If we were to play wine word association and I said, “Oregon,” you would probably say “pinot noir.” And that would be a great answer.
However, in Southern Oregon, pinot is only part of the story and in the Applegate Valley you might very well hear, “Pinot who?”
A sub-appellation of the Rogue Valley, the Applegate Valley was home to Oregon’s first winery, Valley View, that was opened by Peter Britt in 1872. Prohibition changed the landscape and it took four decades before winemaking returned. Today, there are 23 bonded wineries in the area with the current incarnation of Valley View being the oldest at 40 years of age.
As scenic as nearly any wine region I’ve visited, the Applegate Valley is sheltered by mountains, and its base is about 1,500 feet above sea level. With a short growing season consisting of hot days and cool nights, the Rhône varietals thrive.
Because of the climate, the wines have low to moderate alcohol levels. I tried several viogniers that were under 13 percent and did not meet one syrah that was over 14 percent. How about that?
With helpful tips from local winemakers and wine drinkers, I made it to a sampling of what are considered the top producers. I’m pretty confident that others are on their way to making really good wines here, but in the meantime, these are the two folks you don’t want to miss.
This name might sound familiar, and that is because Herb Quady’s parents, Andrew and Laurel Quady, make some of the best dessert wines in California. Before trekking up north, Herb Quady worked at Bonny Doon as an associate winemaker. His first head winemaking job was at Troon in the Applegate Valley before he bought a 100-acre property. Committed to minimal intervention, Quady’s has 16 acres, known as Mae’s Vineyard, organically planted.
It might be rosé season but his 2010 Rosé ($13.50), a blend of 60 percent syrah and 40 percent grenache, may be consumed well into next winter. With an array of peach, apricot, citrus and hibiscus, it is refreshing but at the same time has some intensity. The ’07 Syrah 4-2 ($25) is layered with cocoa-dusted blueberry, black-cherry fruit and spice. Fragrant and wonderfully balanced, it has no trouble competing with its compatriots from California that are double the money.
Bill and Barbara Steele lived in the Bay Area and worked in the world of finance before the “vacation crisis talk” changed their lives. Barbara Steele had already been getting involved the organic farming community in California prior to their visit to the Applegate Valley. In 2003, they took the plunge with the purchase of 117 acres of weeds, rocks and metal parts. With just a little help, the Steele’s created the first biodynamic property in the Applegate Valley. In addition to grapes, asparagus, artichokes and cherries are grown and sold.
Like Quady North, there is not much fault to be found with any of the wines. The 2010 Cowhorn Spiral 36 ($22), a blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne is a pure, aromatic charmer. Fruity but not over the top, the ’09 Grenache 80 is a no-brainer ($30). Lastly, the ’08 Syrah 74 ($35) with its earthy, bacon nose and juicy fruit will delight all who enjoy this grape.
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.