Oregon’s Rogue Valley AVA is not only the state’s southernmost wine region, but also its highest elevation, sunniest and warmest AVA overall. What is less well known is that it was home to some of Oregon’s earliest vineyards. The Oregon Wine Board reports that European immigrants began planting grapes here as far back as the 1840s. In 1852 (some sources say 1854) settler Peter Britt planted a vineyard at his home in Jacksonville that included a wide variety of Vitis Vinifera grapes, among them some ‘Franc Pinot’ that may have been Oregon’s first planting of Pinot Noir.
Britt’s vineyard eventually became Oregon’s first official winery – Valley View Winery. The original Valley View closed upon his passing in 1907. It was another six decades – the late 1960s – before the first Rogue Valley vineyards of the modern era were founded. These were quickly followed by actual wineries, among them a resurrected Valley View Winery opened by the Wisnovsky family in 1972, the original Troon vineyard (planted by Dick Troon) and the Layne vineyard. All three are now in the Applegate Valley sub-AVA.
Modern day Rogue Valley wineries are among the most inventive in the Northwest, finding their focus well away from the shadow of the Willamette Valley. Here are some of particular interest.
DanCin burst upon the Rogue Valley scene in 2010 with a single Chardonnay and five different Pinot Noirs, including three Rogue Valley selections. “The 2010 Adagio was our inaugural estate Pinot Noir” recalled owner Dan Marca in a 2021 interview. “It’s a dance term meaning ‘first movements that lead to others’.”
From there the DanCin portfolio quickly grew. Experimenting with multiple Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones, there have been as many as 15 Pinot Noirs and seven different Chardonnays in a single vintage. Those classic Oregon varietal wines, which currently occupy most of the 27 planted estate vineyard acres, have been joined by a long-term commitment to Italian varieties, notably Barbera and Sangiovese.
Marca’s family heritage is Italian and DanCin’s hometown of Medford is a sister city to Alba. So working with Italian varieties has been planned from the start. Drawing inspiration from the winery’s “more delicate” Burgundy program, the Italian wines are handled gently, fermented with native yeast and aged in tight grain French oak.
DanCin’s Barbera wines have been a revelation. Both of the 2017 Barberas were massive, black fruited, brilliantly balanced wines that received scores of 92 and 93 from me. Several different versions were made in 2018 including a 92 point Sorella Barbera. I missed the next vintages, but the 2021 Sorella reviewed here shows that the consistent quality remains firmly in place. Dan Marca writes that “we just planted the first phase of a new vineyard this past July exclusively to Italian varieties (Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo). Although only three miles from our tasting room, it has completely different growing conditions than our northeast facing Pinot noir and Chardonnay site. We are looking forward to working with this fruit!”
Four Chardonnays from 2021 are still available. The upcoming 2022 releases reviewed here are not yet listed for sale on the website.
DanCin 2022 En Croix Chardonnay – All estate-grown, this multi-clone blend saw just 10% new oak. It’s the fruit that shines here – clean, fresh, ripe, full-bodied and detailed with flavors of flesh and skin. Peaches and apples are front and center, with hints of tropical fruit at the borders. 102 cases; 12.8%; $36 (Rogue Valley) 91/100
DanCin 2022 Allongé Chardonnay – Made entirely in a concrete egg, this is already wide open and ripe for drinking. The expressive fruit flavors center around Meyer lemon, ripe pineapple and Cosmic Crisp apple flesh and skin. It comes to a focus mid-palate and stays consistent through a lingering finish, seemingly gaining strength along the way. This is a sturdy wine that should age beautifully through the rest of the decade. 155 cases; 12.9%; $36 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
DanCin 2021 Sorella 63rd Barbera – Sorella means sister in Italian, and this wine honors the 1960 bonding of Medford, Oregon to its sister city of Alba, Italy. DanCin’s Barberas never fail to delight, and with each new vintage the case for making Italian varietal wines in the Rogue becomes irrefutable. This is spicy, sappy and dense, with layers of berries and cherries almost ripe to the point of jam. The acids keep it lively and fresh, and hints of fresh Italian herbs add further interest. Based on my experience with past vintages, I’d put the prime drinking window at 2025 to 2030. 179 cases; 14.8%; $60 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
DanCin 2021 Setti Pezzi Pinot Noir – The name roughly translates as “seven pieces” – a sly reference to its blend of seven different clones. The attack is firm, the tannins lightly dusty and the fruit has a dried cherry character that brings a sense of maturity. Not that this is aging out; not at all. But it’s showing more of the concentration that comes with age, less of the overt fruitiness that is often the hallmark of young wines (such as its companion Adagio). It’s lovely to see both of these wines so nicely differentiated, each done quite well to different effect. 100 cases; 14.1%; $45 (Rogue Valley) 94/100
DanCin 2021 Adagio Pinot Noir – All Wadenswil clone, this fragrant and inviting wine opens with generous notes of citrus blossom, rose petals and ripe, slightly chocolatey red fruits. A total charmer, the flavors of sweet cherry soak the palate and continue to gain focus on through the finish. Tannins are ripe, firm, supportive and unintrusive; acids proportionate and clean. The aging in 30% new oak adds gentle streaks of caramel and chocolate. In short, this is a real beauty and a wine that may be enjoyed immediately, although it was just released last month. I have to add that I taste a lot of really well-made Oregon Pinots; so many that sometimes I wonder if I’m getting a bit jaded. And then a wine like this turns up and it’s love at first sip, A different experience altogether. Not merely good, but embracingly delicious and a stunning value. 93 cases; 14.3%; $46 (Rogue Valley) 95/100
All are estate grown except as noted. The Viognier is consistently among Oregon’s best vintage after vintage.
Peter William 2022 Daisy Creek Vineyard Viognier – This new vintage continues a string of excellence for this winery’s Viognier. Still quite young, it has yet to fully develop the creaminess of past vintages, but give it a little more time. The flavors are poised and bring citrus flesh, citrus rind, botanical highlights and punchy acids. There’s an appealing gin-like quality (without the burn) to the wine, which finds the right balance for this high-wire grape. 147 cases; 14.4%; $27 (Rogue Valley) 93/100
Peter William 2022 Grenache Rosé – A pale copper, this proves that as far as rosés are concerned, color is no indication as to richness. This is a potent wine with a solid core of mixed citrus and stone fruits. Meyer lemon, white peach, green strawberries and lime zest come up together, nicely balanced against firm and racy acids. The flavors continue clean and powerful on through a lingering finish. Delicious now and should continue to drink well over the next couple of years. 75 cases; 13.9%; $24 (Rogue Valley) 91/100
Peter William 2019 Lot W Tempranillo – Pretty and plummy, with soft, pliant tannins, this is a light wine that is well on the way to prime drinking. The barrel flavors from aging in American oak (30% new) have some bite to them, putting a bitter frame around an otherwise quite pleasing finish. Give it plenty of aeration. 72 cases; 14.1%; $30 (Rogue Valley) 90/100
Peter William 2019 GSM – Bright and bursting with berries and barrel spice, this lush blend was aged 20 months in half new French oak. It’s well on its way to being fully balanced with all barrel flavors smoothed out. The lively fruit – 42% Grenache, 33% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre – has Rhône-like acidity and underlying savory highlights. This should continue to drink very nicely through the rest of the decade. 144 cases; 13.9%; $27 (Rogue Valley) 91/100
Peter William 2018 GSM – Originally reviewed two years ago I found it chewy and toasty, with ample tannins setting it up against mulberry and plum fruit. The wine comes into focus in the back of the palate, extending the flavors through a full-bodied and clean finish. When I re-tasted this wine 14 months later it had improved significantly. Gorgeous wine I noted then; richly fruity, lightly chocolatey, spicy and bold yet perfectly balanced and crisp. 100 cases; 14.9%; $24 (Rogue Valley) 93/100
Peter William 2020 PWV Reserve Malbec – A deep blue/purple hue, this (apparently) pure varietal seems to have come straight from the barrel, as those biting barrel highlights need time to settle in. The fruit is a mix of blue and purple berries, with a strong streak of stem and herb running down the spine. Tannins are medium ripe, but less barrel time or lower percentage of new oak would make this more accessible, at least for now. Not all reserves have to be extra oaky to warrant the designation. 125 cases; 14.5%; $42 (Rogue Valley) 90/100
Peter William 2020 PWV Extravagance Red – This proprietary reserve is a 50/50 blend of estate-grown Tempranillo and Syrah. Just a little high-toned (and not to its disadvantage), it punches up the raspberry, marionberry and blue plum fruit while keeping the impact of the French oak (75% new) in proportion. Threads of graphite and licorice snake through the finish. Built for the cellar, it would be optimal to drink this wine toward the end of the decade. Unless of course you can’t keep your hands off it now. 110 cases; 14.6%; $42 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Although I have not tasted the most recent still wine releases of this winery, I did have a chance to sample their excellent Brut. I recently re-tasted two Pinots from the 2017 vintage that were aging exceptionally well, as noted below.
Irvine & Roberts 2018 Brut Cuvée – This is their first sparkling wine, a classic blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 23% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. The high elevation (2100 feet) site would seem to be well-suited to growing grapes for sparkling wines, for which these were specifically farmed. A fine bead and precise, tightly focused flavors confirm this is done in a tart, elegant style. Apple, melon, cucumber, citrus and stone flavors abound, with a full mid-palate. It’s fresh and spicy, bold and lingering. 145 cases; 12.5%; $100 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Irvine & Roberts 2017 The Discovery Pinot Noir – This all-Pommard clonal selection features sixth leaf fruit with bright flavors of blueberry, blue plum and black cherry. It’s got that young vine insouciance, with in-your-face flavors sharply accented with phenolics and a streak of root beer. Aging for 14 months in 38% new French oak puts a rich toasty frame around the finish. Re-tasted this month I found this to be a splendid wine given the extra bottle age. Spicy, tart, punchy flavors of citrus-infused berry fruit dominate. Good balance, good length, plenty of life ahead. 155 cases; 13.6%; $60 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Irvine & Roberts 2017 Elevation Block Pinot Noir – Simply delicious, this opens with warm fruit flavors of berry, cherry and blood orange, augmented with a broad streak of tobacco and a hint of bitter herbs. After 14 months in one third new French oak barrels it retains a fruit-forward style with the barrel flavors in the background. This is all 115 clone, high elevation fruit from one of the highest vineyards in Oregon (2100 feet). Firm tannins and excellent balance throughout. Re-tasted this month the additional bottle age made it better than ever. Bright, spicy, loaded with berries, punchy acids and peppery tannins, it’s just a great drinking bottle. 146 cases; 14.1%; $60 (Rogue Valley) 93/100
Wine Star Awards – During my 25 years with Wine Enthusiast magazine, one of the assignments I most enjoyed was the opportunity to nominate people, places and businesses for consideration for the magazine’s annual Wine Star Awards. As for years I was the designated NW wine homie my nominations for all the relevant categories centered around candidates from Oregon and Washington. Making the top five in any category was a success, and on several occasions my nominations won the top award. I was disappointed to see that this year’s list of candidates included not a single NW winery, winemaker, wine region, executive, retailer or innovator. With the sole (and welcome) exception of AHIVOY – Asociación Hispana de la Industria del Vino en Oregon y Comunidad – (nominated for Social Visionary of the Year), the Pacific Northwest was shut out. Predictably the nominees heavily favored representatives from California, Italy and Argentina – all regions with major ad budgets. That’s just common sense business. But to completely ignore the Pacific Northwest – a hotbed of experimentation, innovation, tourism, eco-friendly viticulture and flat out brilliant winemaking – that is a travesty.