As the the largest region in the greater Southern Oregon AVA, bordering California, the Rogue Valley AVA grows the most diverse array of grape varieties compared to any other Oregon appellation.
The Rogue Valley AVA is actually made up of three adjacent river valleys—not just one as its name suggests—Bear Creek, Applegate and Illinois. These valleys extend from the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, a coastal sub range of the Klamath Mountains. Most Rogue Valley vineyards are planted on hillsides at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet where soils are metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic.
On one end Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc benefit from a warm and dry climate. To the west end of the Rogue Valley, cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat and Gewürztraminer do best. Dolcetto, Grenache and Zinfandel also grow in the Rogue Valley AVA.
Early European settlers first started growing grapes here in the 1840s, the most famous of whom was a pioneer named, Peter Britt. He also opened Oregon’s first official winery (which later closed in 1907). Today, besides its great wines, the region is known for the Britt Music & Arts festival, which inhabits Peter Britt’s former hillside estate, and the Ashland, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”