Lounging on the terrace of Schmidt Family Vineyards, in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, I’m sipping a light Sauvignon blanc and wondering why I haven’t been here long before now. The wine is delightful, the landscape idyllic, the winemakers friendly and hospitable. The Schmidts’ winery is only one of dozens in the valleys of southern Oregon: the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois, which have so many microclimates they can grow both warm and cool climate grape varieties. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are the main wines produced. I’m feeling lucky to be here on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky, gazing at acres of vineyards stretching over the hills while I sample a few vintages.
Judy and Cal Schmidt, who bought an old ranch 13 years ago, have been incredibly busy, not only growing grapes and making wines, but putting in flower and herb gardens, a picturesque pond, tree-shaded lawns, and a terrace where visitors can enjoy pizzas and antipasti along with their wine tastings. Their place is often used for weddings and concerts.
Winery-hopping is easy with Wine Hopper Tours—I can sip with no concern about driving and soak up the beautiful scenery, gliding by streams, vineyards, and forested hills in a plush Mercedes van. Plus I get the benefit of loads of information from Scott, the driver, about the local wineries, climate, topography, and soils. Also snacks and a nice lunch. This is touring in style.
The first official winery in southern Oregon opened in 1873, when settler Peter Britt opened Valley View Winery. The wine industry limped along (and closed completely during Prohibition) until 1968, when an experimental vineyard revealed the not-so-big surprise that this really was a great place for growing wine grapes. My tour includes a stop at Valley View, so of course I lift a glass and toast Mr. Britt with a sip of nicely dry Merlot. Troon is another historic winery in Applegate Valley and offers weekend entertainment and a bistro menu of local foods, as well as tastings of their signature Zinfandels and blends. At Serra winery, a lavender-lined driveway leads up a hillside to a terrace overlooking broad valley and mountain views. This is a peaceful spot for enjoying Serra’s pleasant patio wine, “Serendipity,” a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot blanc. And I’m quite ready for lunch, which Scott serves with a flourish.
Is it the wine I’ve been imbibing or the water’s sparkle that sends me splashing into the cool, clear stream? It feels great on bare feet. This is at Red Lily winery, a pretty spot on a hill above a tributary of the Applegate River. It has an expanse of lawn and a sandy beach with picnic tables set up for visitors. In the snazzy tasting room, I can’t pass up a sample of their earthy Tempranillo.
That’s enough wine for one day, but there’s no doubt I’ll be back, maybe for “Fall Uncorked,” when most Applegate Valley wineries hold a big November celebration of the grape harvest. Or—a romantic notion—take Wine Hopper’s summertime Twilight Wine Float on the Rogue River.