Grand Time at Gerding

By Karl Klooster

On Friday, Nov. 5, Southern Oregon Wineries Association members presented their wines at the Gerding Theater in Portland’s Pearl District.

The folks from down south come up north every year to strut their stuff for the trade in the afternoon and the public in the evening. It’s a terrific opportunity for all interested parties to gain a good deal of perspective in a short span of time.

This year, 27 wineries sent both human and vinous representatives to SOWA’s third annual Grand Tasting held in a venue expressly designed to evoke a sense of wonder and imagination.

They included Abacela, Agate Ridge, Brandborg, Bridgeview, Cliff Creek, Daisy Creek, Del Rio, Delfino, Devitt, EdenVale, Folin, Foris, Henry Estate, HillCrest, Madrone Mountain, Melrose, Misty Oaks, Palotai, Pyrenees, Quady North, Red Lily, Rocky Knoll, RoxyAnn, Sarah Powell, Sienna Ridge, Spangler and Troon.

In addition, the rapidly evolving Southern Oregon Wine Institute had personnel on hand to discuss the state of the industry from its more southerly standpoint.

The Gerding’s expansive lobby, with its sweeping staircase, double-height ceiling and open second level, simply drips drama. Association members have made a statement by deciding to showcase their wines in such a setting.

Whether attendees chose to go left or right after reaching the top of the staircase scarcely mattered. Either way, they worked their way from booth to booth around the circular mezzanine that looks down on the lobby’s entrance level.

In tasting Southern Oregon wines over the years, a pattern of diversity and growing sophistication has evolved. Certainly, competing head to head against California and Washington with Bordeaux blends and Rhone varieties is no mean task. But a maturing group of talented vintners are proving equal to it.

They are gaining a reputation for consistently superior quality with several of the most popular varieties and capitalized on the opportunity to stake a solid claim with other lesser-known ones.

In the esoteric arena, Abacela Winery owner Earl Jones and Tempranillo have become almost synonymous. Not that Jones doesn’t make other excellent wines, but his examples of the Spanish grape have proven outstanding.

He poured this writer a taste of his multi-award-winning 2005 reserve, which exhibited complex berry and spice aromas followed by ripe berry and flavors with firm but unobtrusive tannin, good acidity, a touch of oak vanillin and flinty minerality. A few years in the bottle have brought nuance to a wine that will benefit from additional aging.

Among my personal favorites, both for his unabashedly outspoken personality as well as his go-for-broke personal style of winemaking, is Dyson DeMara of HillCrest Vineyard. What he had to pour displayed that philosophy.

Ever since DeMara bought Oregon wine pioneer Richard Sommers’ iconic Umpqua Valley winery and vineyard, he has pursued his passion for the big and bold with an undeterred zeal. And it has paid off.

His Right Bank Merlot/Cabernet Franc, made in the tradition of Bordeaux’s St.-Emilion district, offered mouth-filling flavors harmonized by the balanced structure characteristic of this classic blend.

Nonihc, which is Chinon spelled backwards, further exemplifies DeMara’s own blend of the serious and playful. The massive wine, made from Cabernet Franc, is the same variety used to make the noted Loire Valley red.

DeMara’s examples are but a few of the Bordeaux blends asserting themselves as a top-tier red wine category where Southern Oregon is making its mark.

Just go down the list of wineries from the Rogue, Umpqua, Applegate and Illinois valleys on hand that day: Bridgeview, Cliff Creek, EdenVale, Folin, Foris, Quady North, RoxyAnn, Sarah Powell, Sienna Ridge, Spangler and Troon. All are Bordelaise inclined.

Among the newer wineries, Daisy Creek in Central Point poured a particularly impressive Bordeaux blend.

Its 2007 Lyon Red, a blend of Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, reached out and grabbed the tastebuds with a soft, compelling mouthfeel and succulent, sweet fruit. Unique in that it uses no Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, it succeeds eloquently, nonetheless.

Del Rio of Gold Hill in the Rogue Valley, highly regarded as one of Southern Oregon’s best and biggest growers, is making more wine under its own label these days.

Its Bordeaux styles include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Claret — a Cab Sauv, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc blend.

Gold Hill’s quality in winegrowing has translated into a similar commendable stature in winemaking. Its portfolio, owing to the availability of grapes from more than 200 acres of vineyards, is diverse.

The best attributes of Bordeaux may be on the rise, but that in no way indicates it outranks the Rhone in the favor of vintners down south. Syrah shines in the warmer microclimates and its white wine counterpart, Viognier, seems to be following suit.

Syrah as well as its little sister, Petite Sirah, are coming on strong everywhere you look. HillCrest’s examples are exceptional as are those of Cliff Creek, Folin, Quady North and Troon, to name a few.

Petite Sirah, which is known as ‘duriff’ in the Rhone Valley, is mostly used in southern Rhone wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Cornas. It’s soft, silky, fragrant character seems to be doing so well in Southern Oregon, we will likely see more of it.

The same goes for Viognier, the round, viscous, rich, almost honey-like yet fully dry white that is capturing the attention of more and more winelovers.

Once available only from Condrieu and Chateau Grillet — its excellent but pricey Rhone originals — Vioginer is now made by EdenVale, Del Rio, Folin, Melrose, Quady North and many others. Southern Oregon’s luscious examples could make Viognier a new darling in Oregon.

Madrone Mountain, which makes only artisanal dessert wines, both late harvest and fortified, is a unique winery that appears destined to earn respect for its specialty. Limited production, however, may necessitate a visit to Jacksonville.

Palotai in the Umpqua Valley has its own unique creations. Owner John Olson produces such wines as Bull’s Blood and Arany Szarvas, patterned after their Hungarian originals. Dolcetto and Baco Noir are also among his small lot plantings.

The Apodaca family, owners of Pyrenees Vineyards in Myrtle Creek, has already crafted several well-made wines, including a tasty, fruit-filled Pinot Gris and a nicely structured Cabernet Sauvignon.

As the Umpqua Valley’s newest winery and the most recent member of SOWA, Pyrenees’ representatives at the tasting epitomized the friendliness and enthusiasm that typifies the wine folks from down south.

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