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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Brian Denner, head winemaker, and Clea Arthur, owner of Simple Machine Winery and Tasting Room, enjoy some wine Friday.

Simple Machine winery lives up to its name

Simple Machine Winery and Tasting Room lives up to its name, with a two-person operation in Talent using traditional winemaking techniques to produce about 500 cases per year.

Winemaker Brian Denner started making Simple Machine wines when he moved to the Rogue Valley in 2010. Partner Clea Arthur joined the venture in 2015, and they added a tasting room in November 2017 at 717 S. Highway 99. Ultimately all company operations will take place at the location.

“I wanted to do something different to differentiate ourselves,” said Denner. “We started really small. We are still taking it slowly and we are up to 500 cases. It’s a very old-school method.”

The couple had considered opening a retail outlet in Ashland or elsewhere before deciding to lease the commercial building.

“It really allows us to have everything under one roof,” said Arthur. Cases of wine and barrels are stacked in the space, which also includes an ordering counter, chairs, tables and other items needed to run the business.

Simple Machine is the first occupant of the 2,700-square-foot commercial building that features skylights, glass roll-up doors and a second-floor mezzanine. Despite almost constant road work to revamp the Highway 99 corridor through south Talent outside their business, more customers keep finding the location.

“We get a lot of local customers and people who have heard of us off of social media,” said Denner. Tourists from Portland and California also have dropped by.

Denner uses Barrel 42 in Medford, a custom crush facility, to create the wine from locally sourced grapes, most obtained from Crater View Vineyards just east of Jacksonville. He puts on sanitized boots to gently foot crush the reds and leaves the grapes on the stems to impart more spice. Denner also refrains from using oak barrels unless they are at least three years old, because newer ones can leave an oak taste in the wine. Minimal intervention and use of native yeast fermentation add to a natural approach.

Denner was winemaker with Dancin’ Vineyard from 2014 to 2017 and also worked with Agate Ridge, Daisy Creek and Trium. He was involved in creating a gravity flow system at Dancin’ to help preserve fruit qualities. Denner has a degree in enology from California State University Fresno and since 1997 has worked in the wine industry in California, Chile and New Zealand.

Simple Machine offers barrel tasting in which customers can find out what a wine is like as it ages. Barrel tasting usually is not done until well into the 12- to 14-month aging cycle of reds. Denner likes to educate on wine during the tastings.

“They can understand the winemaking and what’s different about them and appreciate that,” Denner said of the barrel tasting.

Arthur and Denner handle all the marketing and distribution. Their wine is available on shelves in Ashland, Medford, Jacksonville and Grant Pass. It can also be found at select local restaurants. Reds sell for $34 a bottle, while whites are priced at $28 at the tasting room.

Events for up to 30 people can be held at the winery. There have been birthday parties and Talent Maker Space held a gathering there. With no kitchen facilities, Simple Machine offers an assortment of packaged meats, cheese and other items to enjoy with the wine tasting. Customers may also bring their own food. Dogs are welcome on the outdoor patio spaces.

Arthur grew up in Ashland and the Applegate. She gained restaurant experience outside the Rogue Valley, including work in Telluride, Colorado, and training in London before she opened Cantina Vida in the Talent Depot in 2016. She subsequently sold the business, which now operates as Sweet Beet Station.

Permitting from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Jackson County took nearly a year before the facility could open. While road work is ongoing, Denner says the coming improvements, such as bike lanes and sidewalks, will end up helping the business.

The winery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. More information can be found at simplemachinewine.com.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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