Vine growth

The Ashland property of Grizzly Peak Winery is precisely landscaped. There are vast lawns, manicured to perfection, that serve as platforms for weddings, concerts and outdoor performances. Wisteria weaves through lattice patio roofs. Irises and other colorful flowers rise from rock-lined, tiered pedestals.Fifteen of the 40 acres here are devoted to growing 11 different Bordeaux and Rhone grape varieties that are made into 15 different wines (prices start at $15 for a roussanne/marsanne/viognier blend to $28 for a rare white tempranillo).The wines are sold in an inviting tasting room. Across the drive, illuminated by old-fashioned street lamps, is a bridal cottage.All of this seems impeccably planned. And yet, none of it was. Originally.When Al and Virginia Silbowitz moved to Ashland in 1998 from the San Francisco Bay Area, they intended to retire from their jobs in education and community service. They loved the property's views of Grizzly Peak and Mount Ashland and envisioned carefree days.Casually, their architect mentioned that he had a friend, Ron Stringfield of Ashland, who was a hobby viticulturist in need of land.The Silbowitzes agreed to pay for the plants, trellis materials, irrigation system and other necessities for a tiny vineyard. Stringfield, now a well-known wine representative, would do all the manual labor.Stringfield planted 100 merlot vines. In the winter of 1998-99, night temperatures dropped to 7 degrees, and half of the vines did not survive.The Silbowitzes could have called it quits here. Instead, they put in 150 more plants, this time cabernet sauvignon.After three years, Stringfield moved on to other commitments, but again the Silbowitzes decided to stay in the game. When they had 1,300 vines, they were approved for Talent Irrigation District water rights, helpful because Virginia and daughter Naomi had to wash clothes at a downtown Laundromat when the well water ran out."We thought that was a sign to stop," recalls Virginia. "Then we got TID, and we saw that as a sign to keep going."They now have 8,000 plants — the types and varieties are based on research and consultants' advice — and they make 2,000 cases of wine a year. Linda Donovan of Pallet Wine Co. in Medford is their new winemaker, but the couple is not slacking.There is a new, lattice-roof pavilion overlooking the oldest vines and a plank walkway is being built to bridge the creek.The Silbowitz family continues to host fundraisers for the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon, La Clinica and other nonprofit groups.A luau Saturday, June 23, will benefit Halau Hula O Na Pua O Hawaii Nei. Almost 100 hula dancers will perform (tickets are $20; $30 for lunch). The next day, Havurah Shir Hadash is holding a Jewish Food Extravaganza. In September, there will be a surprise dog-related event.Keep up with the activities via Grizzly Peak's Facebook page or just drive to the tasting room, 1600 E. Nevada St. (541-482-5700;, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday or by appointment.Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@dailytidings.comThis story reflects the correct number of plants at 8,000, not the 3,000 figure published in the print edition.

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