Southern Oregon: Palate Paradise

Although Oregon is currently best known for its world-class Pinot Noir, there's a world of other varietals to discover in Southern Oregon.

Published: 7/01/2015

Although Oregon is currently best known for its world-class Pinot Noir, there's a world of other varietals to discover in Southern Oregon.

If it’s a surprise to hear that Southern Oregon has a growing reputation as one of the most diverse winegrowing regions in the world, you need to spend some quality time touring and tasting in Southern Oregon.

Situated near the Pacific Ocean and sheltered by several mountain ranges, the Southern Oregon American Viticultural Area (AVA) encompasses the Umpqua Valley AVA and the Rogue Valley AVA. There are several sub-AVAs within these, each with varying soil conditions, elevations, and myriad micro-climates. This environmental variety yields an amazing array of wines, including Albariño, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Grüner Veltliner, Malbec, Marsanne, Merlot, Müller Thurgau, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, and Zinfandel.

With a list this long, it’s hard to know where to begin! But touring and tasting in the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys is so much fun. The tasting rooms are welcoming and friendly, and you’re bound to introduce your palate to many wonderful wines. The Umpqua Valley AVA is slightly cooler than the Rogue Valley AVA. Here, winegrowing has a history of individualism and innovation. Inspired by Old World wines, winemakers delve into the terroir. This is a valley of firsts. The first Pinot Noir in Oregon; the first Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest; and the first commercial Grüner Veltliner in the United States were all planted in the Umpqua Valley. Other varietals to watch for are Malbec, Müller Thurgau, Muscat, and Pinot Gris.

The Rogue Valley AVA is composed of several distinct growing climates, defined by rivers, valleys, and mountains. It is higher in elevation than other winegrowing regions in Oregon; days are warmer and nights are cooler. The Illinois River Valley is closest to the ocean and, therefore, well suited for cooler climate varietals, such as Chardonnay, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. The Applegate Valley and the Bear Creek Valley regions are warmer and drier and produce bolder reds, such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. In this warmer region, Rhone and Italian varietals, such as Dolcetto, Marsanne, Nebbiolo, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier, are growing in popularity.

As far as recognition goes, Southern Oregon is still coming into its own. But as far as we’re concerned, the wines are already here! Experimental, exploratory Southern Oregon is a fabulous place to tour, taste, and stay. The more wineries you visit, the more you’ll expand your palate—as well as your impression—of Southern Oregon wines.

As seen in the issue Pacific Northwest Summer/Fall 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

Cliff Creek Cellars Claret
Henry Estate Winery Müller Thurgau
RoxyAnn Winery Tempranillo