Vino and vistas

The most ornate production facility in the Rogue Valley opens this weekend.

Visitors to Belle Fiore Winery, Estate & Vineyard near Ashland will first cast their eyes on a 20,000-square-foot, Italian-style building that houses a vaulted tasting room, winemaking and storage space, and a second-story ballroom larger than that of the Ashland Springs Hotel.

From the so-called Wine Pavilion's expansive windows and decks, wine appreciators and lookyloos will have views of Pompadour Bluff and, stretched in front of them, 35 acres of pampered grapevines.

They may recognize pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc grapes, which have a history in Southern Oregon.

Also planted but rare here are Italian reds montepulciano and teroldego and whites coda di volpe and fiano.

Looking up, past vine-blanketed slopes, there is another newish landmark: A three-story chateau topped with pitched slate roofs and turrets, and encased in a series of tiered terraces, columned archways and limestone-like banisters.

At 19,000 square feet, it operates as both a private residence for Belle Fiore's owners and a rentable party venue.

Just beyond the boundaries of this European-inspired compound sits another impressive sight: Neighboring vineyards, most less than seven years old and hidden from public attention.

Plans for new plantings in this tiny Emigrant Creek valley could one day expand the vineyard acres to 200, equal to the number of vines growing across all of the Ashland area.

Adding to the story: The homeowners investing in grapes on their land located from the Emigrant Lake reservoir to Dead Indian Memorial Road are well known not for viticulture or wine, but real estate and philanthropy.

Doug and Becky Neuman, who resurrected the historic Ashland Springs Hotel in Ashland and are remodeling the former Red Lion Hotel in Medford, have 25 acres suitable for grapes surrounding their home nestled near Emigrant Creek.

"We will be planting five to 15 acres next spring," says Doug Neuman, who has hired Napa consultant Bob Gallagher to guide him on the varietals. "We will have some pinot noir and then there are a lot of choices based on our soils. Some say we are establishing a new appellation here."

Neuman's neighbors Doug and Dionne Irvine are longtime commercial and residential developers.

They started a 6-acre vineyard in 2006 near their home. Since then, their Irvine Vineyards pinot noir has garnered awards, with the first vintage in 2009 selling out before the next year's release.

With new additions, the Irvines now have 23 acres of pinot noir planted and 6 acres of chardonnay. Doug Irvine says they are acquiring more property to eventually make 10,000 cases of wine a year.

Down the road from the Irvines and Neumans is the home of art advocates Leon Pyle and Cathy DeForest. They have just planted 10 acres of pinot noir and chardonnay.

"The Emigrant Creek Road soils and total terroir are ideal," says Leon Pyle. "We think Mother Nature and our hard work are coming together to produce really special wines."

Viticulture expert Greg Jones agrees.

The Southern Oregon University professor who is known worldwide for specializing in vineyard climatology, describes the narrow Emigrant Creek valley as having mostly northeast exposures on one side and southeast to southwest on the other.

Jones says 200 or more acres of grapes could thrive here, where cooler elevation of up to 2,100 feet still get enough heat to ripen pinot noir, chardonnay, malbec and syrah.

Until tasting rooms and wineries are built to service the vineyards on Emigrant Creek Road, visitors making the turn off Dead Indian Memorial Road will likely be on their way to Belle Fiore, a 52-acre hillside property owned by Edward and Karen Kerwin.

Edward Kerwin made his name and wealth through medical research. He owns the Clinical Research Institute of Southern Oregon and founded the Allergy and Asthma Center of Southern Oregon.

Karen Kerwin posted on the winery's website,, that growing up near orchards in Sacramento inspired her desire to plant a vineyard.

The Kerwins live in the uphill chateau, where people booking weddings and large events are allowed to enter the grand foyer, gaze up at the dual staircase and wander into the music room that has a baby grand piano.

Today and Sunday, Sept. 14-15, people who have been curious about the Italian tasting room will be free to roam the landscaped grounds, tour the two levels of the brick building and taste bottles of wines that range in price from $18 for a 2010 Monte Fiore Muscat Canelli to $27 for a 2010 Belle Esprit Cabernet Franc Reserve.

Inside the grand tasting room, with its marble-and-granite medallion and European pavers, adults over 21 will be able to sample four to five red, white and blends, for $7 to $15, at the mahogany bar.

When it's not reserved for private tasting events, visitors can sit around the French antique table in the ground floor Ceremonial Barrel Room. Or they can ascend the black-railing stairs and see replica oil paintings or peer down into the winery, where winemaker Kathe Kaigas and her small crew will be knee deep in harvest activity.

"Most visitors pulling up in front of the Wine Pavilion will fumble to get out of their car, overwhelmed by the options in front of them," says Timothy A. Vevoda, Belle Fiore's director of operations. He calls the winery building "an architectural monument" built for the enjoyment of Rogue Valley residents and visitors.

He stops, eyes the tapestries, the stained-glass windows and centuries-old trestle table, then adds: "It's hard to take it all in at once."

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