Viticultural Dreamin’: The Farmers of Rogue Valley AVA

The landscape of Rogue Valley is filled with rows of deep green fir trees, flat valleys with fields of vineyards and other crops, and overlapping mountain ranges on the horizon. 

Surrounded by three mountain ranges — The Cascades, the Siskiyou, and the Coast Range —  southern Oregon is the site of highly skilled farmers, who know every microsoils left after millions of years of tectonic pushing and volcanic lava flows dramatically falling across the land. Couple this with various levels of elevation, dry summers with large diurnal swings, and you have a paradise for agriculture. Originally a pear growing mecca, Rogue Valley has a long tradition of growing a variety of crops, including apples, grains, and seeds.

I traveled to southern Oregon as part of an excursion for the Wine Media Conference, hosted by Travel Southern Oregon and the Rogue Valley Vintners. I was surprised to meet several vineyard managers and winery owners who are by trade and experience, farmers.  They all spent years growing different types of crops and livestock — only to be dreaming of vineyards.  Drinking wine in the place it was made, served by the farmers who worked the land and had a vision, is a very special experience. These farmers are more than just living their dreams. They are artists expressing the best of what southern Oregon can produce — amazing wine. 

Meet Joe Ginet from Plaisance Ranch. Joe’s family came to the Rogue Valley from France in 1898. He dreamed of being a winemaker, but when he started out on his own 30 years ago, he could only get a loan for cattle, so he became a dairy farmer. He always maintained his love of vineyards and started growing rootstock for grapes in 1998, particularly focused on unusual varieties. He spent 15 years bringing the Mondeuse grape to the United States from his family’s native Savoie, France. He developed a nursery of root stock to sell with other growers. 

The vibe of Plaisance Ranch has not changed much since the dairy farm days. The cows are replaced by tasting tables, but generally it has the same feel. Joe’s wife, Suzi, points out the exact spot where they would bring the cows to feed. The Ranch regularly host events in the barn, from a mother’s day luanu to a concert series (as COVID conditions allow).  The feeling is communal and welcoming. I could see myself coming back for one of their events and being part of their wine community. 

There is a wine for everyone, with over 24 varieties, reflecting Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, and Spain. I think each one is site specific to the vineyard and Joe’s personal style. He explained how he envisioned a burgundian style chardonnay, crisp and dry, and worked several versions to get the one he felt was perfect.  Joe’s Viogner has a beautiful floral and bright fruit flavor. The  Tempranillo was delicious and expressive.  

Joe is not alone in his transition from crop to grape grower. The next day we arrived at 2Hawk Vineyard and Winery, a beautiful state-of-the-art winery named for the multiple generations of hawks that live on the property.   When they built the winery, they designed it to be as sustainable as possible. Dug into the side of a hill, the facility has a new gravity flow tank. 

Owner and vineyard manager Ross Allen had a vision for the winery to be not only sustainable in design but in practice as well. He says “sustainability isn’t a decision you make one at a time, it’s about leaving the earth a better place.” His passion for living harmoniously is fueled by a lifetime of working in agriculture. He discussed the landscape of the Rogue Valley and the need for water management in what is technically a desert. The 2Hawk Vineyard was originally a pear farm, planted alongside wild asparagus and wild chives. Ross grew up in California, where his father had a small vineyard. This fueled his love of wine and dream of one day being a winemaker. He is currently an almond and pistachio farmer. He knows the vineyard like the back of his hand, using his lifelong experience together with the latest smart technology to inform him of every detail of the vineyard, from the humidity levels to wind patterns, so he can make specific modifications to the canopy or water as needed.

2Hawk’s wines are not only well-crafted in the vision of their owner, but also reflect the values of being in tune with the environment or “mother earth” as Ross noted.  The tasting room is warm and inviting, built out of materials from the vineyard (vine cuttings from the first harvest, a stone wall) and reclaimed wood from historic buildings in Oregon. The wines are well-balanced and delicious. 

These farmers-turned-viticulturalists bring a special feel and culture to Rogue Valley – one that reflects the values of a stewardship and intrinsic understanding of the land. The wines produced there are high-quality and beautiful. 

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