Klamath Co.’s One and Only
By Gail Oberst
On a small rise above the rangeland of North Poe Valley, near Bonanza, Ore., a group of tourists sip Syrah and chat with the only commercial winemakers in Klamath County.
“We’re it,” says Connie Masten, of 12 Ranch Wines, a 500-case winery she owns with her husband, Ken. Typical of this neck of the woods, neighbors are few and far between. The next nearest winemaker is in Lake County, east of Bonanza.
Just to get to 12 Ranch Wines, the group had to drive 20 miles east of Klamath Falls, through the picturesque high desert valley named for the Mastens’ relatives. The couple were born and bred in this cattle-ranching country—the winery’s name reflects the family’s century-old brand, passed down through Ken’s maternal grandfather. True to his roots, Ken’s big belt buckle is the number 12, and he pauses in his description of the winery’s new membrane press to point to his “day job.” About 100 head of Angus/Hereford cross beef cattle graze in the 700 acres below the winery and on the other side of Bonanza.
The ranch, with its 4,200-foot elevation and short growing season, isn’t a suitable place to grow grapes, so Ken hauls his red grapes each year from Sam’s Valley Vineyard, a couple hours away near Table Rock in the Rogue Valley. White varietals come from the Selma and Talent areas in the Illinois River Valley.
Wine production for the Mastens began as a “lemonade-from-lemons” experience. About 10 years ago, Connie had registered to take an Oregon State University Extension winemaking class. “It was my birthday present,” she said. But when the first day of class arrived, Connie—a cancer survivor—got sick. Ken, who originally said he wanted nothing to do with winemaking, went in her place. Thereafter, he attended every class.
“He paid more attention than I did. He got hooked,” Connie said.
As amateurs, they made wine for themselves and for friends, and eventually entered it in contests that earned them gold medals, which spurred them to make more. When they began making too much to drink or give away, the Mastens went commercial.
The winery now produces several unfiltered 100-percent varietal wines—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. Viognier was offered to wine club members in 2007 and to the public in 2008. The winery also makes a blend, “Kenzie Red,” named for their daughter, McKenzie. Prices range from $16 for Chardonnay to $25 for most of the reds.
The Mastens are in the process of completing a small gravity-fed facility with a wine-tasting room in the top building. The tasting room is now open year-round, if you call ahead, almost any time during the day. Lucky tasters might arrive on a day when Connie is baking her famous Syrah-soaked brownies, or serving her tomato/basil-stuffed brie.
Klamath County residents and visitors who don’t want to make the 20-mile trip up Poe Valley to taste 12 Ranch Wines can now sample the wine at the new tasting room at Linkville Kitchen & Candy Shoppe in downtown Klamath Falls, 1771 Washburn Way. Tasting hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. The wine is also available in Philomath at Java Connection, and in Lakeview and Klamath Falls it is sold at several locations.
12 Ranch Wines
Address: 4550 Burgdorf Rd., Bonanza
Hours: By appointment only (see story for other locations)
Information: 541-545-1204; www.12ranchwines.com