Agate Ridge pair brings expertise back home

Ashley and Matt Cates, the minds and the muscle behind Agate Ridge Vineyard, are a well-travelled pair. In 2012, Matt interned at Dominio de Cair Winery in Aranda de Duero, Spain. Ashley went along and furthered her own education in Spanish wine and culture. Then, they travelled to New Zealand and worked as cellar hands for Kim Crawford Winery and Drylands Winery. Upon their return, they stepped into their respective roles at Agate Ridge: Ashley as marketing and sales director, and Matt as viticulturist and winemaker.

Ashley’s mother, Kim Kinderman, purchased the property in 2001. The vineyard covers 136 acres, 30 of which are dedicated to grapevines. Agate Ridge grows 17 varietals, which Matt jokes is “like having 17 girlfriends.” While winemaking is often viewed as a romantic endeavor, Mother Nature has a way of reminding winemakers that they are just farmers after all. In 2013, the vineyard produced 92 tons of grapes. Then a 30-year frost hit, and Agate Ridge lost 6 acres to winterkill. As a result, production plummeted to 12 tons in 2014. Those vines have been replanted, and production has increased steadily, with up to 70 tons projected for this year. (Agate Ridge recently suffered a far less disastrous blight when a drunk driver drove through a fence, into the vines, and then back through the fence.)

The winery produces 2,500 to 3,000 cases each year. Because Matt both grows the grapes and makes the wine, he is intimately familiar, from bud break to crush, with the product that will be coming through the winery doors in late summer. Not only will he know Brix and pH levels; he will also know when the grapes will arrive (which can be surprisingly difficult to predict).

The tasting room is located in the property’s 106 year-old farmhouse, built in 1910. Two huge, majestic sycamore trees frame the front of the house. You will find Ashley in the small, bright tasting room, which is tucked into one corner of the farmhouse. Agate Ridge pours three whites and three reds each day. Of the wines I tasted, two stood out. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is an aroma bomb, with strong gooseberry (think tart and tangy) flavors. Its acidity, while assertive, does not overpower. This would be an excellent with a strong goat cheese. My other favorite is the 2013 Pinot Noir, made in the Southern Oregon style: bigger and more substantial than its Willamette cousins. It has bright fruit, balanced acidity, and an earthy forest floor flavor at the end that I found intriguing. Both wines are award-winners.

The tasting room is open daily from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. through October. Agate Ridge also hosts a summer concert series, Rockin’ at The Ridge. Agate Ridge is located at 1098 Nick Young Road, Eagle Point. Call 541-830-3050. or visit www.agateridgevineyards.com.

Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Contact him at roguenofiles@gmail.com.

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