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Posts Tagged ‘Oregon wines’

Schmidt Winery Lounging on the terrace of Schmidt Family Vineyards, in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, I’m sipping a light Sauvignon blanc and wondering why I haven’t been here long before now. The wine is delightful, the landscape idyllic, the winemakers friendly and hospitable. The Schmidts’ winery is only one of dozens in the valleys of southern Oregon: the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois, which have so many microclimates they can grow both warm and cool climate grape varieties. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are the main wines produced. I’m feeling lucky to be here on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky, gazing at acres of vineyards stretching over the hills while I sample a few vintages.

Judy and Cal Schmidt, who bought an old ranch 13 years ago, Cal Schmidthave been incredibly busy, not only growing grapes and making wines, but putting in flower and herb Schmidtgardens, a picturesque pond, tree-shaded lawns, and a terrace where visitors can enjoy pizzas and antipasti along with their wine tastings. Their place is often used for weddings and concerts.

Winery-hopping is easy with Wine Hopper Tours—I can sip IMG_7681with no concern about driving and soak up the beautiful scenery, gliding by streams, vineyards, and forested hills in a plush Mercedes van. Plus I get the benefit of loads of information from Scott, the driver, about the local wineries, climate, topography, and soils. Also snacks and a nice lunch. This is touring in style.

IMG_7668The first official winery in southern Oregon opened in 1873, when settler Peter Britt opened Valley View Winery. The wine industry limped along (and closed completely during Prohibition) until 1968, when an experimental vineyard revealed the not-so-big surprise that this really was a great place for growing wine grapes. My tour includes a stop at Valley View, so of course I lift a glass and toast Mr. Britt with a sip of nicely dry Merlot.IMG_7679 Troon is another historic winery in Applegate Valley and offers weekend entertainment and a bistro menu of local foods, as well as tastings of their signature Zinfandels and blends. At Serra winery, a lavender-lined driveway leads up a hillside to a terrace overlooking broad valley and mountain views. This is a peaceful spot for IMG_7644enjoying Serra’s pleasant patio wine, “Serendipity,” a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot blanc. And I’m quite ready for lunch, which Scott serves with a flourish.

Is it the wine I’ve been imbibing or the water’s sparkle that sends me splashing into the cool, clear stream? It feels great on bare feet. This is at Red Lily winery, a pretty spot on a hill above a IMG_7656tributary of the Applegate River. It has an expanse of lawn and a sandy beach with picnic tables set up for visitors. In the snazzy tasting room, I can’t pass up a sample of their earthy Tempranillo.

That’s enough wine for one day, but there’s no IMG_7631doubt I’ll be back, maybe for “Fall Uncorked,” when most Applegate Valley wineries hold a big November celebration of the grape harvest. Or—a romantic notion—take Wine Hopper’s summertime Twilight Wine Float on the Rogue River.

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IMG_7721 I generally don’t care to eat mold, but Rogue River Blue has changed my attitude. The delicate veins of blue molds running through this blue cheese add a tang to the firm, buttery, incredibly flavorful cheese, a perfect contrast, and I’m happy to taste it any time I get the chance. Today it’s in the maker’s facility, Rogue Creamery, in Central Point. IMG_7722This small southern Oregon town, just west of the I-5 freeway–four miles from Medford, 218 miles south of Portland–has attracted artisans who craft top-quality, handmade products. Cheese is one of them, and I’m watching the experts at work through large windows at Rogue Creamery. Turning rich, local milk into award-winning, internationally acclaimed cheese takes care and time, up to five years, manager Craig Nelson says. Here’s how the website describes part of the process: “After draining in their hoops, wheels are dry salted, pierced, and dipped in wax before the bulk of their aging to prevent mold growth on rind. At the end of their maturation, wax is removed and the wheels are wrapped in foil.” The blue cheese is aged for at least 90 days.

Rogue Creamery has been in business for 80 years and crafts several other cheeses, the best being cheddar and their signature blue. I’m also trying something different: classic hand-milled cheddar combined with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout. The beer is melded with the curd, then hand-dipped and pressed into blocks for aging. Along with the cheddar, I get hints of chocolate and coffee from the stout, a nice blend. Another produced here is TouVelle, which the makers call a workhorse in the kitchen because it’s semi-hard, mild yet flavorful, and melts evenly. In the gift shop I, along with a lot of other visitors, browse among the locally produced jams, sauces, pastas and breads and pick up a nifty chiller bag that will keep cheese purchases cool.

Ledger David Winery  Next door is Ledger David Winery. In what was once a 1950s garage and is now a small, elegant, light-filled tasting room, I can taste fine wines paired with, what else, Rogue Creamery cheeses. Owners David Traul and Lena Varner produce several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. My favorite is their unique, award-winning red blend labeled Orion’s Nebula. It’s more than 50% Cabernet Franc and has an intriguing mixture of flavors: cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and more. Ledger David wines come from grapes grown in their 15-acre vineyard in nearby Talent.

The next shop in the developing Artisans Corridor is Lillie Belle Farms, and that means Chocolate with a capital C.  Jeff Shepherd began selling IMG_7749truffles at local farmer’s markets ten years ago, naming them after his wife, Belle, and daughter, Lillie. Everything was (and is) handmade with high-quality ingredients, some from his own organic farm. The business grew, word spread, and today Lillie Belle Farms has a staff of twelve and sells more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate products a year, worldwide. In 2009, Jeff was chosen by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the top ten chocolatiers in the U.S.

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One of the best things about the place is its festive atmosphere. It’s fun to walk in the door, sniff mouth-watering aromas, and survey the bon-bons, ganaches, caramels, truffles and chocolate bars. Glass cases hold spicy cayenne caramels, blue cheese truffles, chocolate-covered bacon, and chocolate fortune cookies. Anejo candies contain tequila, lime and salt. It’s mighty hard to choose from these offbeat delights. One bar’s name is also a playful warning: “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” and one taste tells you why. The chilies in this one are some of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s hot! “I warned you,” Jeff says with a grin.

Artisans Corridor is a great southern Oregon stop off the freeway now, and with changes and additions underway, it’s only going to get even better.

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