Southern Oregon boasts rich terrain for the cultivation of wine grapes, and Rogue Valley vineyards have picked up awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the 2016 Oregon Wine Awards. The region makes Wine Enthusiast's list for the "10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2016."
The Bear Creek Wine Trail Passport capitalizes on the area’s offerings with a lineup of local vineyards and wineries. This passport — which can be purchased at any of 12 stops on the wine trail — includes Belle Fiore Winery, Ledger David Cellars, Roxy Ann Winery, Paschal Winery, Grizzly Peak Winery, DANCIN Vineyards, PebbleStone Cellars, StoneRiver Vineyard, Weisinger Family Winery, Trium Wines, Aurora Vines and Dana Campbell Vineyards.
The passport costs $25 and buys three tastings at each of the 12 stops. Best of all, the passports are valid for a full year. Patrons can take time to enjoy the particular features that each winery has to offer on this marathon tasting tour.
1. Pebblestone Cellars
Small and quaint, this mom-and-pop-run winery is nestled in a secluded, early 1900s renovated house at 1642 Camp Baker Road, Medford. Closer to Phoenix, this is a good stop for small groups on the wine trail's northern and southern tasting rooms. Knowledgeable, friendly service and award-winning wines shine in this hidden gem. The pinot gris, almost clear in color, was light and delicate, a good midafternoon refresher. It's best for wine tasters seeking a mellow escape. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. See www.pebblestonecellars.com or call 541-512-1655.
2. Grizzly Peak Winery
Grizzly Peak Winery at 1600 E Nevada St., Ashland, features live music, a mellow vibe and award-winning wines. The covered patio is a pleasant setting for tasting, and friendly staff make patrons feel right at home. The voignier was the best fruity white I sampled: a gorgeous mix of nutty and tropical notes. The winery's weekly summer concert series is at 6:30 p.m. Fridays through the summer. Bring friends, blankets and chairs, and grab a bite to eat at the food trucks, which arrive on site at 5:30 p.m. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. See www.grizzlypeakwinery.com or call 541-482-5700.
3. Belle Fiore Winery
Belle Fiore, 100 Belle Fiore Lane (off Dead Indian Memorial Road), Ashland, pulls out all the stops. Italianate architecture and vibrant landscaping complement enjoyment of the valley’s views. With a sharp, knowledgable staff and tasty bites, this is an idyllic date spot for both newbies and seasoned wine tasters. The winery's Numinos red blend had my vote with its surprisingly pleasant boldness, and the Placidore was my favorite white blend, with just enough fruity sweetness to offset the dryness. Plenty of seating throughout Belle Fiore's pavillion makes this winery a winning choice for larger groups. Spend an elegant evening here enjoying live music with a food pairing on the terrace overlooking the valley. Live music is offered most nights from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 6:30 Sundays. Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday and noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. See www.bellefiorewine.com or call 541-552-4900.
4. DANCIN Vineyards
At DANCIN Vineyards, 4477 S. Stage Road, Medford, many wines are named after dance moves. A notable white — aptly named Chaine — is named after a ballet move requiring small, tight circles and symbolizes the proximity of locally grown fruits. Sitting at the patio sampling this chardonnay, it was easy to see why it won the 2016 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition award. The rustic Italian villa-style tasting room and expansive patio affords garden views. From espresso to a full-service Italian menu, this is not a quick sip-and-dip venue. Come here with an appetite for a relaxing afternoon, or catch a weekend show — or even a yoga session on the first Saturday of the month. Abundant seating makes this tasting room the best cozy-yet-upscale stop for a group. Wander around the koi pond, grab a table on the patio and order a flatbread and small plates to pair with your tastings (gluten-free options are available). Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. See www.dancinvineyards.com or call 541-245-1133.
5. Weisinger Family Winery
Weisinger, 3150 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland, feels like an escape while only being a few minutes' drive from downtown Ashland. This vineyard and its tasting room setup — which recalls Normandy-style architecture — have all the charm of a countryside haven with modern freshness. Come with friends for live music and food pairings on the patio overlooking southern Ashland. The rosé is a bright and refreshing summer wine. Patrons can reserve the cottage at the vineyard. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. See www.weisingers.com or call 541-488-5989.