I still remember that evening in Jacksonville. Attending Vintage, the wine-and-food event held for a number of years on the Britt stage, I encountered a wonderful merlot.
Pouring it was Joe Dobbes, winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards near Salem. But the label was not Willamette Valley; it was Griffin Creek — wines made at Willamette but with grapes grown by Don and Traute Moore of the Rogue Valley.
Fast-forward more than a decade. Those upscale Griffin Creek wines are still around and still made from grapes grown at the Moores' vineyards in the Rogue Valley.
They're still made at Willamette Valley, where Forrest Klaffke is winemaker. He succeeded Dobbes some years ago.
Dobbes is still around. He makes wines for himself (Wines by Joe) and a number of other clients, including the Moores and their new label, South Stage Cellars.
Now, Griffin Creek has five excellent, new reds out.
My favorite of the group is the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($38), a beautiful, classy, smooth wine that holds up well for two or three days after opening. I also really like the 2008 Grenache ($38), pleasantly juicy. It also holds up well for several days. The two most expensive wines of this group seem to taste the best, but the others are not far behind.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) has classic cabernet flavor. And the 2007 Merlot ($30) is rich and elegant although it loses a little after a couple of days. The 2007 Syrah ($35) has a hint of cocoa flavor and is definitely different. For me, quality declined on day two but then got better on days three and four.
How was the Griffin Creek label born? Traute Moore recalls that she and Don had just returned from Italy. "We saw and had photographed the mythical gryphon on a number of buildings, and the gryphon is said to be able to turn the sun's rays into gold, which is a very good metaphor for wine," she says. Also, they have a vineyard on Griffin Creek, and Dobbes has a son named Griffin.
More Griffin Creek wines can be expected.
"Willamette is increasing their grape order from us this year by a substantial amount," says Traute Moore, "so there will be a lot more of our Southern Oregon grapes going into Griffin Creek wines that will be sold in northern Oregon and elsewhere in the country, which certainly enhances the reputation of our area."
Griffin Creek wines often are available for tasting at South Stage Cellars, 125 S. Third St., Jacksonville.
LOCAL WINE IS ONE of the themes at Madrone Kitchen, the Shady Cove restaurant opened by Helena Darling at the former Bel Di's location.
And the wine list proves it. The list offers about 65 choices, almost all of them from Southern Oregon. About 40 different local wineries are represented. Someone went to a lot of trouble to include a wide variety of local labels.
In general, markups are reasonable, and there are several labels at $18 a bottle. Some wines are available by the glass, but pricing seems to favor ordering by the bottle. The night we visited, a wine that sold for $21 a bottle was $7 a glass, and the pour was not exactly generous.
INEXPENSIVE BLENDS ARE the theme of Big House Wine Co. of Soledad, Calif.
Big House 2009 Red ($10) is 27 percent petite sirah and 14.5 percent syrah, plus smaller amounts of 12 other reds, including malbec, tempranillo, cabernet franc and several you have probably never heard of. The result is fruity, smooth and easy on the palate.
Big House 2009 White (also $10) is less ambitious, only four varieties — malvasia bianca, muscat canelli, viognier and roussanne. It's fruity and crisp. You might prefer it as a dessert wine or summery aperitif.
ALSO SAMPLED RECENTLY:
- Blackstone 2007 Sonoma Reserve Merlot ($20). One of the better California merlots in this price range, rich and complex.
- Robert Mondavi 2008 Fume Blanc Reserve ($40). This is a classy, complex fume blanc, as the price would suggest. It seems light at first but gradually displays more depth.
Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com