One of my favorite excursions on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon is to drive out Oregon Highway 238 winding through the peaked hills of what locals affectionately refer to as “The Applegate.” Unbeknown to most, nestled throughout this vibrant green valley and much of the greater Rogue Valley region of southern Oregon are some of the world’s finest vineyards. Known for its mild climate and warm summers, the Rogue and Applegate valleys have all the beauty and charm of Sonoma and Napa valleys without the population density from a nearby metropolis. Situated 42 degrees north of the equator and just two degrees lower than the famed Bordeaux wine region of France, southern Oregon receives just fourteen less minutes of sun per day during the summer solstice, making it an ideal North American locale for vintners and viticulture.

Grapes respond well, but differently, to the southern Oregon climate than those grown by its neighbors to the south. This region’s shorter growing season and wilder temperature fluctuations influence the grapes to grow faster and larger, resulting in a tantalizing perceptibly different taste from the same varietals iconic to California. This growth spurt can also cause grapes to grow too closely, touching one another, increasing the opportunity to form mold. In order to stem this occurrence, vineyard care in southern Oregon may require more trimming, reducing the volume of grapes ultimately produced and ensuring the quality and viability of the harvest.

The end result is especially delicious. For instance, the region’s Zinfandels tend to be lighter with a very complex bouquet, one where you swear you can actually taste each individual grape crushed into the making of the wine. Tempranillo grapes, native to Spain, are remarkably light and flavorful and Cabernet Sauvignon, also a staple of Sonoma and Napa valleys, creates a bold and full-bodied complex tasting wine. Regardless of the varietal, you’ll find more than a few bottles to compliment your dining experience.

There are an endless number of wineries that the perfect wine tasting excursion through southern Oregon should include, such as Wooldridge Creek Winery, Troon, LongSword Vineyards and Roxy Ann Winery. Their wines, like the unparalleled natural beauty of the region, will be some of the best you’ll ever enjoy and sure to leave you wanting more. The websites of the Southern Oregon Winery Association and Main Street Tours will help you round out your plans.  You’ll find a wealth of information on the wineries, places to stay and dine, along with other venues to enjoy, such as the open-air Elizabethan Stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Bon appétit!