The Culture that is ASHLAND, OREGON, and the Rogue Valley AVA
Ashland, Oregon is a 20-minute drive north of California’s state line, or accessible by flying into Medford, Oregon. Ashland is an unrivaled area where the hippie lifestyle of the 60’s blends seamlessly with today’s innovative and energized millennial generation. This is a place where world-class wine, fine dining, culture, music, and adventure go hand in hand. Just listen……Ashland is calling you to visit and experience the harmony and beauty of the region.
The Rogue Valley AVA
The Rogue Valley has a long and storied history, being the first wine-growing region in the (then) new Oregon Territory, with wine production beginning in the 1850’s. However, modern wine production began in the 1970’s when several vineyards were planted across the valley. In 1991 the Rogue Valley AVA was recognized and officially established. The Rogue Valley AVA is about 300 miles south of the well-known Willamette Valley, growing an abundance of grape varietals. This area deserves the attention of serious wine explorers.
The varying climatic conditions, soil profiles, topography, geography, and geology of the area creates perfect and varied growing conditions for both cool and warmer climate grapes. As described by geologist, Ben Schupack:
The Rogue Valley AVA is composed of intermountain river valleys between two soaring mountain ranges: the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains to the west and southwest. Each mountain range in this region sequentially alters the climate, resulting in warmer and drier microclimates relative to other Oregon AVAs; Here, high-relief landscapes attenuate the cooler marine influence of the Pacific Ocean. The complex geology of the AVA includes the full suite of the rock cycle: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. The majority of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are deformed, faulted ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks from the Triassic/Jurassic 250-150 million years ago. Rivers began eroding these mountains producing prolific quantities of sand and gravel into the valleys approximately 40 million years ago. Then, volcanic eruptions filled the landscape 20 million years ago during creation of the Cascade Mountains which bound the AVA to the east.
The many variances, coupled with a long growing season, makes this a grape-friendly area where “everything from Albariño to Zinfandel,” (about 70 varietals), thrive. This is a region where the “sense of place” or terroir is so wide-ranging, that literally within yards of each other, you will find grapes reflecting opposite characteristics of terroir and weather.
With about 100 wineries and half as many tasting rooms in the area, this “off the beaten path” location has a laid-back atmosphere, with wide open spaces, not encumbered by the usual wine country crowds. This still hidden gem is so worth exploring. Shhhhhh.
Let’s take a peek at a few wineries, plus other inviting venues and activities that make the Ashland area of Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley Wine Country so unique and enticing.
DANCIN Vineyards. The wines and food will certainly be dancing on your palate, but “dancing” is not how this vineyard got its name. The story of how Dan and Cindy met is a love story that happened by chance. This developed into a love passion by blending their two names. They had a dream, to create not only world-class wines but a world-class hospitality experience. The dream became reality in 2012 when DANCIN Vineyards opened their tasting room. Since then, DANCIN has garnered quite a reputation, having received accolades and awards from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Forbes, Sunset Magazine, The New York Times, in addition to countless other publications and competitions.
In this area of the Rogue Valley AVA, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is the claim to fame. However, the geology and micro-climates are also conducive to growing other, warmer weather varieties. So, on your visit, you will also be treated to DANCIN’s award-winning Barbera and Syrah in addition to a beautiful well-balanced Barbera/Pinot Noir blend.
While producing elegant wines, DANCIN is committed to follow sustainable farming practices that won’t harm the land and environment. The vineyards are organically and dry-farmed. Dan’s philosophy is straightforward: “Be a steward of the land who is accountable to future generations.”
DANCIN would be a must-visit winery destination for the wines by themselves, but now add in Dan and Cindy’s claim to fame: HOSPITALITY! From their gourmet kitchen, you will be served mouthwatering artisan pizzas, a charcuterie board that will make your eyes pop out, stuffed mushrooms to die for, salads, other small bites; and be certain to leave room for dessert!
A visit to DANCIN is a wine AND food experience! Overlooking the vineyards, on the expansive patio, with an Italianate Villa in back of you, you will feel like you are out in the Tuscan countryside.
If this wasn’t enough, add in musical entertainment that happens most evenings between 5:00-7:00pm. (Insider information: Wednesdays DANCIN is open from 4:00-7:00pm. This has become a Wednesday afternoon/evening locals’ hangout).
Please check the website for hours of operation, entertainment, current salivating menu and wine selections. And PLEASE, make reservations in advance.
Oh yes, the names of the wines are all based on different dance positions because, even though the name of the winery is a blend of Dan and Cindy, Cindy LOVES to dance! And at any moment may break out dancing to the music.
DANCIN Vineyards certainly defines “a creative harmony of wine, food, and music….” And let’s not leave out: Hospitality.
(Located in Jacksonville, about a 30-minute drive from Ashland).
Irvine & Roberts Vineyards. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay…. but this isn’t your Willamette Valley Pinot or Chardonnay! In the Rogue Valley AVA, the diverse landscape is conducive to growing elegant Burgundy grapes—and because of the difference in place and weather, they are quite different from their grape cousins to the north. Irvine & Roberts Vineyards is located in an area formed over 200 million years ago, and over time, with weather and geologic changes, this created a sedimentary, nutrient-rich soil that loves Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It may be the same grape varieties as in the Willamette, but because of place and terroir, there is a difference in aroma, taste, and texture of these elegant Rogue Valley Burgundies.
Sitting out on the inviting patio, with a view of vineyards, valleys and the Siskiyou Mountains is hypnotic. On a chilly day, you may be able to get a seat inside by the fireplace, as you enjoy the view through the tasting room windows while you are tasting, and what a tasting it will be!
Irvine & Roberts is unquestionably a “house of Burgundy.” They specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, plus an unexpected surprise…. read on.
As Doug Irvine describes the vineyard: “Our vineyard is at 2100 feet elevation. That’s very unusual. It’s a unique stretch of land.”
Initial planting began in 2007 and was expanded in 2012. The 47 planted acres consist primarily of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The initial release was in 2011 (2009 vintage), and then plans to build a state-of-the-art winery and tasting room began; this was completed in 2017. Since then, Irvine & Roberts has been welcoming guests to sip and enjoy their wines that express this unique terroir.
Currently producing seven different Pinots, these range from Estate wines to wines focusing on specific blocks and elevation. Side-by-side, you can taste the difference and effect that “place” has. The same is true of their Chardonnays.
There are two other grapes that the winery grows, Pinot Meunier and Gamay Noir. Pinot Meunier is typically used in the making of Champagne. With exceptionally low production (less than an acre of vines), you may have the opportunity to experience this unsung variety. While similar to Pinot Noir, it displays higher acidity and a somewhat less earthy character. If available during your visit, you will want to purchase a bottle or two. Irvine & Roberts is one of very few producers of Pinot Meunier as a single varietal, and what a treat it is!
And the new addition, a small planting of Gamay Noir will see its initial release next year.
Add to your tasting experience and bring out the truest flavors of the wines you are sampling when you pair them with small bites, with creative flavors, from the winery kitchen. Ingredients are sourced from local producers and growers; assortment will depend on seasonal availability. Chef Becky Glynn’s current menu consists of the following:
Farm Boards: Two separate choices, one featuring local cheeses, fruit and jams, the other is artisanal charcuterie accompanied with pickled local vegetables.
Small Plates: Burrata cheese, pea shoot pesto, garlic crostini and cherry tomatoes, or Oregon bay shrimp cakes, with fried capers and charred lemon.
Or try the elevated Curated wine, and food pairing, featuring limited production wines:
-Chardonnay with: Tartine, ricotta, mushrooms & black garlic
-Two distinctive Pinots, paired with:
*Smoked duck, mascarpone, pineapple jam
*Short rib, blue cheese, crème fraiche
Include a visit to Irvine & Roberts on your shortlist when you visit the Rogue Valley AVA. Another true gem of Southern Oregon.
Troon Vineyard. You may be familiar with the famous movie line: “If you build it, they will come.” Well, Troon Vineyards, in the Rogue Valley AVA has done more than just “build it.” They have created a carbon-neutral footprint with their regenerative, sustainable, biodynamic, organic winery, and vineyard. The result is: The grapes are happy, the wines are amazing, the future is looked after and yes, the people do come!
Farming the Land and the Grapes
As we know, wine is an expression of terroir. At Troon Vineyards, this expression takes many forms and a huge commitment, until it becomes juice in the bottle.
There are 100 acres at Troon (45 planted), comprised of 19 varietals. The Applegate Valley is a nested AVA of the Rogue Valley, being diverse with hills, flats, and valleys, which makes this a perfect place for growing numerous varieties. Some of what Troon grows includes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tannat, Vermentino, Roussanne and Marsanne.
When Bryan and Denise White purchased the property in 2017, they were “all in” committed to produce wines responsibly, in a way that was based on regenerative farming practices, “to put back more than they take from their plants and the soil.” As such, today Troon Vineyard is a Demeter Biodynamic®Certified and Regenerative Organic Certified ™️ farm.
(For additional information please refer to the Tablas Creek Blog)
Briefly put, Regenerative practices combine soil health, animal welfare and social fairness under one roof, where each individually and together, depend upon each other, “to farm like the world depends on it,” because, it does.
The Troon farm/vineyard is a biodiverse community. During a tour of the property, you will see a community comprised of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, re-wilded honeybees, sheep, chickens, dogs, maybe a coyote or two and other wild animals (rabbits, hawks, owls, ducks) and the occasional human. There is a symbiotic relationship between all these parts that ends up growing grapes, which are then made into wine, overseen by winemaker Nate Wall. THIS IS NATURE, in a natural setting, at its finest.
Taste The Troon Difference
Visiting Troon, you will have the opportunity to taste the difference that biodynamic, regenerative farming practices show off in the final wine product. “The winemaking process (as described by Nate Wall) attempts to let all of this hard work in the vineyard shine through by being incredibly hands-off in the cellar. No additions or adjustments of any kind are made to the incoming fruit, including no sulfur at crush. Fermentations occur spontaneously from native yeasts, the wines ferment outdoors (usually with a healthy percentage of whole clusters), and no new oak is used during barrel aging.”
Recognizing the quality of these wines, Troon has received praises from a variety of publications and wine industry professionals. Reviews, accolades, and scores receiving 90+points have been awarded by the likes of: The NY Times, James Suckling, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Josh Reynolds of Vinous, The Oregonian in addition to other well-respected wine experts and blogs.
When you visit Troon, you will experience a selection of Troon white and red wines (single varietals and blends), in addition to pinks, bubbles and a most interesting and unusual orange wine called Amphora Amber Vermentino.
On my recent visit, this wine was a total WOW!!! Something so unique and different that you feel honored to be able to taste it. The color of this wine will amaze you…and the flavors will impress you. A wine so versatile with food, that it will even pair well with vegetables (broccoli or artichoke anyone)? There are no shortcuts taken in the production of this wine, made in amphorae vessels, which was the winemaking method used 6,000 years ago in what is today modern-day Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union).
THIS WINE IS AN EXPERIENCE!
Enjoy a selection of wines from Troon with their standard ‘tasting room’ reservation or, choose a private tasting with a dedicated wine educator, who will go into more detail about the farming and winemaking practices. For a real treat, I would highly recommend the Farm Tour and Tasting! Here you will come face to face with many aspects and fascinating details of the Troon Farm. Meet the farm animals, be given a fun and educational insight on understanding what biodynamic, sustainable, and regenerative farming means not only to the wine, but to the earth and all that inhabit it, and how “we” all depend upon each other for survival and the planet’s future.
Visiting Troon, you will appreciate what a true marriage of nature is, where land, weather, geology, fauna, flora, and mortal humans come together, depending upon each other to thrive.
Troon is leading the way into the future – and the future is now.
(Troon is located in the Applegate Valley, about an hour drive from Ashland).
Blending Wine with the Food, Culture and Adventure of Ashland, Oregon
You’re not going to go hungry in Ashland. There is a restaurant for every palate and every budget. From fine dining to pizza, burgers, pub food plus a wide assortment of international cuisine. Dine casually, pick up and picnic in Lithia Park, or have an elegant, gourmet wine-paired meal at one of many of Ashland’s premier dining spots. Creative flavors and preparations, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients are the hallmark of Ashland’s food scene. And most restaurants are within easy walking distance of Lithia Springs Park and the theatres.
Theatre and Entertainment
Ashland is known and famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935. This is one of the oldest professional, not-for-profit theatres in the nation. Enjoy theatre under the stars in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Today you will enjoy an assortment of drama, including Shakespeare and modern contemporary performances.
The Angus Bowmer Theatre, also part of The Shakespeare Festival, is a 600-seat venue which opened in 1970. The theatre is an architectural masterpiece, offering a lineup of contemporary plays.
If musicals and comedies are to your liking, then be certain to take in a performance or two at the Oregon Cabaret. Since 1986, this has been a highly enjoyed addition located in a restored 1911 First Baptist Church!
Music, music, music! In 1967, the inauguration year of the Rogue Valley Symphony, the orchestra performed in the Medford High School Auditorium. Today, you have a choice of listening to this world-class symphony orchestra at venues designed for music and theatre in Ashland, Medford, or Grant’s Pass. Now in its 55th season, the orchestra has expanded beyond just orchestral performances. They take part in educational and mentoring programs to bring the love of music to children in the public school system. In the last several years RVS has been recognized nationally for its innovative programming and commissioning of new artistic works. Plan an evening of music while visiting the Rogue River Valley and Ashland area.
Top off your trip to the Rogue River Valley with a taste of nature and adventure. Whether it’s fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking or ziplining…you will find it all in the Ashland area.
One of the most exciting things you can do in Ashland is to take a Rogue River Rafting trip. For almost any age, these trips are designed to give you a taste of the outdoors (forget your cell phone). Whether it’s a half day trip on the Rogue River, or a four-day trip, staying in rustic yet comfortable lodges, a Rogue River rafting trip will put an exclamation mark on your total Rogue Valley experience. Trust me, I took a multi-day lodge river trip years ago-the adventure and majesty has always stayed with me.
Check out all that the Rogue Valley has to offer on the Travel Ashland website.
The Rogue Valley AVA, Ashland Oregon, and surrounding area is a cornucopia of experiences to excite all the senses. Discover and enjoy a symphony of wine, food, music, theatre, art, nature, and wonderful people. Cheers!
Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine Country lifestyle and culture, from Santa Barbara to Napa, while focusing on the Central Coast. He has earned his WSET2 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has completed the Bourgogne Masterclass through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and is a member of the LA. Wine Writers.