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Southern Oregon wine: Oregon's up-and-coming region

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The Southern Oregon appellation is little-known outside of the state, but is home to some wonderful wineries, and some intimate tasting experiences. The appellation was only formed in 2004, as a way to bring together two neighboring appellations – the Umpqua Valley and the Rogue Valley – to allow them to better market themselves to compete with the monolith of the Willamette Valley. Although generally grouped together now, both the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys have very different wines.

The Rogue Valley is so-named for the mighty Rogue River that runs through it – although few wineries are actually along the Rogue River. Instead, most are situated along one of the three major tributaries to the Rogue – the Applegate, Bear Creek, and the Illinois.

Oregon_vineyardWithin the Rogue Valley is a smaller appellation, the Applegate Valley. This appellation encompasses the historic town of Jacksonville, which harkens back to the gold rush era of the region. Nearby Ashland features the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a major theatre festival in the United States. The many attractions in the area, coupled with a handful of excellent wineries, have made the Applegate Valley one of the major wine tourism destinations of the state. Most wineries here are extremely small, and have very limited distribution, making a visit to their tasting room often the only way to try or purchase their wines. The Rogue Valley appellation is much hotter than the Willamette Valley, and as a result there is less of a focus on pinot noir, with more of an emphasis on higher-heat varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, and syrah.

The Umpqua Valley is significantly warmer than the Willamette Valley, but not as scorchingly hot as the Rogue. Pinot noir is still grown here, along with tempranillo, riesling, pinot gris, and syrah. The Umpqua Valley also has its own tourist draws aside from wine – the historic Applegate Trail went through the region, and dozens of covered bridges and historic structures remain.