Where Art Thou Ashland?
By John Darling
Surrounded by sweeping mountain ranges and a ski resort, infused with Shakespeare and other theaters, opera and dance companies, lavishly sprinkled with fine dining spots and espresso bars, and drenched in consciousness-raising workshops, university events and just plain fun people, Ashland has always been the perfect getaway—and a special place to taste at scores of wineries.
Over the past decade or two, wine has decidedly arrived in the area, not just in the proliferating legions of restaurants, but in the new wine bars and a scenic countryside now lined with grapevines and tasting spots with great decks and views.
It’s come with the realization that the Rogue Valley is filling up with wine-savvy people from the Golden State to the south—who’ve come here seeking the finer tastes (and leisurely moments) they knew back home a generation ago.
Ashland has clearly become a wine destination that’s not limited to wine. Locals, if pressed to name the “must-do’s” will invariable tell you, OK, go to Shakespeare (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), see both modern and Shakespearean plays, walk around town and in enchanting Lithia Park (right next to the plaza) and don’t miss the great restaurants—Amuse, Peerless, Pilaf, Chateaulin, Winchester Inn and (you have to drive a couple miles north for this one) New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro.
In the more casual mode, you’ll find Pasta Piatti, Alex’s, Black Sheep (London theme, including bangers and mash) and—affordable and full of locals—Gepetto’s and, “out on the boulevard” (a mile south of downtown), Omar’s and Wiley’s World of Pasta.
Dozens of wineries thrive in the Rogue Valley. In the immediate Ashland-Talent area, you’ll enjoy the tasting rooms and vintages of Weisinger’s, Ashland Vineyards and Paschal. A little farther north, behind Phoenix is EdenVale Winery, often featuring jazz on summer evenings.
Wine bars have taken root in Ashland in the last few years. Liquid Assets, just off the plaza, and the wine bar at Winchester Inn are favorites—and all fine restaurants carry a wide selection of Southern Oregon, regional and European and Australian wines.
The oldest wine shop in Oregon, Ashland Wine Cellar, sits a block off Main St., and is overseen by one of the most knowledgeable and friendly vinophiles in the state, Lorn Razzano. He writes a wine column, speaks Italian, teaches Wine Appreciation in the hotel-restaurant program at Southern Oregon University and stocks his shelves with lots of gold-medal winners from the region and Europe.
“We were the only game (wine store) in town 28 years ago and it (wine) has become mondo now. No one had any idea what was to come,” said Razzano.
The Tony award-winning Shakespeare Festival, oldest of its kind in America, was started in 1935 by Angus Bowmer, an English professor at the local college and is emblematic of Ashland people, their high cultural awareness and their dreams that tend to come true. Its three theaters—including an open-air Elizabethan Theater—offer a range of drama this year, from the 2,000-year-old Indian classic, “The Clay Cart” to the Bard’s delightful “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The charming (and free) Green Show in summer can toss almost anything at you—Renaissance country dancers, hip-hop, a jazz combo. It’s “on the bricks” in front of the three theaters and a swell way to spend your time before the shows. The Festival also has fascinating backstage tours and classes that explain the plays.
Ashland’s 92-acre Lithia Park is one of those sweet and de-stressing experiences that leaves you speechless and with a nice smile on your face. It includes two duck ponds, a playground, bandshell (great performances from city bands and ballet company in summer), lovely old turn-of-the-century, cherub-laden fountain, lots of picnic tables, great frisbee meadows, miles of creekside trails and a morning tour (in warm months) of trees gathered from around the world. It was designed by John McLaren, the chap who designed Golden Gate Park.
Ashland is a town that understands espresso and your need for it bright and early—and, not counting restaurants, you can find it at a dozen places up and down the main drag—the Coffeehouse Above Bloomsbury Books (good food, too), Evo’s (think earthy), Mix (on the plaza), Starbucks (downtown and out past the college, with great views), The Beanery (funky, local) and Key of C on Lithia Way (northbound main drag)—and if you catch that last spot on Sunday morning, prepare for some awesome, live Eastern European folk music and dance, a longtime Ashland tradition.
There are lots of breakfast spots, but for atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere (and great big omelets and amazing Moroccan oatmeal) you can’t match Morning Glory, in an old house on the boulevard across from the university. But watch out, it gets lines (about the only place in Ashland that does) and parking can be a pill.
Ashland has a wealth of hotels and motels, including the stately old Ashland Springs Hotel (tallest building in the region and right downtown), the tony, modern Plaza Inn and Suites, the Peerless Hotel in the historic railroad district (a four block walk from Main St.), the Lithia Springs Resort and Gardens just north of town, and a raft of them out the boulevard and down Highway 66 (the “strip” leading to the south interchange).
Ashland and the valley have become a cradle of the new “culinary tourism,” which has shifted the economy from the old days of logging and the pear industry to the more fun and environmentally aware business of destination tourism. A big part of it is the Oregon Wine and Farm Tour—including visits, not just to wineries, but to area gourmet food producers such as Lillie Belle Farms (chocolate) and Gary West Meats, both in Jacksonville, and Rogue Creamery (handmade cheeses) in Central Point.
“It’s come a long way. The whole industry has changed dramatically,” said Michael Donovan of Roxy Ann Winery in Medford.
Donovan, an Ashlander for almost four decades, said, “Ashland is clearly a unique community—to sit in incredible Lithia Park, surrounded by beautiful mountains—there are only a couple places in the world of this standard, the blend of nature, theater and of course the food and wine. It impacts me very positively every day.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. He has lived in Ashland since 1971 and confesses to still being awed daily by the city in the Rogue Valley.
Rogue Valley Wineries
12 Ranch Wines
4550 Burgdorf Rd. • Bonanza
541-545-1204 • www.12ranchwines.com
18200 Hwy. 238 • Grants Pass
Agate Ridge Vineyards, LLC
1098 Nick Young Rd. • Eagle Point
541-830-3050 • www.agateridgevineyard.com
3285 Hillcrest Rd. • Medford
Ashland Vineyards and Winery
2775 E. Main Street • Ashland
541-488-0088 • www.winenet.com
Bear Creek Winery
6220 Caves Hwy. • Cave Junction
541-592-3977 • www.sv-wine.com
Bridgeview Vineyard & Winery
4210 Holland Loop Rd. • Cave Junction
877-273-4843 • www.bridgeviewwine.com
Cliff Creek Winery
1015 McDonough Rd. • Gold Hill
541-855-9819 • www.cliffcreek.com
Crater Lake Cellars
21882 Hwy. 62 • Shady Cove
541-878-4200 • www.craterlakecellars.com
Cricket Hill Vineyard & Winery
2131 Little Applegate Road • Jacksonville
Deer Creek Vineyards
2680 Deer Creek Road • Selma
541-597-4226 • www.deercreekvineyards.com
Del Rio Vineyards & Winery
52 N. River Road • Gold Hill
541-855-0122 • www.delriovineyards.com
11412 Hwy 238 • Jacksonville
541-899-7511 • www.devittwinery.com
1642 Camp Baker Road • Medford
541-512-1704 • www.skippingstonewines.com
9468 Ramsey Rd. • Gold Hill
541-855-1838 • www.folincellars.com
Foris Vineyards Winery
654 Kendall Rd. • Cave Junction
800-843-6747 • www.foriswine.com
Jacksonville Vineyards & Fiasco Winery
9730 Hwy 238 • Jacksonville
John Michael Champagne Cellars & Nicholas Vineyards
1425 Humbug Creek Rd. • Jacksonville
8555 Highway 238 • Jacksonville
Madrone Mountain Vineyard
540 Tumbleweed Trail • Jacksonville
541-899-9624 • www.madronemountain.com
Quail Run-Griffin Creek Winery
2700 Quail Run Rd. • Talent • 541-535-8001
Red Lily Vineyards
Jacksonville • 541-846-0475
Rosella’s Vineyard and Winery
184 Missouri Flat Road • Grants Pass
541-846-6372 • www.rosellasvineyard.com
3285 Hillcrest Rd. • Medford
541-776-2315 • www.roxyann.com
Schmidt Family Vineyards
320 Kubli Road • Grants Pass
541-846-9985 • www.sfvineyards.com
Slagle Creek Vineyards
Grants Pass • 541-846-6176
www.slaglecreek.com • Not open to the public
7112 Rapp Lane • Talent
541-535-4015 • www.triumwines.com
1475 Kubli Road • Grants Pass
541-846-9900 • www.troonvineyard.com
Valley View Winery
1000 Upper Applegate Rd. • Jacksonville
541-899-8468 • www.valleyviewwinery.com
Velocity Wine Cellars (at RoxyAnn)
3285 Hillcrest Road • Medford
541-776-2315 • www.velocitycellars.com
Weisinger’s of Ashland
3150 Siskiyou Blvd. • Ashland
541-488-5989 • www.weisingers.com
2789 Holland Loop Rd. • Cave Junction
Wooldridge Creek Vineyard
818 Slagle Creek Road • Grants Pass
541-846-6310 • www.wcwinery.com