written and photographed by Ben McBee
The Applegate Valley is Shangri-la for the Oregon wine lover. Encircled by the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon, its soil and climate provide a hospitable setting for grape growers. Indeed, the area’s Applegate Valley Wine Trail includes eighteen vineyards and wineries ranging in size and style from cabernet to pinot gris.
Each November, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Applegate Valley hosts its Fall Uncorked Event. For $49, visitors receive a commemorative glass and a voucher that will earn them a wine-tasting session and appetizer at each of the sixteen participating wineries. This event marks the heart of harvest season and the beginning of holiday cheer.
You can elect to sample all that the Applegate Valley has to offer on a self-guided tour, but for a more curated experience, reserve a trolley ride with one of several wine tour companies in the area.
The abundance of vineyards along Highway 238 can make choosing where to start an overwhelming task. Best to start small, at Soloro Vineyard, which specializes in vines imported from the Rhône region of France. Don’t let the gravel driveway and painted mobile-home-turned-tasting-room fool you. Its wine is top notch and has accolades to prove it. Owners Tim and June Navarro will pour you through their portfolio of wines. If the weather is nice, take a glass out on the deck and enjoy.
The Schmidt Family Vineyards’ grounds alone are impressive. Bring your own picnic and board games to accompany a glass of chardonnay. If you did come empty-handed and hungry, don’t worry. Schmidt’s food is as good as its drink. Indulge with a cheese platter or a wood-fired calzone, and take in the live music often played at the estate.
To finish up the terroir trifecta, head up the road to Serra Vineyards, whose tasting room on the hill provides a picturesque backdrop to sip its award-winning rosé. Troon Vineyards’ Druid’s Fluid White is hard to beat if you like blends. Drop by Rosella’s Vineyard for a unique fusion of Southern Oregon wine and island Aloha spirit.
For dinner the nearby Applegate River Lodge has a local wine list and with entrees ranging from locally sourced gourmet burgers to grilled salmon. As the sun goes down, the patio is the place to unwind and listen to the medley of the Applegate River below and evening conversation.
Today brings a different excuse for a flush face. Take a drive toward the community of Buncom on Little Applegate Road to hike the historic Sterling Mine Ditch Trail. A relic of the area’s gold mining past, this trail system offers scenic vistas along a canal, which once supplied a gravity-powered hydraulic mining operation. The entire length is more than 30 miles, but several parking lots offer shorter treks for mountain bikers and pedestrians. Another option to get the blood pumping is Applegate Lake. Looping trails offer miles of lakeside views and anglers enjoy the year-round stocked rainbow trout and Chinook salmon. Nearby McKee Bridge is an excellent place to bring lunch, and imagine the bygone eras of loggers and miners crossing its covered wooden trestle.
On the way back, stop by Valley View Winery, a revival, in name at least, of Southern Oregon’s first vineyard, planted by Jacksonville’s Peter Britt in 1854. Today’s incarnation began in 1972 and specializes in viognier, syrah, tempranillo and late-harvest port wines.
Start your day at Applegate Store and Café, with a hearty country breakfast. Vibrantly painted murals of the surrounding scenery warm this charming local hotspot to take on eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy.
For relaxation, head over the river and through the woods to Red Lily Vineyards. The beautiful tasting room and wine cellar are located on the banks of the Applegate River. Take a glass down by the water and kick back on one of the lounge chairs in the sand.
What makes the Applegate Valley ideal for viticulture, also lends itself to other kinds of agriculture. Cows and gardens fill spaces between vineyards for as far as the eye can see. Visit Pennington Farms and try some of its baked goods. Down the road is Whistling Duck Farm, known for its organic garlic and a wide array of fermented products. Browse the spicy kimchi, curly kraut and jalapeño relish, or if you prefer your vegetables outside of a jar, take home a locally grown butternut squash.
Take care to end on a sweet note and stop by The Great Unbaked, a chocolate shop in Murphy. Its truffles pair with a bottle of red as the perfect holiday gift.