Where to eat, drink, and play for two days in wine country
By Andrew Collins
Variety is the hallmark of Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, a sunny swath of undulating vineyards and orchards surrounded by rugged mountain ridges carpeted with juniper, cedar and ponderosa pines. From full-bodied Malbecs and Syrahs to lean, racy Pinot noirs and Rieslings, a veritable United Nations of grapes thrives outside these friendly towns known for both thrilling outdoorsy diversions — this is the western gateway to Crater Lake National Park — and engaging cultural draws.
Start your day in the bustling college town of Ashland at sleek Hither Coffee & Goods for a breakfast of avocado toast with Meyer lemon or a ricotta tartine with blackberry jams before setting out on a stroll among Main Street’s colorful boutiques and galleries. Walk through leafy Lithia Park — a 93-acre oasis of neatly groomed gardens, tranquil duck ponds and some surprisingly remote wilderness trails — stopping at one of the historic water fountains fed by mineral springs to admire the adjacent grounds of the world renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The surrounding countryside offers several opportunities for wine touring, including Irvine & Roberts Vineyards, where you can sip an elegant Pinot noir in a gracious terrace high on a slope overlooking nearby Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Just a few minutes away, Weisinger Family Winery has been an icon in the region for more than 30 years. Drive 20 miles northwest to tiny Central Point to try the earthy cave-aged blue cheeses of acclaimed Rogue Creamery. Then walk next door for a luscious marionberry truffle at Lillie Belle Farms chocolatier and a glass of exceptional Sangiovese at Ledger David Cellars. Nearby, don’t miss Cliff Creek Cellars and Kriselle Cellars, the latter known for its crisp Sauvignon blancs.
Return south to Medford, whose pastoral outskirts abound with exceptional wineries like RoxyAnn Winery, 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery and Upper Five Vineyard. Then head downtown to Elements, which occupies a stately 1906 building, to feast on authentic Spanish tapas and paellas.
Set in an Old West-style brick saloon constructed during Jacksonville’s 1850s gold rush, convivial GoodBean Coffee is your morning go-to for fluffy biscuits with rich sausage gravy. This laid-back village in the Applegate Valley AVA is known for its summertime Britt Music & Arts Festival. Check out the distinctive boutiques and several excellent vintners, including Anchor Valley Wines for gold-medal Primitivo and Chardonnay and DANCIN Vineyards Pinot noir, Sangiovese and Port paired with wood-fired pizzas on their expansive patio.
Continue west into the Applegate Valley, home to nearly 20 wineries. At Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, an exemplar of Biodynamic winemaking, sip nonpareil Rhône-style wines while sauntering through fragrant herb and flower gardens. Drive 90 miles southwest to tour the otherworldly landscape of calcite rock formations of Oregon Caves National Monument, finishing your afternoon with a glass of aromatic dry Gewürztraminer at Cave Junction’s Foris Vineyards.
From here it’s a scenic 50-mile drive back north to Grants Pass, a hub of whitewater rafting and jet-boat excursions on the exhilarating Rogue River. Whet your appetite with a wedge of tangy goat cheese and a glass of Viognier at Wooldridge Creek Winery’s lively Vinfarm wine bar, before indulging in a spectacular dinner at The Twisted Cork. This casual farm-to-table restaurant stocks bottles from nearly 120 Pacific Northwest wineries.