Feature a glass of your favorite varietal, a comfortable chair in front of a toasty log fire, and a winter vineyard view.
You may not associate this time of year with visiting wineries in the Rogue Valley, but think again. Football season is over, spring gardening is still around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to avoid tasting-room crowds. You’ll also likely find winemakers on the premises and not too busy in the vineyard or in the production area, “back of the house,” to talk. And come late spring and summer when your visitors want a wine country tour, you’ll have some favorite destinations already mapped out.
Don’t be shy. Winemakers and winery owners like nothing better than talking about their wines and vineyard sites when they have a few minutes to greet guests. Getting to know the man or woman behind a label is how you establish that personal connection that makes the tasting something special and memorable.
Regardless of the season, when you set out to taste you need to consider how to do it safely. Here are some tips:
If you drive, decide on which wineries you want to visit and check the route and driving time before you launch. Some considerable driving, maybe an hour, is involved in reaching some Applegate Valley houses. If you plan to go all the way out to the Illinois Valley, think Cave Junction, it’s a longer trip. When faced with a long drive, my husband and I go all the way to the most distant winery and start tasting there. That way we have the bulk of the drive behind us before fatigue sets in.
Keep in mind that tasting, even if you spit, means absorbing alcohol, and the only thing that dissipates alcohol and makes it safe to drive is time. So eat a bite, talk a bit and walk around to enjoy the winery setting before you climb back into your car.
Be mindful of those who work and live around the winery, especially kids and pets. I recently heard of two different wineries that lost family dogs because of a careless moment on the part of a visitor behind the wheel.
Consider finding a designated driver, or make use of a tour service. Wine Hopper Tours offers daily wine tours for a minimum of four people at $69 per person December through March. The winter tour consists of a vineyard stop and three winery stops, discounts for wine purchases, and the guide’s commentary on the history of the local wine industry. Wine Hopper picks up at locations in Ashland and Medford and will accommodate up to 13 people in a Mercedes Sprinter van.
Bravo Outings offers personalized itineraries and pick-up at your door. Tour director Tracy Hurst knows the territory and can customize a tour to fit your pace and preferences.
“I look for creative ways to get people out," Hurst explains. "I ask, 'What kind of day would you like?' There was a couple from Minnesota who said they like sweet wines, so I took them to Del Rio to try the Jolee Rosé then to EdenVale to sample their Pear Affaire (a blend of pear cider and pinot gris). After that we went to get ice cream.”
Her vehicle comfortably accommodates up to 11 passengers and their wine purchases, “or it can be just one person who wants to go to Crater Lake.”
Hurst will quote a price for the trip based on the duration and distances involved. For instance, if your party of four wants to visit Dana Campbell, Irvine & Roberts and Pebblestone, it will run $99 per person.
“Since the tasting rooms aren’t crowded, it’s almost like a private tasting," Hurst says. "If the winemaker is there, you might get a barrel room tour and barrel tasting. It can be really special.”
— What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.