“It is good people who make good places,” wrote Anna Sewell, author of “Black Beauty.” This quote came to mind after visiting Oregon’s Applegate Valley, where family-owned bakeries and stately barns dot winding country roads and winemakers rally around regenerative agriculture and organic practices.
Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA, which is contained within the larger Rogue Valley AVA in the southern part of the state, stretches 50 miles north from the California border to the Rogue River just west of Grants Pass. Established in 2001, this pocket of wine country is surrounded by hotspots of biodiversity from the rippling Siskiyou Mountains, to the bordering Siskiyou National Forest on the west, and the Rogue River National Forest to the east.
You could say the spirit of wildness seeps into the wine community, where there’s a legacy of pushing boundaries and maverick personalities. At Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, the founding owners embraced farming with the wild early on and became one of the first Demeter-certified Biodynamic® commercial farms and estate wineries in the nation.
Head a few miles over to Plaisance Ranch and you can meet Joe Ginet, the first vintner in the state to manage both vineyards and cattle on his third-generation family ranch that dates back to 1858. There’s no question it’s one of few places where you can procure a bottle of wine and a steak — both sustainably grown and produced on the same property.
What sets the Applegate Valley apart from other AVAs is there’s still a sense of the undiscovered. With about 20 wineries total, most small and many family-run, there’s a high chance that when you pull up to the barn-turned-tasting room, the person pouring your taste of Syrah is the winemaker.
“We love to point visitors to all the other great ways to explore the area, from hiking and fishing to paragliding,” Ginet said.
It’s a wine region on the rise, and the new guard is pursuing the purest expression of place. Over at Troon Vineyard, a change of ownership in 2016 led to enhanced farming strategies and revisiting the ideal varieties for the estate. The results of their research pointed to Southern French varieties. “We entered into a project to replant our entire vineyard with the right varieties in the right places,” said Craig Camp, the vineyard’s general manager.
Most recently, the estate became both Demeter Biodynamic® and Regenerative Organic Certified. Camp said that, without a doubt, they have improved the health of all the plants and animals on the farm.
“For me, it is very exciting that the Applegate Valley is home to a significant percentage of the Demeter Biodynamic® grapes grown in Oregon,” he adds. “For a small AVA to have such a high profile in biodynamics is an achievement I hope we can build on and expand.”
The Wine List:
Say hello to your new favorite white wine. Winemaker Nate Wall believes Troon has found the perfect spot for Vermentino to flourish — and this wine proves he’s right. Vibrant honeysuckle and Meyer lemon aromas with an energetic core of mandarin, peaches and a hint of almonds on the palate.
$30 | 12.8% ABV
A pilgrimage for cheese enthusiasts, this is Oregon’s only joint creamery and winery, and it offers an enchanting tasting experience. You can meet the resident dairy herd (Nigerian Dwarf goats), tour the kitchen gardens, and order a cheese and wine pairing to savor while soaking up a glorious view of the Applegate River Valley. An expressive red with notes of white pepper, sage and plum, this standout Syrah is made with all estate fruit.
$38 | 14% ABV
Plaisance Ranch is a third-generation family farm that has deep roots in both ranching and tending vineyards. Owner Joe Ginet’s heritage traces back to St. Jean de la Porte, Savoie, a small village in the French Alps. The region is home to Mondeusé Noire, and Ginet’s cuttings hail from old family vineyards. This exuberant red hits all the right notes with juicy plum and black fruit flavors and a peppery finish.
$35 | 12.3% ABV
Let’s start with the label: A wine dog goes a long way. This one features two Australian shepherds, Mick and Kayla. Dinner guests will delight in both the lively label and the pour. Generous black cherry, blueberry and plums on the palate with a spicy finish. Serve with lamb tagine and sneak a small bite to your best furry friend in tribute to wine dogs everywhere.
$32 | 13.5% ABV
A longtime classic from the Applegate Valley, this succulent and expressive Rhone-style blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne has garnered a huge following and many accolades over the last decade. Rounded in feel with aromas of citrus blossoms and lively tropical fruit flavors.
$32 | 13.6% ABV
Bursting with earthy cherry and ripe plum flavors, this robust red calls for a private tasting in one of Red Lily’s cozy beach bungalows along the Applegate River. A definite stop for Tempranillo fans.
$35 | 13.6% ABV