more research and a few weekends later we were headed east toward Medford.
A turn off at Wilderville (not much besides a tiny road sign and a Cal-Fire volunteer garage with a couple of old pick-ups) to the Wilderville Store and then a hard right on to Fish Hatchery Road and boom, you’re in the countryside. Curving blacktop, horses, orchards and livestock are about all that’s around. Soon, you say hello to the smallish Applegate River on your left and merge on to highway 238. Soon you’ll be in a mish-mash of country roads and have easy if not utterly confusing access to a bunch of boutique-y vineyards heretofore unknown, Red Lily among them.
The MO of the southern Oregon vineyards closest to Hiouchi is generic but rewarding. Dirt road leads away from the highway, often skirting a water feature (insert pond or creek here), maybe there are ducklings, maybe a gaggle of fruit trees. The tasting room is of modern construction, think an evolved variation on Sea Ranch, in blond woods mostly. Interiors have vaulted ceilings and are generally laid out in an open-ish floor plan. As often as not, the dimensions are angular rather than strict. Servers are real estate agent doppelgangers wearing a wee too much make-up. Smart looking and smartly dressed as well. Voices are hushed. The room is never more than half full. Spillover options might include a comfy living room type alcove inside or a leafy exterior space under a trellis. Most vinyards have food, too, so you can build a full day around wine tasting and just hanging out in the sun.
Flights of wine are in the five to ten dollar range (most vineyards apply the cost of a tasting flight to any bottles purchased) with Tempranillo, Viognier, and Syrah being the standout grapes in the region.
The scene is mellow compared to California. Prices are reasonable. And the wine is just as good.
We’ve enjoyed visiting Troon, Red Lily and Woodbridge Creek wineries. We’ve never been but have long wanted to get to the Cowhorn Vineyard. We always seem to get lost as we venture away from the highway…we’re on the other (and wrong) side of the river or we are on the wrong side of the river AND suddenly encounter a dead end. Cowhorn gets raves in the press so it stays on our must-see list.
Everyone in the wine industry has a story to tell – folks who work in the southern Oregon wine industry are no exception — so be ready to tell a yarn or two and listen to some as well.
The area is drop dead beautiful. Gently curving roads, rivers, streams, milk cows, steer, agriculture and grapes. The fall colors in this setting are really tremendous to see. And it feels close to Hiouchi and the redwoods but really a world away. Well worth a day trip from Hiouchi if you are here for more than a day or two, and definitely a place worth adding to your drive north or south if you want to include wine on your redwood agenda.
Links that tell more of the story:
An inclusive site that gets into the full story behind wine in the Pacific Northwest. The site is both macro and microscopic – discussing the various appellations of each state, the various grapes commonly grown, has a vast and complete list of wineries in the PNW, and provides many many links out to the wineries and other businesses related to wine. No better education about the wines of Oregon and Washington (as well as Idaho and British Columbia) is available online.