Ashland area wineries won a number of top awards in statewide competition in judging for the 15th annual Oregon Wine Experience (OWE), most notably Best of Show for Weisinger Family Winery. OWE continues through Aug. 27 in Jacksonville.

The Best of Show award is given to the top red, white and other (dessert, sparkling or blush) vintage. The top wine out of all red entries this year was Weisinger Family Winery’s 2014 Tempranillo, made by Eric Weisinger. The Best of Show should come as no surprise since Weisinger took two Double Golds in the 2016 OWE competition for his 2013 Malbec and 2015 Chardonnay.

So what made Weisinger’s 2014 Tempranillo stand out from all the other red wines in the competition? “Sixty to 70 percent is a result of the quality of the fruit,” Weisinger states. “We have about two and a half acres of Tempranillo on the estate and it just seems like this variety is very well suited to this site. The plants are in their twelfth year, so they’re fully mature and we’ve learned to adjust the crop yield to achieve the kind of fruit that makes a superior wine.”

What this means is that Weisinger’s Tempranillo production is limited to only 200-300 cases per year.

“On top of all that,” the winemaker adds, “was the 2014 vintage itself. It was a very good year.” The 2014 was so good that Weisinger and Assistant Winemaker Ian Colbert decided to set aside their two best barrels of Tempranillo for reserve bottling. After an extra year in barrel and a year of bottle-aging, only 50 cases of 2014 Tempranillo Reserve will be released in the summer of 2018.

Weisinger finds this year’s Best of Show particularly gratifying since it recognizes the excellence of Oregon Tempranillo, a varietal he and his colleagues in the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance have championed since the alliance held its first gathering of Tempranillo producers from across the state in Ashland in 2016.

Tempranillo is a red wine variety produced principally in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions of northern Spain. Tempranillo has the fourth largest planted acreage among wine grapes world-wide. In Southern Oregon, Tempranillo accounts for only 5 percent of about 6,000 total planted vineyard acres, according to figures compiled in 2016.

A wine and culinary event formerly known as the World of Wine festival, the OWE includes a wine competition open to wineries throughout Oregon. This year 105 wineries competed. Forty-four percent of those were from the Southern Oregon American Viticultural Area.

This year’s OWE competition was judged by a panel of six nationally renowned experts, four of whom are Masters of Wine. In addition to one of only three Best in Show awards, the 12 Ashland area wineries that cooperatively market themselves as the Bear Creek Wine Trail claimed one Double Gold and two Gold Medals. DANCIN Vineyards took Double Gold for its 2015 Pas de Trois Pinot Noir. Grizzly Peak Winery 2014 Malbec and Ledger David Cellars Estate Syrah won Gold Medals.

Bear Creek and other Ashland area wineries that won Silver Medals include Aurora Vines, DANCIN Vineyards, EdenVale Winery, Eliana Wines, Irvine & Roberts Family Vineyards, Ledger David Cellars, Pebblestone Cellars, Platt Anderson Cellars, Roxy Ann Winery and Weisinger Family Winery.

Since 2014 OWE has been the signature fundraising event of the Asante Foundation, generating over $1.7 million through 2016 in support of pediatric medical programs at Asante, including the Children’s Miracle Network at Rogue Regional Medical Center. Asante Rogue Regional is one of only 170 hospitals nationwide offering this stellar brand of pediatric care.

—Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."