When visitors call the Rogue Valley wine region the “new Napa,” its proud winemakers say, “No, we’re Southern Oregon.” With a growing reputation for expressive wines, the Rogue Valley is producing a string of outstanding vintages and quietly attracting wine lovers. And with four wine trails, 53 tasting rooms, and 88 vineyards, there’s plenty to explore in this undiscovered wine region.
The Rogue Valley lies at the convergence of three mountain ranges – the Klamath, the Coastal, and the Cascades. It bears the unique distinction of having the highest elevation in Oregon for grape growing. Planted at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet, the Rogue Valley’s vineyards often grow on the region’s rugged hillsides rather than on the valley floor. Similar to France’s Bordeaux region, the Rogue Valley’s warm, dry climate benefits Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Established in 1991, the Rogue Valley AVA is part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA. It’s also home to the greatest concentration of wineries in Southern Oregon.
Many wine-growing regions are naturally beautiful, but the Rogue Valley’s stunning topography will surprise and delight you. Seventy miles wide and 60 miles long, the region is made up of three lush river valleys. Its soils, rivers, and microclimates provide a rich environment for grape growing. Rolling hills planted with grapevines surround the major highways and country roads that lead to small, rustic wineries and spacious tasting rooms with dramatic views.
The city of Medford, known as the “Heart of the Rogue,” provides a convenient launchpad to explore any or all four wine trails. There are even wine tasting rooms in downtown Medford, effectively making it a “fifth wine trail” available for visitors.
Bear Creek Wine Trail
The Bear Creek Wine Trail, home to 18 wineries, begins just above Ashland stretching north to Medford. One of the first wineries you’ll encounter on this easily accessible wine trail is Irvine and Roberts Vineyards. From its spacious tasting room and its expansive patio, you’ll have sweeping views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains. The winery produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and one Rosé of Pinot Noir. Their Convergence Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are their signature wines. “The wines are named for the Siskiyous and Cascades that come together at the vineyard,” Amira Makansi, Irvine and Roberts’ friendly wine expert, says. “It also symbolizes the Roberts and Irvine families coming together. The Convergence wines tell their story.”
Small plates prepared by their longtime executive chef Kris Elder are divine. While sitting in the sunshine of a glorious fall afternoon, Gary, my wine tasting partner, and I snacked on a platter of honey, bacon and hazelnut pâté; ricotta mustard seed white sauce; lemon pickled fennel; green olives; stone ground mustard; garlic almonds; green apple slices; and the tastiest house-made seeded crackers. So comfortable was the ambiance, I could have stayed all afternoon.
Upper Rogue Wine Trail
North of Medford, the Upper Rogue Wine Trail, is home to just four wineries. The trail snakes through rural communities like Sam’s Valley. A visit to nearby Central Point, where the world-famous Rogue Creamery cheese shop is located, is a must-stop for its prize-winning blue cheese.
Kriselle Cellars, at the trail’s most northern point, is a stunning facility with a spacious patio overlooking a pond and acres of vineyards. The Rogue River is nearby and somewhere in the distance, you can hear cows mooing. Greeted by Nora Lancaster, Director, Kriselle Cellars, she seated us on the patio and suggested a sampling of whites and reds.
We started with the 2018 Viognier and the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc. Next we sampled five reds ranging from the lighter 2017 Sangiovese to the 2017 Belle Tou Ville, a luscious Bordeaux blend. But it was the 2016 D’Tani, a tribute to the “Rock Above” in the distance, that really caught my attention. Nora describes this blend as “a wine rich with flavors and characteristics of the Rogue Valley Appellation.”
Jacksonville Wine Trail
Jacksonville Wine Trail, home to seven wineries, makes a great place to spend an afternoon. Some of the tasting rooms, like Anchor Valley Wines and Quady North, are in the small town of Jacksonville. And for visitors staying overnight, the in-town tasting rooms remain open later than most other wineries.
A short drive outside of Jacksonville, DANCIN Vineyards provides a lovely location for lunch and wine tasting. While the name comes from a combination of its owners Dan and Cindy, the wines are named aptly for Cindy’s love of dancing.
The tasting room and restaurant perch on top of a hill overlooking DANCIN’s vineyards. So striking are the views of the surrounding, uniformed rows of grapevines, I found myself stopping twice on the driveway to take in the beauty and snap photos. A wooden bridge from the parking lot leads to comfortable seating on the winery’s shaded patio. Tables sit alongside the most pristine koi pond I’ve ever seen. Fruit trees, willows, rosemary, and a wide variety of other plants surround the rocks lining the koi pond, giving one the impression of sitting in a serene garden.
Known for their artisan pizzas, we ordered a seasonal one topped with pear, prosciutto, pine nut, blue cheese, and arugula. A sampling of the 2018 Chaine Chardonnay displayed aromatics of white peach and a soft hint of vanilla. Next, we tasted their lightest Pinot Noir, a 2018 Pas de Trois. Then we paired the 2018 Alto Pinot, from their highest elevation to pair with our pizza. Our final tasting was the 2018 Danseur, meaning “male dancer.” It’s a vibrant Syrah with spicy flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of orange zest.
Applegate Wine Trail
The Applegate Wine Trail, with 19 wineries to choose from, begins just above the California border and follows the meandering Applegate River 50 miles north. While all of the Rogue Valley is beautiful, the Applegate Wine Trail is my favorite. The trail takes you past meadows, farm stands, and plenty of wineries as you wind your way up to a higher elevation.
Recommended to me by our wine server from one of our earlier tastings, we headed to Wooldridge Creek Winery. This unique business combines its winery, creamery, and charcuterie offerings in one idyllic location. And like the other wineries described in this story, Wooldridge’s views of vineyards and blue- tinged mountains provides a relaxed setting to eat and sip.
Baskets of cascading fuchsias hang from the side of the tasting room and plant stands, providing a colorful garden-like setting. The goats in the yard across the road bleat quietly in the background. Chairs on the lawn invite guests to sit and gaze and sip all afternoon.
Wooldridge grows 12 varietals, and all their wines are estate grown. We sampled the 2019 Chardonnay, barrel fermented in French oak, with a creamy texture, and bright vanilla, caramel finish. Next, we sampled the 2019 Twilight White, the 2019 Dry Rosé, the 2017 Merlot, and the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon. And, finally, we finished with the 2017 Syrah. Filled with notes of cinnamon, spice, and a cocoa finish, this wine displays a lot of depth.
If You Go
The Rogue Valley is an easy car drive from Northern California. However, for visitors flying in, the Rogue Valley International Airport in Medford is serviced by Delta, Alaska, American, Allegiant, and United Airlines.
The Rogue Regency Inn and Suites is Medford’s largest independent full-service hotel. Because it’s so close to the airport and downtown Medford, this elegant casual hotel is ideally located for exploring all the Rogue Valley. An onsite restaurant and cocktail lounge provides excellent options after a long day of wine tasting!
Note: This writer received hosted accommodations and some hosted wine tastings, common to the wine and travel industry. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.