Southern Oregon is a Designated American Wine Area or AVA, which is based on geography and climate. Within this AVA are the Umpqua Valley AVA, Rogue Valley AVA and Applegate Valley AVA. It is the perfect destination to develop your palate thanks to the soil, topography and climate of the region, which is known as terroir. After a visit and a wine tasting in southern Oregon AVA, I finally understand the terroir.
All of the listed wineries can be found in the Southern Oregon AVA and its sub-AVA. I visited each of these wineries as part of a private press trip organized for me by Travel Southern Oregon. All opinions are mine.
1. The vineyards of Delfino
Umpqua Valley AVA
Jim and Terri Delfino, owners of Delfino Vineyards in the Umpqua AVA Valley, are masters of hospitality. I know a day of wine tasting sounds fun, but it can also be exhausting. Terri glanced at me when I arrived late one evening to spend the night at their guesthouse and gave me a big hug. They are just the kind of people the Delfinos are, warm and welcoming. They also make good wine.
The tasting room is nestled amid 160 acres of vineyards where Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Dolcetto, Merlot and Muller Thurgau grape varieties grow. Additionally, they are involved in a southern Oregon climate research program where they planted seven other grape varieties. The grape varieties studied are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Viognier, Riesling, Malbec and Mourvèdre. The Delfinos welcome visitors to tour the vineyards, which are easily accessible just outside the tasting room, or you can request a private tour. On an interesting note, Jim, who has a background in education, helped develop the viticulture and oenology program with Umpqua Community College.
2. Vignobles Melrose
Umpqua Valley AVA
Wayne and his late wife Deedy Parker created Melrose Vineyards, a charming winery in the Umpqua Valley near Roseburg, Oregon, overlooking the South Umpqua River. Wayne had 20 years of experience as a farmer growing grapes used for raisins in California. In 1996, they moved to the Umpqua Valley, which he said would be one of the great wine regions of the United States. The estate now spans 250 acres and is renowned for producing high-quality fruit that many prestigious Oregon wineries purchase on long-term contracts. The grape varieties produced include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinotage, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Tempranillo, Baco Noir, Merlot and Dolcetto.
The tasting room is in a century old barn which has been rebuilt from the original intact main timber and retains many original features. Be sure to try the award-winning 2015 Baco Noir and 2015 Pinotage, which received a 91 point rating from Wine Enthusiast. There is an on-site gift shop and the tasting room has a nice variety of cheese, cold cuts, and other small plates to enjoy with their wines.
3. Paul O’Brien wine estate
Umpqua Valley AVA
Paul O’Brien Winery is an urban winery located in the historic Hansen Chevrolet Building, making it an incredibly unique tasting room. Instead of repairing cars, the old service area is now used for wine making. Paul O’Brien is run by Dyson Paul DeMara and Scott O’Brien Kelley who became friends while working for Robert Mondavi Winery in California. Both are passionate about the art of winemaking, and they combine their knowledge of old world traditions with new world techniques to produce very creative wines. Try the 2016 Il Rinnegati, reminiscent of the Tuscan Super Blends. This unique blend is made from 65% Sangiovese, 31% Merlot and 4% Syrah and aged for two years in 40% new French oak. The Oregon Territory Tempranillo 2017 is a unique grape variety made from two different AVAs, Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley.
4. Irvine & Roberts Vineyards
Rogue Valley AVA
Irvine & Roberts Wineries are a partnership between the Irvine and Roberts families. The tasting room is simply stunning with a view for miles over the surrounding vineyards and mountains. The lush green of the vines stands out against the brown of the surrounding terrain. The terroir of their land offers the perfect conditions to cultivate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and that is what they specialize in.
Pro tip: Book an organized pairing, which is a two-hour rendezvous to taste their limited-production wines served with a selection of carefully selected pairing bites to complement the wines you will taste.
5. The Kriselle Cellars
Rogue Valley AVA
Scott Steingraber, owner and winemaker at Kriselle Cellars, started his career as a civil engineer. Kriselle wine labels reflect this heritage as each represents a different type of soil. Soil also plays an important role in the depth, concentration and character of the fruits grown on this site, which are made up of round river rocks and alluvial silt, which causes the vines to struggle a bit. The cellars are named after Scott’s partner and wife, Krisell. The “e” has been added at the end for easier pronunciation. Grapes grown on the ranch include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Tempranillo, all of which are varietals that grow well in southern Oregon.
The tasting room is located on a hill with lovely views over the vineyards. A variety of cheese plates and platters are available with wood-fired pizzas added on weekends. Try the 2016 Di’tani, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. This wine reflects the Rogue Valley AVA and the terroir of the land. I love good old world Italian wine, and the 2017 Sangiovese doesn’t disappoint.
6. Red lily vineyards
Applegate Valley AVA
The beautiful Applegate Valley AVA is crossed by the crystal clear Applegate River and is surrounded by wooded hills. Small family farms are numerous in this bucolic region.
Winding down a country road, you cross a small bridge to enter the vineyards of Red Lily. The property is simply stunning with a lush green lawn that slopes down to the banks of the River Applegate. It is an idyllic place to taste wine. Red Lily was founded with one goal: to produce the best possible Spanish-inspired wines. The vineyards are named after Bolander’s lily, a rare species found in the nearby mountains, and the owners’ daughter, Lily. Tempranillo thrives in southern Oregon and is the winery’s primary grape. Plan to enjoy your tasting outside by the river or in one of the other outdoor spaces. Try the 2015 Red Lily Tempranillo which is 100% Tempranillo. It’s Red Lily’s specialty, and the Bolander’s Lily on the wine label is a nice touch. The 2015 Life of Riley is a red blend of 78% Tempranillo and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and is worth tasting to see what the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon adds to the Tempranillo.
Pro tip: Book a Beach Bungalow for a wine tasting. They are located on the banks of the Applegate River and include a fire pit and seating for four. The canopy tents are open on one side so you can enjoy the river view. The cost is $ 100 for two hours in a beach bungalow, a bottle of 2015 red blanket and a Lily Girl picnic box.
7. Wooldridge Creek Vineyard
Applegate Valley AVA
Wooldridge Creek Winery brings new meaning to ‘farm and vine to table’. It is Oregon’s premier winery, creamer and deli. I visited towards the end of the day when the sun was softening, and it was the perfect time to enjoy a nice glass of artisan wine while munching on artisan cheeses and cold cuts all made on site. The property is simply beautiful, so plan to stop by the end of your day and stay awhile. Wildlife abounds on the property and the farm animals are so cute, especially the mini donkey, waffles and mini horse, pancakes.
Wooldridge intensifies a Rosé by making it a sparkling one. It is a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Zinfandel that goes perfectly with the cheese and cold cuts on offer. On an interesting note, Wooldridge was the first winery in Oregon to sell barrels of wine. Housed in stainless steel drums, it reduces waste and offers lower wholesale prices. It also aligns with their environmental and socially responsible agricultural and business practices.
The AVAs of Southern Oregon are well worth a visit. In addition to good wine, you find yourself in a beautiful area with scenic routes that take you to the vineyards in this article. Outdoor recreation abounds and you are close to the amazing Crater Lake National Park.