'Cuckoo's Nest' puts the fun in wine

When you peruse lists of medal winners in wine competitions, a label you frequently see is Cuckoo's Nest.

It happened again at this year's World of Wine Festival at Del Rio near Gold Hill. Winning silver medals were Cuckoo's Nest 2009 Aromatique and 2009 Pinot Gris.

Cuckoo's Nest is the creation of Bryan Wilson, currently winemaker at Foris Vineyards Winery near Cave Junction and formerly with several other top Oregon wineries.

In a 2007 "Wine Talk" column, Wilson said he named his label after the Ken Kesey novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" — made into an Oscar-winning movie 35 years ago — because he "wanted to have fun with it." And the name was available.

The medal-winning 2009 Aromatique ($15) is not yet in public release but should be out by December.

The 2009 Pinot Gris ($15) — an excellent wine — is available. Wilson also has a fine, red blend on the market called Two Birds ($18).

Two Birds is 52 percent cabernet sauvignon, 48 percent syrah. The 2009 Aromatique blends two whites — 67 percent viognier, 33 percent gewürztraminer — making it spicy and refreshing. A 2008 release was a bit different — 52 percent viognier, 48 percent gewürztraminer. Wilson likes "the flexibility to make the blend I think is best each year." He buys his grapes from others rather than growing them himself. "We have no plans to plant a vineyard and prefer it that way as it allows us to be nimble in growing our little brand," he explains. "We produce about 850 cases and plan on staying at about that level, as the Foris job is demanding and it is very important to us to keep our work with Cuckoo's Nest fun."

Cuckoo's Nest wines are carried by a number of retail wine shops, including Harry & David, Gary West Meats, Jacksonville Inn, Pacific Wine Club, Rising Sun Farms, Market of Choice and Ashland Co-op. Restaurants pouring its wines include Aja, Cafe Dejeuner, Peerless and Pomodori.

Just want to taste? Try Gary West Meats or Rising Sun Farms.

WALK AROUND VARIOUS Southern Oregon supermarkets and you might notice a growing assortment of wines packaged in boxes. The typical rectangular, 3- and 5-liter boxed wines have been joined by smaller, octagonal containers.

Some of the latter have intriguing names, like Pinot Evil, Seven and Silver Birch. They're the Octavin Home Wine Bar collection of artisan wines, from a California company called Underdog Wine Merchants.

Like other boxed products, the wines are in a vacuum-sealed bag inside the box, with a spigot so you can pour one glass at a time and still maintain freshness. But unlike some others, these are no ordinary jug wines. Since the launch in April of this year, Octavin wines have won 20 gold or silver medals in various national and international competitions.

The goal is affordable quality. Octavin wines come in 3-liter boxes, which is equivalent to four standard 750 ml. bottles. Yet, suggested retail is about $24, which would figure out as $6 a bottle. Checking local shelves, I've seen them as low as $14 (a sale price) at Food 4 Less and Bi-Mart — only $3.50 a bottle.

Besides Pinot Evil, Seven and Silver Birch, Octavin wines include Monthaven, Big House and Boho Vineyards.

I tried two of them: Silver Birch 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and a nonvintage Seven red from Spain, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah plus smaller amounts of petit verdot, tempranillo, grenache and graciano.

Both were good wines, and the last glass did indeed taste just like the first. And both have won medals in competitions. I preferred the Sauvignon Blanc, crisp and full of flavor.

A couple of notes about the packaging. Getting the boxes open was more of a chore than I expected. You might want to have scissors and a screwdriver handy. And I found the spigots hard to turn, until a company representative clued me in. Don't turn the spigot off all the way; stop as soon as the flow of wine ends. Turning it back on becomes much easier.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com

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