Southern Oregon wine country is hyped as the next big spot, and for good reason. A quick jaunt around the vineyards and tasting rooms reveals a region with distinct personality and bountiful wild beauty. It’s home to Crater Lake, the state’s only national park, and the roaring Rogue River where you can spot adrenaline-fueled rafters, kayakers and fly-fishing enthusiasts from near and far.
You’ll also find Ashland’s internationally renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the home of Rogue River Blue, the first American cheese to win World’s Best Cheese at the 2019/2020 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy.
Add in the mountain peaks, bristling pines and generous sunshine and it’s no wonder so many are drawn to plant roots in the area. After researching options in California’s Monterey County and the Sierra foothills, Dan and Cindy Marca, the owners of DANCIN Vineyards, decided to head north to Oregon and establish their vineyard, DANCIN.
“We scoured the entire state on multiple occasions and then discovered the majestic Rogue Valley,” says Dan Marca. With future vineyards top of mind, the couple found the climate, diversity of topography and rich agricultural history of Southern Oregon an ideal match.
Established in 1991, the Rogue Valley AVA is the southernmost of five designated AVAs in southern Oregon, each of which expresses a wide range of climates, soil types and elevation. The Rogue Valley AVA sits at the convergence of three significant mountain ranges — the Klamath Mountains, the Coastal Range and the Cascade — exhibiting a rich and rugged landscape. Here, vineyards are typically at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet and are planted on hillsides rather than valley floor.
The AVA is also the warmest and driest winegrowing region in Oregon. Yet diversity still reigns here. While ample sunshine and a long, warm growing season ensure later-ripening varieties thrive, to the west, pockets with cooler microclimates allow select cool-weather varieties flourish as well.
“It’s the only place in the state where you can sample estate-grown, award-winning Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon within a seven-minute drive,” says Dan Marca.
Today, there are approximately 180 vineyards growing over 50 different varieties in the AVA. Varieties include: Albariño, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Malbec and Barbera.
“Italians, for sure!” adds Dan Marca. The discovery of locations throughout the Rogue Valley AVA where Barbera and Sangiovese prosper is another reason he is excited about the area.
Every year, DANCIN includes two or three Barbera selections, along with one Sangiovese sourced from a warmer vineyard site about five miles from their estate. Dan Marca said they also make a unique Barbera/Pinot Noir blend named ‘Synergy.’
One little known fact about the region is the long-standing relationship between Medford, Oregon, and Alba, Italy. In 1960, former Mayor John Snider paired the two communities as sister cities.
“We’ve had the privilege of hosting Alba’s mayor and city councilors at DANCIN over the years,” says Dan Marca. “Seems obvious that this was all meant to be.”
For these reasons, and many more, the wineries and vineyards in the region have turned from rising stars to the raison d’être for a visit to Southern Oregon.
The Wine List:
DANCIN Vineyards 2019 Onore Rogue Valley Barbera
Pair this bottle with the movie “Big Night.” (We think Stanley Tucci would approve.) Bold aromas of red currant and raspberry with a hint of baking spices followed by a juicy mid-palate with notes of ripe cherry and brambly blackberry.
$44 / 14.6% ABV
Del Rio Vineyard Estate 2018 Del Rio Vineyard Estate Malbec
Located along the Rogue River, Del Rio Vineyard Estate is home to one of the largest vineyards in Southern Oregon with the first grapes planted dating back to 1997. This Malbec hails from one of their smallest productions, sold solely through their tasting room and website, making it a great excuse to plan a weekend getaway to the Rogue Valley AVA. Aromas of earthy blackberry mingle with plush fruit flavors of currants and plum.
$32 | 14.1% ABV
Foris Vineyards 2019 Foris Vineyards Pinot Blanc
Early wine pioneers in Oregon, the Gerber family planted their first vineyard on the terrace of the Siskiyou Mountains over 40 years ago. Located just seven miles from the California border and surrounded by several wilderness areas, Foris now has over 135 acres of estate vineyards. Early in the game, Foris garnered accolades for producing lively and pure Alsatian-inspired white wines. Start with this signature Pinot Blanc that opens with honeysuckle and apricot aromas then pops on the palate with pear, melon and a hit of almond.
$15 | 13.6% ABV
RoxyAnn Winery 2017 RoxyAnn Winery Claret
This Bordeaux-style red blend has deep roots dating back to the founding family’s original 20 acres planted on the southwest slopes of Roxy Ann Peak in 1997. Four years later when RoxyAnn released their first wine — 150 cases of a proprietary red “Claret” — they sold out in two weeks. Still one of the most popular wines from RoxyAnn, this rich and balanced red blend leads with blue fruits and raspberry then rounds out showcasing hints of chocolate, cedar and oak spice.
$28 | 14% ABV
Weisinger Family Winery 2018 Estate Tempranillo Weisinger Family Winery
Located just outside the town of Ashland, this second-generation winery was established in 1988 by John Weisinger and is now led by his son, Eric. While most of their wines are made with fruit sourced from nearby vineyards, the Tempranillo hails from estate vineyards. Eric Weisinger is a longtime member — and current vice president — of the Oregon Tempranillo Alliance. This wine opens with spicy berry aromas followed by generous black cherry and red plum flavors with a long and layered finish.
Price: $42 | 14.5% ABV
2Hawk Vineyard and Winery 2019 Viognier 2Hawk Vineyard and Winery
Owners Ross and Jen Allen teamed up with esteemed winemaker Kiley Evans to focus on Malbec and Viognier with smaller amounts of Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Definitely a star performer, this round, full-bodied sip bursts with flowery ripe peach aromas and hints of apricot.
Price: $26 | 13.4% ABV