It’s heady stuff for Ashlanders to see our town named as one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations” in the world in the February 2016 edition of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. The article puts Ashland in the same league as the august French Bordeaux region, the Margaret River area of Australia, the Alto Adige region of Italy and South Africa’s Franschhoek, among far-flung others. Wine Enthusiast columnist Paul Gregutt, who penned the description of Ashland’s viticultural and other delights, did so with a broad stroke that actually includes all of the Southern Oregon wine-producing region.
The Southern Oregon American Viticultural Area (AVA) includes the Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley, Umpqua Valley, Red Hill Douglas County and Elkton AVA’s. Gregutt writes that the region begins at the California border and extends north nearly to Eugene, with many of the 120 wineries clustered around Ashland.
Local wine-lover and entrepreneur Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company, a public relations firm, was instrumental in getting Wine Enthusiast recognition for Southern Oregon. In mid-February of last year when she heard Gregutt was slated to be a judge at the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association’s “Greatest of the Grape” competition in Canyonville, she invited him to visit Ashland on his way. She personally took the noted wine expert on a tour of half a dozen area wineries, ranging from Jaxon to Belle Fiore.
Gregutt, who had not tasted Oregon wines outside the Willamette Valley for some years “was blown away by what we’re doing,” Hawkins recalls. Gregutt’s time in the area was rounded out by an evening at DANCIN Vineyards where winemakers from across the region gathered to meet him. It’s no accident that the hospitality of Hawkins and area wineries resulted in Gregutt’s glowing evaluation of our region.
In a Southern Oregon Winery Association press release, President Michael Donovan writes, “Ashland and Southern Oregon’s listing as a top wine travel destination is a wonderful testament to the dedication, tenacity, and hard work of Southern Oregon grape growers, winemakers, and wine fans … We are honored by this recognition and thrilled that more people will come to understand the uniqueness of Southern Oregon’s extended growing season.”
What makes Southern Oregon’s growing season unique is its overall length, temperature range, and diurnal variation (warm days and cool nights), conditions under which some 70 varieties of wine grapes flourish, according to world-renowned viticultural climate expert and Southern Oregon University professor Greg Jones. The Southern Oregon climate, Donovan adds, “allows us to grow more varietals and achieve greater ripeness in sugar accumulation, acid respiration, phenolic ripeness, and fruit character than almost anywhere in the world.”
While Gregutt’s sidebar on our region’s “Prominent Wines” states that “Tempranillo is the defining grape,” he also mentions our “racy Rieslings and Gewürztraminers,” Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, Chenin Blanc, Dolcetto, Mondeuse, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. Put another way, the overall message of Gregutt’s article is best stated in his opening: “The story of Oregon wine no longer begins and ends with Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, as many of the state’s most exciting new offerings hail from Southern Oregon.”
That’s national press Ashlanders can raise a glass to.
Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."