Through the grapevine: More Californians come north to join wine industry

Vineyards are lining more land in the Rogue Valley — and not all of the plantings are being done by viticulture pros.

Hobby growers dreaming of picturesque vines in their backyards are installing plants to grow pinot noir, cabernet and chardonnay grapes.

Well-heeled hobbyists who toy with the idea of someday owning a commercial winery are being marketed to by real estate agents touting undeveloped land as having vineyard potential.

And more farmers from California who make a living on olive trees or tomatoes in their home state are buying established vineyards here to enter the wine industry.

Recently, Sheri Wytcherley of Oregon Ranch and Home sold a 90-acre property in the Applegate Valley to a central Californian who is moving to Oregon to start growing grapes.

Last year, Wytcherley sold 90 acres in Grants Pass to a Californian who has since pulled up an existing vineyard to replant different varietals closer together for efficiency.

She also sold a large parcel in Grants Pass and a smaller one in Cave Junction to almond growers from the Golden State.

Californians, she says, are continuing to find Oregon vineyards appealing because of the lower cost per acre to buy land and farmland tax breaks. And, she says, although her existing clients are new to the wine business, they are educated about what it takes to succeed with finicky grapes.

Before the economic downturn, newcomers bought into vineyard properties. Some failed, leaving vines abandoned or the land repossessed by the lender.

A bank-owned 87-acre vineyard property on East Hills Drive in Ashland recently sold to a neighbor for about $750,000 — 40 percent below than the asking price.

It took Chris Hubert, who manages vineyards through Results Partners of OVS, more than a year to resurrect the 30 acres of vines on the property before it changed hands.

Paschal-Tenuta Winery's 13-acre property on the east side of Interstate 5 near Talent was on the market for two years before it was handed back to the original owners.

Wytcherley and other real estate agents say they're hopeful the distressed-vineyard property trend has ended.

Scott Ralston of Cascade Sotheby's International Realty envisions grapevines cascading down southwestern-facing slopes of an 80-acre slice of an Ashland hillside. He also sees the barn transformed into a tasting room and winery.

Standing on the $4 million property, Ralston can talk about nearby thriving wine operations run by couples who entered the business while edging toward retirement.

From his vantage point, he can gesture toward Dana Campbell Vineyards, with 15 acres of grapes, 12 more acres prepared for additional plantings, and a new tasting room. Owners Patrick Flannery and Paula Brown had no farming experience when they shifted to vines in 2006.

Ralston can also talk about Grizzly Peak Winery. In 1998, owners Al and Virginia Silbowitz were enticed into starting a small vineyard by Galaxy wine representative Ron Stringfield of Ashland. Now, they manage 15 acres and a tasting room.

Stringfield, who has lived in the Rogue Valley since the 1970s, has noticed that the people who seem happiest around vines are those who are not financially dependent on them.

"A gentleman farmer with money can set up a vineyard with a relatively small commitment," he says. "But 40 acres is serious, and it might take 20 years of hard work to get recognition, if at all."

Doug Rowley pictured himself a hobby grape grower. The owner of the Rogue River Guest House in Gold Hill takes pride pouring guests his homemade 2007 Bordeaux blend.

But at 77, he's looking for someone to take over his bushy vineyard, which on a good year can produce 100 cases of wine.

"Someone with an interest in grapes could really care for it," says Rowley, who is willing to sell his whole operation, including the bed and breakfast and his winemaking equipment.

A real estate flyer listing the selling points of the $495,000 property notes it includes a historic Victorian home, commercial kitchen and "fully landscaped grounds, which include active grapevines "¦ ."

For those thinking of something bigger, Wytcherley has dropped the price from $5 million to $3.5 million for the 61-acre O'Neill Vineyard, which abuts Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass.

She says she's advertising in wine publications that target, you guessed it, Californians.

Reach Daily Tidings reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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