Ashland: Irvine & Roberts Vineyard
As we continued our Southern Oregon wine tour (read Part 1 and Part 2), we headed on down the road to Irvine and Roberts Vineyard for a wine and lunch pairing. The beautiful tasting room, also with outdoor seating, offers stunning views of the vineyards and the Southern Cascades and the Siskiyou mountain ranges. Our delectable lunch of perfect pairings was prepared by Chef Kris Elder. We started with an arugula, fennel, and grapefruit salad that was served with the 2016 Reserve Chardonnay. The ripe citrus notes of the wine were perfect with the tang of the grapefruit and the earthy anise of the fennel.
The main course was a juicy pork tenderloin with bunashimeji mushrooms and pink peppercorn jus. The nutty and buttery flavor of the mushrooms went beautifully with the peppered flavor of the tenderloin. This was served with the 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir. This remarkable light-bodied red has flavor notes of ripe raspberries and clove. The light clove spice went perfect with the peppery and rich flavor of the pork.
Our dessert was an amazing and innovative Blueberry Mousse with Pine Needle Syrup. I’ve never actually eaten pine needles – but they taste just like they smell! Between the delicious blueberries of the mousse and the tang of the pine needles, I could close my eyes and imagine that I was sitting in a pine grove full of wild blueberries. When I complimented Chef Kris on this creation, he offhanded mentioned that the catnip in the dish really ties everything together! Catnip! Something else I’ve never tasted. The dessert course was paired with the 2016 115 Block Pinot Noir. The robustness of this almost Cabernet-like wine was brilliant with the delicate mousse.
Founder John Weisinger planted his first grapes in 1978, with his three children, Eric (9), Annie (8), and Sarah (4) helping with every aspect of the project. It was a total family endeavor. Fast forward to today, and you will find Eric in charge, after spending his life learning the art of winemaking in California and New Zealand, as well as Oregon.
We started off with the 2018 Gewurztraminer. This aromatic white wine was off-dry with a citrus zest and a touch of cinnamon and rose. We really enjoyed the fresh creamy finish.
We also enjoyed the 2018 Rose Grenache. The color was a beautiful dusty rose, the nose brought to mind a caramel sweetness, and the taste was slightly tart but low in acid.
Moving to the reds, we much enjoyed the Malbec. Apparently, we are not alone in this. Weisinger's’ Malbec won the Gold from the Oregon Wine Awards in 2012 and a Double Gold at the Oregon Wine Experience in 2013. The 2015 (which we tasted) was redolent with tastes of blueberry and cinnamon.
Well, it was time to check into our home for the night – the Iris Inn in downtown Ashland. The charming Victorian cottage was one of Ashland’s original bed and breakfasts.
Along with a lovely common room, there are many areas for relaxing outdoors in the flower gardens, patio, or front porch. We were welcomed by Greg, who along with his wife Vickie, have been operating the Inn since 1982. We stayed in the Vista Room, which had great views of the surrounding mountains and the inn’s back yard and gardens. We had just a bit of time to relax, and then it was off to dinner.
The restaurant is located on the ground floor of what the locals know as “the old pink church” in downtown Ashland. Built-in 1911 as a First Baptist Church, it didn’t start out as a pink church – that paint job came much later. The church was in existence until the 1960s and then spent a couple of decades sitting vacant and deteriorating. In 1982 the building was purchased to house the Oregon Cabaret Theatre on the upper level.
Walking into the Hearsay is like entering another time in history. The walls are covered with large panels evoking the roaring (and picturesque) 20’s. It is elegant, dark, and romantic. Definitely a special occasion restaurant. For dinner, we started with the curried carrot soup – which we both loved. The sweet carrot flavor was offset by the tastes of fennel and curry. For our main course, we shared an entrée of Cedar River Beef Tenderloin and an appetizer of Mussels Mariniere (which turned out to be more entrée sized than appetizer sized).
The beef was wonderful – a nice thick cut served with tangy gorgonzola cheese crumbles, crispy fried onions, and a black garlic plum demi-glace. It came with roasted asparagus and mashed potatoes.
The mussels were sourced in our favorite, award-winning mussel producing area, Penn Cove, back home in Washington State. Rather than served in the broth, these mussels were served with a sauce of garlic beurre blanc and tomato confit and garnished with kalamata olives and cherry tomatoes. It is definitely a garlic lover’s kind of dish.
I was going to pass on dessert – really did not need anything else to eat! But then I realized that you can also drink dessert! So I tried a Brandi Alexander – which was creamy and tasty and a great way to finish an amazing dinner.
Of course, you can’t visit Ashland without experiencing what really put the town on the map – Shakespeare! So we walked the ten minutes to the Thomas Theater to see the play All’s Well That Ends Well. The Thomas Theater is a huge open-air theater. Sitting under the starry sky on a warm summer evening, added so much to the experience. The play, one of Shakespeare’s more comic plays, was delightful – especially the creative and interpretive costuming.
Another full day and it was time to retire back to the Iris Inn for a night of peaceful sleep. The next morning, when we woke up, we were excited to experience Vicki’s breakfast. The offerings were well worth the anticipation, pancakes sprinkled with powdered sugar, yogurt and fresh fruit parfait, pear muffins with cream cheese stuffing, and chicken sausage. All delicious and memorable! All in all – the Iris Inn is a bastion of great food and welcoming hospitality.
Roseburg: Abacela Winery
The next day, it was time to head home, but we had a couple of stops on the way, the first was Abacela Winery. Owned by Earl and Hilda Jones, Abacela was one of the first wineries in the Pacific Norwest to create a wine with Spain’s Tempranillo grape. Earl started out with a basic question: why isn’t the wine he loved so well in Spain –Tempranillo – produced in America? He and Hilda were both scientists, with absolutely no experience in winemaking or farming, but this question soon became a life-changing mission. Of course, in pursuit of his goal to create a winery producing the Tempranillo grape, he applied his scientific rigor. He explored geography, geology, and meteorology to find the ideal location.
His search was vastly assisted by his son Greg Jones, who is a world-renowned research climatologist specializing with the focus of viticulture. On a personal note, Michael has connected with Greg several times in his own meteorologist career. He was very excited to learn of the relationship!
Along with the Tempranillo, Abacela creates many different wines. We started our tasting with the 2018 Albariño. This is a light and crisp Spanish wine with a lovely lemongrass, melon, and grapefruit nose. The taste notes are minerality and citrus, and it finishes with a refreshing acidity. Another great summer wine and it would pair well with spicy Thai, Moroccan, or Indian food any time of the year.
Of course, we would never leave without tasting the flagship wine of Abacela – the 2015 Tempranillo Reserve. The wine opens with a tantalizing aroma of black fruit, sweet candy, and some savory notes of pastrami and volcanic rock. The taste profile includes an appealing mix of cherry, figs, and dill. It is really well balanced with a bright acid and subtle French oak tones. This full-bodied red wine would have gone great with that beef tenderloin I enjoyed the other night!
We concluded our visit with Earl by tasting a delicious 2015 Port. It was opaque and dark, deep red in color, the rich taste brings to mind cocoa, espresso, and a surprising zing of fresh strawberry! It would be perfect, sitting in front of a fire, on a cold winter night.
Abacela is an archaic Spanish word which translates to “to plant a grapevine.” It is the perfect name for the winery that resulted from Earl’s mission.
Elkton: Brandborg Vineyards and Winery
Brandborg Vineyards and Winery has its winery and tasting room in downtown Elkton. Terry and Sue Brandborg planted their first 5 acres of vines in the Umpqua Valley and have since grown to 50 acres. Their location Elkton AVA a sub-appellation of the Umpqua Valley is a unique area in the Southern Oregon wine region. It is about 30 miles from the coast, and so is a cooler microclimate than most of the rest of the southern part of the state. July and August usually have high temps of only 83 degrees (F). Still, there is a long frost-free growing season extending well into the fall. This gives the grapes lots of hang time on the vines, resulting in complex and well-layered wines.
We began our tasting with the 2017 Fleur de Lis White Pinot Noir. White Pinot Noir (also known as Blanc de Noirs) is relatively rare in the United States but is quietly resurging. It is made with the Pinot Noir grape, which as you probably know, is a red wine grape. To produce the white juice, the grapes are processed so that the juice spends as little time with the skins as possible. Some wineries use a process called “free-run juice”. The grapes are piled, rather than pressed. The weight of the grapes causes their skins to break. The Pinot Noir grape, with its very thin skins, is perfect for this process. Because this wine is made from a red wine grape, it tends to have a fuller body and richer mouthfeel than other white wines. And the Fleur de Lis was no exception to that. It is a somewhat opaque, bright golden straw in color with aromas of green apples and stone fruit. The wine tastes of pear, orange zest and jasmine and has a very slight acidity and a lovely crispness. Since White Pinot Noir is more robust than wine made from white wine grapes, it also pairs better with richer foods, especially cream-based soups and sauces.
We moved on to the 2018 Scarlet Cuvee, Rosé of Pinot Noir. This wine is a salmon pink with a nose of florals and berries. It has a vibrant acidity and feels a bit tingly – although the tingle is due to the clean tastes of pomegranate and cherry, it is not a sparkling wine. The perfect wine for a picnic!
Since we had already tried a couple of wines from the pinot noir grape, moving on down the color scale from white to rose, our next sample was the 2014 Ferris Wheel Estate Pinot Noir. The wine has a ruby hue to it and aromas of plum and dark cherry. The taste has notes of blueberry, cherry, and pomegranate. It has a nicely balanced structure of tannin and acidity.
Speaking of Ferris wheels, you can’t help but notice the representations of the carnival ride in the tasting room. Pictures, figurines, small to large models and all varieties of Ferris wheels are everywhere you look. So – when you visit, don’t forget to ask Terry or Sue to fill you in on the very romantic story behind the love of Ferris wheels!
Time for us to hit the road, but lest you think that the only thing to do in Southern Oregon is eat and drink, our to-do list for a return trip includes all kinds of other activities. Home to the Rogue River, Crater Lake, the Applegate Valley and the Siskiyou mountain range (among lots of other geographical wonders), Southern Oregon is a wonderful outdoor playground, as well as a destination for all types of cultural activities. Below are a few links if you need suggestions.
Editorial disclosure: Food and lodging were generously provided.