A wine bar dedicated to promoting Southern Oregon vintages opens Friday in downtown Medford.
Owner Natasha Hopkins has refashioned an aging storefront into an elegant establishment she envisions as a touchpoint for newcomers to the local wine industry, and a one-stop tasting room for dozens of local vintners. She also sees Rogue Grape — across the street from the Craterian Theater at 36 S. Central Ave. — riding a new wave of downtown activity.
“When people think of Oregon, they think of Willamette Valley wines,” Hopkins said. “Southern Oregon doesn’t come to the forefront of their minds. My mission is to change that and create awareness.”
In head-to-head competition with Willamette Valley vintages, Southern Oregon has held its own.
“We’ve been winning a lot of awards, and I think we’re under-represented,” she said.
A 19-year veteran of the mortgage industry, Hopkins has observed growing potential as newcomers arrive in the Rogue Valley.
“Timing is huge, and there’s huge momentum right now,” she said. “There is a lot of money being moved to Medford. From being in the mortgage industry I’ve met a lot of transplants looking for a higher-end place to hang out.”
It’s been a year since Hopkins signed the lease. She hired Vitus Construction to revamp the location, which has housed everything from an art studio and used clothing store to a health food outlet and Southern Dairy Co.
“It was a mess, and now I would say it’s very polished,” Hopkins said. “We tried to leave no small detail behind.”
She saw the venue as a natural — across from a live theater location and two doors down from Bricktowne Brewing Co.
“I wanted to position myself next to a successful business — Bricktowne — where there is already traffic,” Hopkins said.
Convenience is another element.
“Instead of tasting a rosé from one winery and another at a different location, you can have them here,” Hopkins said. “You don’t have to drive from one vineyard to another. You’ll be able to taste a lot of different things and take a taxi back home if needed.”
Rather than competing for business, Hopkins sees her place augmenting existing operations.
“When we’re building awareness for this region, it’s another place to showcase our wines,” she said. “When the tide rises, we all rise.”
During the winter months, many tasting rooms curtail hours or close down.
“When the tasting rooms close, people will still have a place to do that right here downtown,” she said. “Not everyone can afford a tasting room right away, either. This way they can put their wine in front of people while they’re waiting to build.”
The project began as many Southern Oregon start-up stories do — in California. Natasha and Sean Hopkins had a dream for opening a wine bar dating back more than a decade. Sean began making small batches of home wine while the couple lived in Santa Cruz in 2006.
“Back in 2007 we were both working our tails off in the Bay Area,” she said. “We told each other how cool it would be to have a little wine bar at the time. But we couldn’t afford to do that in California.”
Then in 2011, they came to Southern Oregon for a wedding.
“We fell in love with the valley,” Hopkins said. “We got to raft and hike, and tasted wines throughout the area. That’s when we decided we wanted to start a winery and wine bar here.”
Sean Hopkins and partners William Homewood and Barry Hopkins have a 1.5-acre planting they call Camp Baker Vineyard. The grapes for their Awen Winecraft are crushed and processed at Barrel 42 Custom Winecraft.
Her husband’s wine is among the 250 vintages she has assembled since January from many of the top wineries in the Rogue, Applegate and Illinois valleys.
With Friday’s opening, the first of Hopkins’ phased-in launch is complete. She’s been booking musicians and anticipates local art displays in the near future.
Down the road, she plans a wine education series and winemaker dinners.
The 1,900-square-foot wine bar seats 44. Hopkins added a full-service kitchen, but will begin with cheese plates, charcuterie platters and hot dip hummus plates — and turnovers on Sundays to go with mimosas. Rogue Grape has a 10-person staff and will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
“I wanted to add value to downtown, where people are finding more and better things to do, instead of just driving to Ashland or Jacksonville,” Hopkins said. “It will be a nice place for a date night or a place to come before or after a show.”