The more I taste the wines, the more I am intrigued and excited about the Applegate Valley, a sub-AVA (since 2000) of the much larger Rogue Valley AVA. With roughly 700 acres under vine (often at elevations over 2000 feet), it’s home to about 20 wineries, and feels much more remote than the rest of the Rogue Valley AVA, with no major highway or town to anchor it. Named for the river that runs through it, the valley is rugged, spectacular country, surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains.
As noted in my last post on the Rogue wineries, this is where the oldest vines were planted back in the mid-1800s. Some vines from the modern-era renaissance that began a half century ago are still bearing. Though most of the valley’s wineries are quite small and the wines sold principally out of tasting rooms and local retailers, a few have reached beyond and deserve much wider recognition.
Among the most important are those on a small, elevated plateau known locally as the Kubli Bench. Troon and Layne are its original sites – both founded in the 1970s. In the past half decade Troon has been completely replanted; Layne still has about a third of the original vines, including four acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Troon’s Craig Camp offers this overview of the terroir: “The Kubli Bench is about five miles long and three miles wide at its widest point. It is an ancient bench of the Applegate River defined by a steep elevation of 20 or more feet as it sits above the flood plain. It has a distinct meso-climate that is clearly seen in the winter; when the surrounding area is covered with fog, the Kubli Bench is under sunny skies.”
Herb Quady migrated north from his family’s California winery and made Troon wines from 2004 to 2013. “I would say that the Kubli Bench is an exceptional place for grape growing,” Quady explains. “It’s the place where the Applegate opens up, the widest spot in the valley, so it gets great sunlight, especially in the fall, and it probably has the lowest frost pressure.”
Quady began purchasing Cabernet from the nearby Layne vineyard that very first year. Over the succeeding vintages the Layne Cab became his ‘holy grail’ of wine lots. “I was always seeking something within that lot, but it remained elusive,” he noted in a recent email. “The Layne lot was naturally high acid, dense, and broody. No matter what I tried to do, how long I waited, it seemed to stand against the Napa style, old enough and comfortable enough in its own skins to express itself as is.”
Here are current reviews of wines from Quady North, Troon, Layne and the recently re-christened Valley View Winery, now Domaine Rogue.
Tongue firmly in cheek, Herb Quady titles himself “Fearless Leader, Chief Instigator, President for Life and Assistant Bottlewasher.” His family’s California winery is known for its array of sweet wines, but Herb set out to explore other styles when he and his wife Meloney founded Quady North in 2005.
There are two estate vineyards, named for daughters Margaux Mae and Serafina Eevee, and planted to a dizzying range of grapes representing southern French and Bordeaux varieties.
Other grapes come from Serenade (near Ashland), Steelhead Run (near the Applegate River), Sam’s Valley (in the upper Rogue) and the Frank’s Vineyard (now called Serra). In recent years the portfolio has become what Quady calls “Pan-Rhônish, with a distinct Loire-ish influence”. Recently, Grenache has played a larger part, becoming the basis of Dry Rose’, a GSM blend, as well as the “Bomba” a light, early released Grenache. The Pistoleta, a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, is a perennial favorite.
Across the board the entire Quady North portfolio impresses me with its variety, innovation and value.
Quady North 2022 Pistoleta – This fruit-driven blend mixes together Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino in that order of importance. Low in alcohol and slightly pétillant, it packs in a lot of flavor. Lemon, lime, grapefruit, apple, pear and even a touch of papaya – wow that’s a lush mix for such a seemingly simple blend. The palate fills out and becomes almost fleshy, and there is a suggestion of cinnamon spice dusting the finish (16% was barrel fermented). This is the best Pistoleta yet. 1165 cases; 12.5%; $20 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Quady North 2022 GSM Rosé – Another great rosé from Herb Quady, this is built upon near equal proportions of Grenache and Syrah; the Mourvèdre is just a splash. A pale copper, powerfully fruity and dusted with cinnamon and baking spices, it’s absolutely irresistible. Dig beyond the citrus skin flavors and you’ll find peach, pear, papaya and more holding center court, with those appealing spices trailing out the finish. 2837 cases; 11.8%; $18 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Quady North 2021 GSM – This is 46% Grenache and 38% Syrah and 16% Mourvèdre. As an unabashed fan of this winery, I can only suggest that you grab as much of this wine as you can find. Plums and berries abound, with most of the grapes sourced from top Applegate Valley sites. One fifth of the barrels were new, adding a frame of toasty spice. Aromatic, sensual, deep and dark, this tart, tangy and delicious wine should absolutely kill with poultry – think Thanksgiving turkey and you’re on your way to a great holiday meal. 484 cases; 13.6%; $27 (Rogue Valley) 93/100
Quady North 2021 La Battalla – This is 85% Cabernet Franc, a particular strength at this winery, blended with 15% Malbec. Firm yet accessible, this brings brambly blackberry and black cherry fruit with an earthy undertone that lends it a sauvage touch. Hints of fungus, dried herbs and dusty earth add texture and complexity. Though not a big wine, it’s balanced and quite flavorful, showing significant improvement with ample aeration. Drink now and over the next five years. 420 cases; 13.7%; $22 (Rogue Valley) 92/100
Quady North 2019 Cabernet Franc – I haven’t seen this wine in awhile. As the winery notes, due to low yields and high demand for these grapes, this is their first varietal Cabernet Franc since 2016. This unheralded AVA has a unique style that deftly blends tart blackberry fruit with ripe but moderate tannins and on-point acids. The earthy coffee tones of the grape are here as well. Overall this is a perfectly balanced, accessible yet ageworthy wine that will earn your respect. 176 cases; 14.2%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Quady North 2019 Mae’s Vineyard Cabernet Franc – This is the first single vineyard bottling of Mae’s Cab Franc since 2014. One can only hope that yields will increase and make this an annual treat. It’s pure varietal, focused and firm, with a concentrated core of black currant fruit streaked with veins of espresso. Tightly wound and dense with flavor, this is a wine that should cellar quite well for 10-15 years. The tannins are firm, ripe and dark, and aging in one third new oak puts a toasty frame around it. The extra bottle age (this was just released this past spring) contributes to a smooth, satiny finish. 98 cases; 14.2%; $39 (Applegate Valley) 93/100
Quady North 2021 4-2,A Syrah – This is the lowest-priced Syrah in Quady’s excellent lineup, a stunning value in a distinctive, sappy, plush bowlful of just-picked marionberries, blue plums and black cherries. Firm, ripe tannins anchor the finish, which unfolds with threads of pipe tobacco, anise, citrus peel and chocolate. The grapes come from a select group of eco-friendly Rogue Valley vineyards. The electricity and absolute liveliness of the wine verifies the quality of those resources. 489 cases; 13.9%; $27 (Rogue Valley) 93/100
Quady North 2018 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah – One of a handful of select Applegate Valley vineyards used in Herb Quady’s wines, Steelhead Run is quite rare as a vineyard select Syrah. It’s a perfect book-end to the better-known Syrahs of Oregon’s Rocks District AVA at the far NE corner of the state, capturing much of the same umami-soaked, rock-driven, savory meatiness that defines the wines from The Rocks. One difference – this sells for half or less of anything comparable from the other site. This 2018 is the current release – another gift from the winemaker, who carefully cellars his wines until he believes they are ready for drinking. Were I Herb Quady’s accountant I would call him on the carpet for giving away his products. But I’m not, so I’ll simply suggest you pile on and give him all the support he deserves. These are fabulous wines. 73 cases; 14.6%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 94/100
Few wineries in the Northwest have managed a more impressive ugly duckling to beautiful swan transition than southern Oregon’s Troon Vineyard. The vineyard’s origins date back to the early 1970s, but in 2015-16 an infusion of new owners and new concepts implemented by General Manager Craig Camp, Winemaker Nate Wall and Director of Agriculture Garett Long have utterly transformed and energized the site and the wines.
The estate vineyard has been replanted and converted to regenerative biodynamic farming. The unique soils include decomposed granite and river and ocean sediments. There are dramatic diurnal shifts of 50 or more degrees during the summer heat. Among the more unusual recent releases from Troon are Piquette! (a lightly fizzy wine made by re-fermenting pomace), Vermentino done three different ways, amphora wines, orange wines, several pét-nats and the value-priced Druid’s Fluid white and red.
Such experimentation, says Camp, is natural for a new and growing region. “We are a young AVA and vineyard and exploration of the potential is our mission and why we are here. We hope what we learn will create a roadmap for the Applegate wineries of the future.”
I asked Craig Camp what consumers should you look for when tasting a wine grown biodynamically. “I think the important thing to remember,” he explains, “is that biodynamics is an agricultural practice – a proactive probiotic program. Everything is related to farming practices. As far as winemaking, biodynamic winemaking is not doing anything to interfere with what that farming has given us. The goal is to grow pristine fruit full of flavor and let the winemaking express those flavors and energies. Biodynamic fruit should be healthy and clean, and that is expressed in the wines. That means a freshness and a sense of being alive and connected to the fruit and plants of that vineyard. That personality can vary dramatically due to different meso-climates and soils. The goal is to express your place and the personality of a variety in your vineyard.”
“Put simply, as biodynamic farmers, we want to grow healthy fruit that requires only a light touch by our winemakers. That is Biodynamic Wine.”
All Troon wines are fermented with wild yeasts and made without additions of any kind. The first piquette I ever experienced was a thrilling example from Troon. There are also such wonderful and unique rarities as Vermentino done three different ways, amphora wines, orange wines, a Pét tanNat and a pair of marvelous blends dubbed Druid’s Fluid.
Troon 2021 Druid’s Fluid White Blend – This biodynamic blend is two thirds Vermentino, the rest split between Marsanne and Roussanne. If you like the wildness that comes with indigenous yeasts, biodynamic grapes and non-interventionist winemaking, this is your wine. It’s quite different from the previous vintage but in many ways more interesting. Floral, citrus and sweet herbal flavors compound in a racy, sleek, spicy and quite fascinating wine. Rare to find such depth and complexity at this price. 285 cases; 12.6%; $25 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Troon 2021 Druid’s Fluid Red Blend – What I like to think of as a ‘kitchen sink’ blend – meaning it’s akin to a pot of stew that has a little of everything tossed into it – this nonetheless finds a focus and a balance that often eludes such wines. For the first time some of the recently-planted younger vines contribute, fashioning a southern Rhône style red (albeit with some Tempranillo and Malbec included). It delivers plenty of joy with fresh red and blue berry fruits, spice and underbrush components. 670 cases; 13.1%; $25 (Applegate Valley) 91/100
Troon 2022 Kubli Bench Rosé – I suspect this is a first-ever (for the west coast) rosé – 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault and the rest a mix of Counoise, Carignan and Négrette. The color is tawny gold – not a hint of pink (sorry Barbie) – and the flavors show the impact of barrel fermentation with wild yeasts. This is lively, fresh, detailed, textured, with lacy flavors of flower and pollen, citrus and berry. I’ll wager it’s unlike any rosé you’ve tasted, and has been given the sort of care and attention rarely bestowed on such wines. 250 cases; 11.9%; $25 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Troon 2022 Kubli Bench Amber – This might well be mistaken for Gewurztraminer, given the floral perfume that leads the taster in that direction. The listed blend is 70% Vermentino, 25% Viognier and 5% Roussanne – no Riesling as in previous vintages. It’s a lovely summer sipper, an elegant, low alcohol wine with flavors of flowers and Asian spices. The finish lingers gracefully, adding highlights of clove and citrus peel Try it with cold noodle dishes or chopped salads. 300 cases; 12.6%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Troon 2022 Vermentino – Sporting a pretty new label design depicting a chamomile blossom, this minimal intervention biodynamic wine is fresh, brisk, detailed and lively. Scents of wild herbs and wildflowers add a rustic country touch, while the palate brings fresh, compact flavors of lemony citrus rind and yes, chamomile tea. 740 cases; 13.1%; $30 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Troon 2021 Syrah – This fascinating wine piles on scents of damp foliage, composting herbs, peat and cured meat – all that before it touches your lips. In the mouth bright, tangy citrus and spicy berry fruits barrel ahead, with a zesty liveliness that elevates the impact. It’s young, polished and impeccably fresh, relatively light but bursting with flavor. 497 cases; 13.2%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 92/100
Brianne Day is another fan of this vineyard. She writes that “the vineyard lies a couple miles down a single-lane, dirt road hemmed by shallow ravines on either side most of the way, with manzanita and madrone branches scraping the truck windows. In other words, you have to really want to come out here. A walk through the rows reveals signs of the apex predators (mountain lion and black bear) that frequent the vineyard, and it becomes apparent just what kind of place this is. Many of the vines are on original Vinifera rootstock from the 1975 planting, having long since established themselves deep into the granitic bedrock.”
Layne wines are made by Quady & Gruber Custom Winecraft (formerly Barrel 42)
Layne 2020 Chardonnay – This is a bright, steely, high acid wine with a unique flavor signature. It penetrates vertically down and through the palate, weaving a web of citrus rind and wet stone. As it warms a touch of brioche enters the picture. As with so many old vine wines, it rewards your attention and may need decanting to open up fully. I found it much improved when re-tasted after 24 hours. 151 cases; 13.7%; $35 (Applegate Valley) 93/100
Layne 2016 Merlot – This old vine Merlot is showing especially well at this age. The aromatics shoot up from the glass, a rich, enveloping sensory fog. Brambly berries, clean barnyard, light compost, graphite and dried herbs can be detected and then open up in the mouth into a complex single vineyard, single variety expression of the grape. It’s got a hint of tang, with plenty of acid under tart red strawberry fruit. The texture and length tell you it’s a wine worth digging into; the flavors hold up very well over several days. 120 cases; 14.5%; $42 (Applegate Valley) 93/100
Layne 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – Regarding this wine sourced from 45-year-old vines Herb Quady has noted his struggles to get it right. “This is a throwback,” he says, “a nod to the nostalgic who aren’t opposed to drinking Cabernet Sauvignon that actually tastes like the grape.” I agree – it’s a classic expression of the grape, albeit with an opening burst of sweet fruit not common in French Bordeaux. At more than five years of age the flavors are nicely melded, delivering a mix of pomegranate, Italian herbs, tart acids and a hint of anise. The elegance and lightness of the wine reminded me of a Chianti; tart but not simple, and quite delightfully unique. 100 cases; 13.9%; $42 (Applegate Valley) 91/100
Owner Mark Wisnovsky introduced the name change for Valley View with an update on other developments at his family’s 50-year-old winery. “There has been a rebirth of Valley View Winery” he writes. “We celebrated our 50th anniversary two years ago by changing course and hiring Mike Brunson, an acclaimed Sonoma winemaker who has made wine for over thirty vintages, most notably as head winemaker and vineyard manager at Michel Schlumberger. Mike immediately reestablished winemaking equipment, protocols and vineyard practices as well as selling all existing barrels. He personally selects the highest quality once used barrels from Merry Edwards (Pinot Noir), Rombauer (Chardonnay), Diamond Creek (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah) and Caldwell (Tempranillo and Syrah.)
“To emphasize the new wines, they are released under a new Domaine Rogue label. We are working with Mike on an ambitious six year plan to plant 20 acres of new clones and vines at the estate vineyard as well as specifically chosen sites in the Applegate and Rogue valleys. Valley View now owns or manages 74 acres of vineyards with 51 in production.”
PG: Here are my picks among the current releases.
Domaine Rogue 2021 Chardonnay – From 35-year-old, dry-farmed vineyards, this all-stainless effort features the Wente clone. A soft, lovely wine, ready for immediate drinking, the fruit runs from ripe apple and peach into light tropical (banana) flavors. It’s broad and lingering on the palate, with appealing creaminess through the finish. 225 cases, 13.8%, $28 (Applegate Valley) 90/100
Domaine Rogue 2021 Quercia Chardonnay – Sourced from the same vineyard and old vine Wente clones as the all-stainless Chardonnay, the difference is that this spent 10 months in a mix of one-to-three year old oak barrels. Native yeast was used, and new winemaker Mike Brunson shows a nice touch with the oak, complementing without burying the fruit. With most Chardonnays and Wente clones in particular a kiss of new (or newish) oak is usually a plus. 265 cases, 13.9%, $28 (Applegate Valley) 91/100
Domaine Rogue 2022 Rosé – Formerly designated for the Rogue Red, this vineyard mix of eight varieties was picked early for this new rosé. Pretty and pale, with surprising concentration, this is finished dry, yet channels its strawberry and cherry fruit into a smooth finish with a hint of caramelized sugar. Nicely done. 140 cases; 12.2%; $24 (Applegate Valley) 91/100
Domaine Rogue 2021 Quartz Vein Pinot Noir – Named for a vein of quartz rock running diagonally through the lower vineyard, this is planted to a mix of clones including Mt. Eden and Calera. Aromatic with a nose-tickling mix of citrus and roses, this shows a delicacy beyond its moderately high abv. The wet rock acids bring a dash of orange juice to the core of tart berry fruit. 320 cases, 14.3%, $38 (Applegate Valley) 91/100