Troon Vineyard may have a 40 year old winemaking history, but they seem to be on the cusp of what’s new and innovative in winemaking. Not out to make the fast, easy sell, they embrace what their little piece of Oregon terroir has to offer — climate and terrain similar to the Old World France and Spain, and yet still uniquely Oregonian. That means their focus is on under-appreciated grapes: Vermentino, Tannat, Malbec, simply because this is what grows best. (Learn more about Troon Vineyard’s Applegate Valley)
As Craig Camp says, “If you want to bring real pleasure to peoples lives, your wines have to have personalities as interesting as the people that drink them.” (You can read more of Craig’s thoughts on Troon Vineyard’s Wine Camp Blog.)
Tannat — an often forgotten grape varietal, one that is rarely seen in a single-varietal bottling. It’s thick-skinned, tannic, acidic, and a gothic shade of purple. To look at it, you may think angry thoughts — and to prevent those angry thoughts when drinking, winemakers often blend Tannat with the more voluptuous Cabernet Franc or Merlot — or, in Uruguay, even Pinot Noir. (Learn more about the origins of Tannat.)
But there seems to be a recent turn of events. Maybe it’s because the warm-weathered Uruguay has adopted the lonely variety as their heritage grape. Maybe it’s because “weird” wine is now some kind of fad. Or maybe, maybe, winemakers and drinkers alike have discovered that there’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Remember,
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Vermentino — a grape predominantly celebrated in Italy, is a rare find in the New World of wine. Although a few West Coast producers (Bailiwick, Tablas Creek, and Uvaggio to name a few) are beginning to see the benefits of working with this sturdy grape variety. A vigorous grower, Vermentino does well in warmer climates: it’s resistant to drought, thrives on less fertile soils, and usually ripens at the peak of the harvest cycle. Vermentino vines are often planted along slopes facing a major body of water so they’re exposed to additional light and warmth due to the reflected light. In fact, if you look at those three major producers previously mentioned, you’ll notice that they source their grapes from similarly situated terroir, despite the fact that one sources from Lake County, while the others source from Sonoma Coast.
Troon Vineyard, located in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon also benefits from ideal Vermentino conditions. Situated amongst the Siskiyou Mountains, the lowest of Troon Vineyard’s vines sits at 1400 feet. Here, where the soil is predominantly granitic in nature, the vines will receive even more warmth, as granite is heat-absorbent. All this elevation and warmth is balanced by Troon’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean in relation to their position near the Rogue River Valley: the cool marine air funnels through the valley, decreasing the temperature of the vineyard up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the nights. Thus, the grapes are allowed to ripen while still maintaining a naturally high level of acidity.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.
Applegate Valley is a sub-region AVA located in Oregon’s Southern Oregon AVA. The others include Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVA, Rogue Valley AVA, and Umpqua Valley AVA. As a whole, the Southern Oregon AVA stretches 125 miles north to south (from the southern tip of Eugene to the California border) and 60 mies east to west (from the Cascade Mountains to the Coast Range) and is planted to 6,000 acres of vines.
The Applegate Valley AVA is entirely inside the Rogue Valley AVA, and is named for Applegate River, which runs right through the area. It stretches 50 miles from California’s northern border to the Rogue River. This is actually where Oregon grape growing began back in 1852, with a settler named Peter Britt. In 1873 he opened Oregon’s first official winery in Jacksonville, called Valley View Winery. The winery closed in 1907 upon Britt’s death. (It has since been revived by the Wisnovsky family who planted their vineyards and established their winery in the same area.)
Today, Applegate Valley is home to just shy of 20 wineries. You could easily follow the Applegate Valley Wine Trail and taste them all in a day. For this introduction to Oregon wines and Southern Oregon, I’ll be focusing on Troon Vineyards, located just east of the Applegate River.
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