Organic Nation spirits of Ashland star in special dishes, like this poached pear atop local greens with Rogue Creamery blue cheese and a gin-honey reduction, served at Larks restaurant in Ashland Springs Hotel. - Bob Pennell

Oregon bounty at its peak

Oregon's tourist season is winding down, but the state's culinary scene is in full swing. Oregon Bounty, a two-month itinerary of events, showcases delicious destinations, specialty food products and the artisans behind them.

"It's when Oregon is really at its peak — the harvest's coming in, the wines are being made," says Greg Robeson, Oregon Bounty manager.

"It's part of discovering what's in your own backyard."

Wineries have held sway over the past four years since Oregon Bounty's inception. The industry's up-and-coming cousin, craft distilleries, have entered the game and are this year's featured partner within the larger Oregon Bounty promotion, put on by the state's tourism commission.

"The distillery in Oregon is really where wine was 35 years ago," Robeson says. "What you have is a lot of people who are true artisans."

Southern Oregon residents don't have to travel far to experience one of the latest trends in artisan food and beverages. Cascade Peak Spirits of Ashland is one of only two certified organic distilleries in the state and manufacturer of one of three organic gins in the world, says co-owner Diane Paulson. Its Organic Nation gin and vodka are the centerpiece of two November events in Ashland and will star in dishes served over the next couple of months at Larks restaurant in Ashland Springs Hotel.

"It fits so perfectly with our whole philosophy," says Michelle Glass, food and beverage director for the landmark hotel.

From bison to blue cheese, Larks serves up a variety of local and regional foodstuffs on its regular menu, Glass says. For that reason, a one-time distiller's dinner as suggested by Oregon Bounty, which would pair spirits with complementary entrees, seemed redundant, Glass says.

Instead, the restaurant has created a new cocktail list for Organic Nation spirits and will work the gin and vodka into daily specials. Examples are: a gin and honey reduction for dressing local field greens with a poached pear and blue cheese; a gin and blackberry beurre blanc to top seared diver scallops; or a vodka and tomato vinaigrette that tops local bison London broil.

Similar to Oregon microbrewing, the quality of the state's craft spirits really comes through in their flavor, Robeson says. Cascade Peak obtains 12 plants — among them juniper berries, coriander, basil and black pepper — used in its gin from Pacific Botanicals in Grants Pass, Paulson says. Organic rye for its vodka is grown in nearby Etna, Calif.

"I'm amazed that so few people have really jumped on this bandwagon," Paulson says, adding that Cascade Peak's commitment to organic is taking the brand nationwide.

The distillery plans to release a ginger vodka in January, followed by corn and rye whiskies and a blended bourbon next year, Paulson says. Cascade Peak debuted its first spirit this year.

One of 20 licensed distilleries in Oregon, Cascade Peak is among 400 Oregon Bounty partners, which include restaurants, hotels and other food-industry artisans. Hundreds of events anchor the promotion, which runs through the end of November. Robeson says it's too early to tell how the ailing economy will affect Oregon Bounty but says it's an affordable option for Oregonians' travel and recreation.

"They may not be taking the long vacations out of the state, but they are taking the weekend getaways within the state."

Also partners in Oregon Bounty, Valley View and RoxyAnn wineries each will hold an open house over Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 28-30. Valley View's, at its Jacksonville facility, runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. all three days. RoxyAnn will open its Medford tasting room from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. all three days. For more information on these and other events, visit

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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