The Willamette Valley is the most renowned wine region in Oregon and is famed for its Pinot Noir. Its recognition is well deserved, but Southern Oregon is my favorite place to taste wine in the state. You will find small boutique wineries, many family owned, while traversing the country lanes and small towns. It’s the type of area where people know their neighbors and help each other out. The wine is good but not pretentious.
Southern Oregon is a designated American Viticultural Area or AVA, which is based on geography and climate. Within this AVA are the Umpqua Valley AVA, the Rogue Valley AVA, and the Applegate Valley AVA. This is the perfect destination to develop your wine palate thanks to the soil, topography, and climate of the area, which is known as terroir. After visiting and wine tasting in the Southern Oregon AVA, I finally understand terroir.
All of the wineries listed are in the Southern Oregon AVA and its sub-AVAs. I visited each of these wineries as part of a private press trip organized for me by Travel Southern Oregon. All opinions are my own.
1. Delfino Vineyards
Umpqua Valley AVA
Jim and Terri Delfino, the owners of Delfino Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley AVA, are masters of hospitality. I know a day of wine tasting sounds fun, but it can also be exhausting. Terri took one look at me when I arrived late one evening to spend the night at their guest cottage and gave me a big hug. That is just the type of people the Delfinos are, warm and welcoming. They also make great wine.
The tasting room is nestled amidst 160 acres of vineyards where they grow Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Dolcetto, Merlot, and Muller Thurgau varietals. In addition, they are involved in a Southern Oregon climate research program where they have planted seven other varietals. The study vines include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Viognier, Riesling, Malbec, and Mourvedre. The Delfinos welcome visitors to tour the vineyards, which are easily accessed right outside the tasting room, or you can request a private tour. On an interesting note, Jim, who has a background in education, helped develop the viticulture and enology program with Umpqua Community College.
2. Melrose Vineyards
Umpqua Valley AVA
Wayne and his late wife Deedy Parker established Melrose Vineyards, a lovely estate winery in the Umpqua Valley near Roseburg, Oregon, overlooking the South Umpqua River. Wayne had 20 years of experience as a farmer growing grapes used for raisins in California. In 1996, they made the move to the Umpqua Valley, which he predicted was going to be one of the great viticulture areas in the United States. The estate is now 250 acres with a reputation for producing high-quality fruit that many prestigious Oregon wineries purchase through long-term contracts. Varietals produced include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinotage, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Tempranillo, Baco Noir, Merlot, and Dolcetto.
The tasting room is in a 100-year-old barn that was rebuilt from the intact original main timbers and has retained many of the original features. Make sure to try the award-winning 2015 Baco Noir and the 2015 Pinotage, which received a 91 points rating from Wine Enthusiast. There is a gift shop on-site, and the tasting room offers a nice variety of cheese plates, charcuterie, and other small plates to enjoy with their wines.
3. Paul O’Brien Winery
Umpqua Valley AVA
The Paul O’Brien Winery is an urban winery located in the historic Hansen Chevrolet building, making for an incredibly unique tasting room. Instead of repairing cars, the old service bay is now used for winemaking. Paul O’Brien is run by Dyson Paul DeMara and Scott O’Brien Kelley who became friends while working for Robert Mondavi Winery in California. The two are passionate about the craft of winemaking, and they combine their knowledge of old-world traditions with new-world techniques to produce some very creative wines. Try the 2016 Il Rinnegati, which is reminiscent of Tuscan Super Blends. This unique blend is 65% Sangiovese, 31% Merlot, and 4% Syrah and aged for two years in 40% new French oak. The 2017 Oregon Territory Tempranillo is a single varietal but sourced from two different AVAs, the Umpqua Valley and the Rogue Valley.
4. Irvine & Roberts Vineyards
Rogue Valley AVA
The Irvine & Roberts Vineyards are a partnership between the Irvine and Roberts families. The tasting room is just stunning with views for miles of the vineyards and the surrounding mountains. The lush green of the grapevines pops against the brown of the surrounding terrain. The terroir of their land provides the perfect conditions to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and that is what they specialize in.
Pro Tip: Book a Curated Pairing, which is a two-hour appointment to taste their limited-production wines served with a curated selection of pairing bites carefully selected to complement the wines you will be tasting.
5. Kriselle Cellars
Rogue Valley AVA
Scott Steingraber, owner and winemaker at Kriselle Cellars, began his career as a civil engineer. The Kriselle wine labels reflect this heritage as each represents a different soil type. Soil also plays an important role in the depth, concentration, and character of the fruit grown on this site, which is comprised of round river rock and alluvial silt, causing the vines to struggle a bit. The cellars are named after Scott’s partner and wife Krisell. The “e” was added to the end to make it easier to pronounce. Varietals grown on the ranch include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Tempranillo, which are all grapes that grow well in Southern Oregon.
The tasting room is situated on a hill with beautiful views of the vineyards. A variety of cheese plates and platters are available with wood-fired pizzas added on weekends. Try the 2016 Di’tani, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. This wine reflects the Rogue Valley AVA and the terroir of the land. I love a good old-world Italian wine, and the 2017 Sangiovese does not disappoint.
6. Red Lily Vineyards
Applegate Valley AVA
The lovely Applegate Valley AVA is traversed by the crystal clear Applegate River and is surrounded by forested hillsides. Small family farms are numerous in this bucolic region.
Meandering down a country lane, you cross a small bridge to enter Red Lily Vineyards. The property is just gorgeous with a lush green lawn that rolls down to the banks of the Applegate River. It is an idyllic location to taste wine. Red Lily was founded with a single goal: to produce the finest Spanish-inspired wines possible. The vineyards are named for Bolander’s Lily, a rare species found in the nearby mountains, and the owners’ daughter Lily. Tempranillo thrives in Southern Oregon and is the primary varietal for the winery. Plan to enjoy your tasting outside by the river or any of the other outdoor spaces. Try the 2015 Red Lily Tempranillo which is 100% Tempranillo. It is what Red Lily specializes in, and the Bolander’s Lily on the wine label is a nice touch. The 2015 Life of Riley is a red blend of 78% Tempranillo and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and worth a taste to see what the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon adds to the Tempranillo.
Pro Tip: Book a Beach Bungalow for a wine tasting. They are located on the banks of the Applegate River and include a fire pit and seating for four. The canopy tents are open on one side so you can enjoy the river view. The cost is $100 for two hours in a Beach Bungalow, a bottle of 2015 Red Blanket, and a Lily Girl Picnic Box.
7. Wooldridge Creek Winery
Applegate Valley AVA
Wooldridge Creek Winery brings new meaning to “farm and vine to table.” It is Oregon’s first winery, creamery, and charcuterie. I visited toward the end of the day when the sun softens, and it was the perfect time to enjoy a great glass of hand-crafted wine while nibbling artisan cheeses and cured meats all made on site. The property is just beautiful, so plan to stop toward the end of your day and stay awhile. Wildlife abounds on the property, and the farm animals are so cute especially the mini-donkey, Waffles, and the mini-horse, Pancakes.
Wooldridge steps up a Rosé by making a sparkling one. It is a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Zinfandel that pairs perfectly with the cheese and charcuterie offered. On an interesting note, Wooldridge was the first Oregon winery to sell kegs of wine. Housed in stainless steel kegs, it reduces waste and provides lower wholesale prices. It also aligns with their environmental and socially responsible farm and business practices.
The Southern Oregon AVAs are well worth a visit. In addition to great wine, you are in a beautiful area with scenic drives that take you to the wineries in this article. Outdoor recreation abounds and you are close to the incredible Crater Lake National Park.