Award-winning wines at Kriselle Cellars started as a hobby

Hobbies have a way of getting out of hand.

What began 20 years ago as a home hobby for Scott Steingraber, owner and winemaker at Kriselle Cellars, has morphed into a 30-acre vineyard, winery and tasting room with stunning views of Sams Valley.

Before becoming a full-time winemaker, Steingraber was a bridge builder. His last major construction project was the Tacoma Narrows Span. Steingraber believes that building bridges and making great wine involve many of the same qualities and processes.

Like most winemakers, Steingraber believes that where he and his wife, Krisell, the winery’s namesake, grow their grapes directly influences the flavor of the wine. Most of their vines are planted on the ancient bed of the Rogue River. The soil is predominantly river rock (cobbles), which retains heat and reflects it upward toward the vines, hastening new growth in the spring. Southern Oregon shares a similar latitude with some of the great wine-making regions of Europe, and Kriselle’s cobbles are similar to the cobble vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

It is warm at Kriselle, which permits Steingraber to grow a wide variety of heat-loving varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, tempranillo, sauvignon blanc, and some of the only successful sangiovese in the valley.

Kriselle’s very first vintage, a 2009 cabernet sauvignon, won a double gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition. Those winning ways have continued: the 2013 Di’tani — the name means “The Rock Above,” the Takelma Tribe’s name for the Table Rocks — won gold at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Steingraber’s exploration of Old World varietals extends to France, where he will host a River Cruise for Wine Lovers in Bordeaux in spring 2017. The excursion includes two nights in Paris, a seven-night cruise, and two nights in the Loire Valley, ending with another night in Paris. The event includes premium wine tastings and wine dinners comparing Old and New World wines, as well side excursions. Details are available on Kriselle's website, www.krisellecellars.com.

Closer to home, Kriselle will host the Oregon Wine University Sunday, Aug. 21, as part of the Oregon Wine Experience. Professor Bob Harrington from the University of Washington will lead an exploration of Oregon and Washington terroir as expressed by cabernet sauvignon.

Kriselle’s tasting room, 12956 Modoc Road, White City, is a bit of a hike from Medford, but is worth the trip. In addition to the stunning views, Kriselle offers food and wine pairings designed to bring out the best in both. Kriselle is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During the summer, hours are extended to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. Thursdays feature live music. The winery's phone number is 541-830-8466.

Correction: In my last column, I incorrectly reported DANCIN Vineyards' hours. They are open Thursday-Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Reach him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.

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