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Grand Tasting: Sampling wine's best

JACKSONVILLE — Only a handful of vintners can walk off with Best of Show, double gold or gold medal acknowledgment from a wine competition.

Oregon Wine Experience kudos were doled out earlier in the week with the winning vintages — Old Ninety Nine Cellars’ 2014 Tempranillo, Awen Winecraft’s 2017 Viognier, and Quady North’s 2017 GSM Rosé — appearing on tables at later events.

Sunday’s Grand Tasting, however, gave all medalists a chance to pour the heart of their craftsmanship into hundreds of goblets at Bigham Knoll. The culminating event of Oregon’s largest wine competition and premier vino celebration in Southern Oregon affords newcomers a platform amid established wineries to share their vintages with a thousand tasters.

Wineries take a variety of paths to promote their vintages, including competitions such as the Oregon Wine Experience. Some travel far and wide to see how their wine matches up against those from renown wineries. Others prefer to capture customers one at a time, even if they line up in droves.

Grizzly Peak Winery owner Al Silbowitz said Asante Foundation’s Oregon Wine Experience’s influence has furthered the regional industry.

“We’ve begun to create an atmosphere in which credibility, validity and quality are joined,” Silbowitz said. “We’re on that road, maybe to the point of critical mass.”

Like other vintners from the region, Silbowitz is no stranger to distant competitions.

“We’ve found there are certain competition that have more respect, either because they have been around a long time, they’ve gotten lots of entries and know they’re going to be highly competitive,” he said. “So the results are liable to be more something we would rely on because they have a lot of choices and they’ve had excellent judges. This year has been a turning point for the Rogue Valley because of the creation of the vintners association and because we’re getting a mature level of wine production and commitment on the part of our winemakers and vintners.”

Bayer Family Estate is a relative newcomer to the Rogue Valley’s appellation, producing its first wine in 2013 and recently opening a tasting room converted from an equestrian viewing room on Agate Road. Bayer followed up with a debut silver with its 2016 Rosé with a pair of silvers — 2017 Rosé and 2017 chardonnay — this year.

Brian and Carien Jordaan of winery Eliana Wines in Ashland started producing Bordeaux blends 10 years ago and followed up with single variety vintages in 2012. Eliana produces 500 or 600 cases from seven to 9 tons of estate-grown fruit annually. The Jordaans merely needs to point to past results when comparing his wine.

“This is the largest wine competition in Oregon, so being a boutique winery, we need to be here,” Jordaan said. “Even though we are small, we produce some top-quality wines.”

Eliana entered five competitions last year — New York International, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco International, Women of Wine International, and won gold medals in all them, except Oregon Wine Experience. Eliana’s 2017 Rosé received a silver this week.

Winemaker John Quinones laid to rest his Diamondback label when he left Napa nearly a decade ago. The 33-year industry veteran revived the label in 2012, sourcing fruit from multiple vineyards. He scored silvers for his 2017 sauvignon blanc and 2012 Bella Forte

“I want to mix it up, and have fun with it,” he said. “I recognize really high-end vineyards.”

This was the first Oregon Wine Experience for Sam and Cathy Beaton of Beaton Farm Vineyard and Winery outside Murphy. She said pouring a silver-medal 2016 Tempranillo Sunday had a big upside.

“It keeps me from having to go to the stores and sell it,” Cathy Beaton said. “People can come to me, instead of me going to them.”

Ledger David Cellars owner David Traul has seen the event grow from a festive gathering of local wineries to a statewide affair that earns well over a million dollars annually for the Children’s Miracle Network and related health care charities.

“When we started out nobody knew about us,” said Traul whose 2017 viognier, 2017 Primoris Chenin Blanc, 2015 malbec and 2015 sangiovese earned silver medals. “Being in the industry 10 years ago, we still have people come through, and say I’ve never heard of you or we’ve never been to your tasting room. So it’s still valuable to come to these events.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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