There are things you can control in life, and things you can’t. Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery
(inspired by Professor Clark Smith who wrote on the board: Winemaking (like life) is the art of the intelligent compromise.
So we headed North to Oregon, pioneer style, to discover unexplored territory. Although I’ve been visiting Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) since my teens, we found so many new gems. I can hardly wait to share them with you.
First, we stayed at Lithia Springs Resort. This place is nothing short of magical. It’s a collection of 11 different types of cottages with periwinkle blue walls and yellow doors (perfect for two Bruins!) The cottages have a soaking tub fed by the healing Lithia Springs water, along with a shower to wash off the minerals spa-style. The beds in this place are heavenly–white fluffy pillows as far as the eye can see. You could probably just spend your time going between the soaking tub and bed and be completely transformed into pure bliss. (Well, I could anyway.)
Around these cottages, acres of lush gardens with sitty places abound. Each mini-garden is accented with a water feature of some kind. At the koi pond, you can sit and watch koi of unusual size. Do you see how big those suckers are?
There are benches, loungers, chairs — whatever matches your style. The birch trees even seem to wave at you in the wind. (We waved back, but then we’re freaks that way.) Roses, delphinium, grape vines, and flora throughout the walk ways and cottages are listed in the tea room, along with a list of critters that live there, too.
At 3:00, tea, lemonade, scones, lemon curd, raspberry jam and cookies — all homemade–are put out for guests to enjoy. The space is so relaxing and is right next to the Waterstone Spa so you can catch that spa smell. You can also get hot or cold mineral water out of the tap here. (Not the stinky mineral water you taste in Ashland at those fountains in case you’re wondering.) The lemon curd is divine, but it’s sort of like picking a favorite child at the tea. You just can’t do it.
Then there’s the breakfast! Inclusive in the already low price, is this delicious, extensive breakfast with Chef Cheryl’s own homemade scone recipe. She’s been at this for 16 years and has mad skills in the kitchen. There were eggs, homemade granola and scones, blintzes, yogurt, sausage, bacon, coffee, juices, fruit and about a gazillion other things. On one wall of the dining room is Gabriel Lipper’s first large mural he painted and it really sets a mood. The woman on the left was his then girlfriend, now wife, and the woman on the right her best friend. They bought these vintage clothes and posed for this mural. The owner was so happy with his work, he promoted Lipper and eventually Lipper went on to paint many naked ladies and westerns, including some work for Garth Brooks. How do I know all this? Cheryl (scone etc. maker extraordinaire) saw me taking a photo and gave me the whole back story. Breakfast and history lessons here at Lithia. (We Googled Gabriel and tried to find his studio, but I think we ended up at his house. We didn’t go in because we thought that may be a little weird with the whole naked lady thing.) Instead, we headed to check out the up and rising Southern Oregon wine scene we’d heard so much about. They now boast over 50 in the five appellations at the bottom of Oregon.
We visited four wineries. I would recommend all of them because they were all so unique in place and wine. We love finding wineries that don’t sell wine outside their winery. You can’t find them at BevMo. That way, it feels like a treasure hunt when you find that special wine or a place.
The first place with that special find was Caprice Vineyards in Central Point just outside of Jacksonville. The first thing I noticed driving in were the fruit trees and a lone catalpa which happens to be one of my favorite trees. Immediately you get a different vibe than the typical winery drive up a dirt road. There’s a quaint, Italian feeling porch with tables perfect for enjoying a glass of wine (I’d go for the ’09 Cab) or one of their delicious cheese trays. But what you should really do, after tasting the wines in their tasting room/gift shop, is get your favorite glass of red or white and head on out to the alpacas. The boys are slightly more friendly than the girls, but both groups (strategically separated) LOVE grape vines. Conveniently, the day we went, the vines were being trimmed and we were able to bring offerings.
Aren’t they the cutest? They were sheared the weekend before which explains the look. (Jeanne uses the ultra soft hair for alpaca classes and has her students turn it into hats, scarves and other things you can find in the gift shop.) The Caprice owners actually started their alpaca farm in Riverside, California after watching an ad on television. An interesting detail about these darling creatures is that they are shy and considered prey. This llama is put out as a bodyguard to take care of them. This winery is a good option for children as not all in Southern Oregon allow them.
The next winery we hit up has a whole different vibe. Owner/winemaker Eric Weisinger heads up this long time father/son venture. Eric’s Dad, John, Presbyterian minister emeritus, launched the winery in the 1970s with the digging of what remains one of the largest underground cellars in the area. One of the earliest wineries as evidenced by their very thick Gewurtztraminer vines, Weisinger has taken on different influences over the years. One of the very interesting influences is Eric’s international flavor. He’s spent much time in Europe and actually worked at a winery in New Zealand. Eric explained aspects of the wine business to us we’d never heard in our 20 years of tasting such as the economics behind custom crush. So interesting to us, but here are two things you need to know.
The view here is fantastic and the wine is awesome (especially the first Bordeaux blend in Southern Oregon known as Petit Pompadour at 64% Merlot and 36% Cab Sauvignon. The 2011 is delicious–bought some!) But what I’m equally excited about is the upcoming 2014 Cab Franc and 2014 Pinot that’s on barrel. Eric was kind enough to let us taste from the barrels and wow–outstanding. If it was in bottles (patience because it’ll be a few years) we’d have brought home multiples in a heartbeat! We will for sure be making a trip back when they are released.
The next day we hit two wineries, EdenVale and Dana Campbell. EdenVale is located in Medford, about 20 miles north of Ashland. When we arrived, we saw this stately historic house which we wandered into because we couldn’t find the bathrooms or anybody in the tasting room. You must go here just to see this place. Old photos on the wall reminiscent of plantation homes and vineyards/orchards as far as the eye can see. When we started our tastings, the standout we brought home was the 2010 Rogue River Rose. However, here’s a funny secret about these guys that wine club members absolutely love. We talked to two from San Mateo who verified. They have wine in airtight bags that last up to 45 days. The winemaker responded to club members’ requests. It cuts expense and waste–no more having to drink a bottle in 3 days. Their Sangria, prepared nicely by event manager Aaron Nino with ice and fruit, was delicious.
On the other side of town is Dana Campbell, the closest winery to Ashland. It sits up on a hill overlooking rolling hills and the quaint town of Ashland. Floor to ceiling windows in the converted 5 bedroom house make a breathtaking tasting room and patio. On the patio is a large fire pit with ample seating for those fall sunsets over the vineyard. Pat Flannery was kind to meet us on a closed day and show us around the wines and the place. We loved (as do the locals) the Sauvignon Blanc. Pat has a Hawaiian-esque way of talking story and we enjoyed hearing stories of how the tasting room came to be. The day before we arrived several acres of new grapes had been added to the already lushly covered hills so new wines on the horizon there. They grow the grapes, and take them off site, happy to not have the expense and work to keep up with on-site equipment. (Pat, after all, is “retired.”) This one is not for kids, by the way. Rattlesnakes live out in the vineyards.
But what about food?
Okay, can I just say GO TO THE LOFT right near OSF.
First, get this:
It’s the butter lettuce salad.
Then, get the Dungeness Crab Macaroni Casserole. If you are with someone, you can totally share it. It’s rich and I could only eat about a third, but it’s not to be missed. It’s the crab macaroni and cheese treasure hunt. Large pieces of succulent fresh crab hidden beneath a mac & cheese blanket. In addition to the unforgettable food at The Loft (sit on the balcony under the liquid amber for a quaint, romantic spot) was the service. Ashley Chamberlain was perhaps one of the best servers I’ve had for quite some time. In a funny twist of fate, we discovered she went to the same high school in Palos Verdes California that my oldest son attended. (Yah, we were totally in the flow during our stay there.)
After The Loft, the perfect place to go is
the Shakespeare Festival and see “Anthony & Cleopatra.” For one, it’s in the Elizabethan so you’re out under the stars in this very sacred space rich with Oregonian history. Two, it’s Shakespeare, and you just have to hear people talk like that sometimes. And three, this production is outstanding. All three hours of it wrapped to a standing ovation. If you can still get tickets (and I don’t know if you can), this is one to catch. We also heard great things about “Guys and Dolls” and I’ve never seen a bad play in the New Theater. If you go here and like these plays, join the OSF. You get first pick tickets, discounts, and free tickets during special promotions, not to mention bathroom perks in the Member’s Only lounge. Plus, it’s an awesome cause to support.
Lithia Springs Resort – 2165 West Jackson Road, Ashland, OR (800) 482-7128 www.lithiaspringsresort.com
Caprice Vineyards – 970 Old Stage Road, Central Point, OR 97502 (541) 499-0449 www.capricevineyards.com Owners: James & Jeanne Davidian
Weisinger Family Winery – 3150 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland, OR (541) 488-5989 www. weisingers.com (awesome new website!) (541) 488-5989 GM/Winemaker: Eric Weisinger
EdenVale Winery, Eden Valley Orchards 2310 Voorhies Road, Medford, OR (541) 512-2955 x2 www.edenvalleyorchards.com – They’re big on events and Aaron Nino is the event manager.
Dana Campbell Vineyards, 1320 N Mountain Avenue, Ashland, OR (541) 482-3798 www.danacampbellvineyards.com, Owners: Patrick Dana Flannery and Rear Admiral Paula Campbell Brown
The Loft, 18 Calle Guanajuato Way, Ashland, OR (541) 482-1116
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, www.osfashland.org (800) 219-8161
Jubilee Trolley, Katherine Hooker, Owner – (541) 253-1080 – If you want to hit the Rogue River Appellation, this is the way to go. At $40 per person per day, Katherine and her husband (who built the trolley) will take you to five wineries!