Several weeks ago, I published an article about Southern Oregon’s many advantages as a wine growing region: the incredible variety of wines and styles, the beautiful and often stunning scenery, and the incredible quality of many of the region’s wines.
As I mentioned a week or so later, the region also has a few challenges as it strives to elevate its status among American Viticultural Areas. Primarily, I see those challenges as common among “up and coming” regions, namely a sense of identity (it has not yet built a reputation for any particular style or variety) and its host of relatively small producers (75% of all Oregon wineries make 4,000 cases or less).
There are a few more issues to overcome, though, that might be unique to the region.
First, most “established” wine regions are also popular destinations for wine tourism and most of them have in place the requisite hotels, restaurants, and ancillary activities to host hordes of people every year. Unfortunately, this is close to the ultimate Catch-22: wine tourists won’t come until there are stellar accommodations and dining options and those businesses will be hesitant to invest in the region until there is a steady flow of customers. While Southern Oregon has some very nice restaurants and hotels, I think most would agree this is an area in need of attention as the appellation grows in stature.
The next is perhaps more difficult to manage: what to do about the influence and shadow that the Willamette Valley casts over the region? Southern Oregon is quite different in may ways from the Willamette, and I doubt there is anyone living south of the state’s flagship wine growing region that would argue otherwise. But. For at least some, the Willamette has served as a conduit of sorts, allowing wines from other parts of the state to get noticed, riding the more famous coattails.
I guess the question is: should that be the strategy moving forward? And on that there is far from a consensus. On one hand, Southern Oregon wants to assert its individuality and what makes it special , but at the same time, the Willamette no doubt opens many doors.
The third and perhaps most interesting issue that will potentially cause conflict for grape growers in Southern Oregon is marijuana. In 2015, the state legalized the sale of recreational cannabis and it is clear that it is already having an impact on the state. One grape grower intimated to me that one pot plant makes the same amount of money as one barrel of wine. When one considers that about 100 vines are needed to produce a barrel of wine (one barrel is 25 cases or 300 bottles of wine), it is difficult to argue that marijuana as a crop is much more attractive from an economic standpoint.
There are some limits to how much weed an individual can grow, but it seems as though those regulations can be circumvented fairly easily with a bit of creative manipulation. This will undoubtedly put some pressure on the grape growing community as either land, labor, or both will be diverted to the burgeoning marijuana industry. At this point, it is difficult to say how much.
It is clear that the first two of these issues are being discussed and addressed on some level, while most seem to approach the third with a “wait and see” attitude.
While Southern Oregon has some challenges like any other wine growing region, the region is currently producing some world-class wines, which is by far the most important element as it looks to take a place as one of the country’s top wine regions.
To that end, here are a few notes from two of my favorite Southern Oregon producers, Quady North and Troon Vineyard.
2015 Quady North Pistoleta Rogue Valley: Retail $19. 42% Viognier 33% Marsanne, 23% Rousanne, 2% Grenache Blanc. Great tropical aromas with plenty of stone fruit. Wonderful fruit and acidity, one of the better white Rhône I’ve had, certainly in Oregon. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2015 Quady North Rosé: Retail $15.50. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Fresh summertime red fruit: Cherry, strawberry, and red flowers. On the palate? Whoa. Not sure if I have ever given a whoa to a rosé but holy cow. On the palate? My goodness. A fantastic rosé, but I will stop short of declaring this the best American rosé I have ever had. Until I can think of a better one, and I might need some time. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2014 Quady North GSM Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon: Retail $25. 40% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre. Slightly light in the glass with red fruit, black pepper, and sage. On the palate, light and lively with fruit first (thanks to the Grenache), a bit of spice (Syrah), and a meaty component (Mourvèdre) that comes together in a wonderfully drinkable wine. Open it on the patio, waiting for the meat to come of off the barbecue, or, if you can wait, it will pair famously with those meats. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Troon Vineyard Reserve Syrah Applegate Valley Southern Oregon: Retail $50. Over the last several months, I have become increasingly familiar with the Troon line-up. This is the first time I have tried the Reserve Syrah, however, and well, it is a bit different from the rest of the Troon wines, which have all been stellar. This wine? Whoa. Rich, spicy, and expressive, this wine is a step beyond its Troon cousins. It is young, but all elements are in balance while featuring the wonderful fruit. I have said before that Southern Oregon is a region to watch, and this epitomizes that assertion. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2014 Troon Vineyards G*S*M Reserve Southern Oregon: Retail $50. 50.6% Mourvèdre, 45.2% Syrah, 4.2% Grenache. “GSM” is becoming more popular these days among the wine geek population as the Rhône Valley style of wine continues to take over the world (yes, that was overly dramatic and perhaps not factual, but the public seems to like fake news these days, so I am running with it). While this is more of an “SM” blend, it still has many of the characteristics that aficionados expect from this type of wine: rich red and black berry fruit laced with menthol and a latent meatiness that is subtle but salivating. On the palate this theme continues, with a rush of lush fruit followed by a sudden shift to tartness, then wafting right back to the fruit. This wine has a tantalizing interplay between those two essential elements before finishing with just a hint of grip of tannin. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Troon M*T Reserve: Retail $50. 57.57% Malbec 44.33% Tannat. This is my third (fourth?) time tasting this wine and it has certainly evolved. Rich and juicy, this belies the traditional view of Tannat as a tannic bruising behemoth. While this is certainly no wallflower, it is a gentle giant. Dark and brooding in the glass, with dark fruit notes on the nose, but a virtuoso on the palate. Tannins integrated, fruit shinning, lengthy finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.