Hello friends. When we talk about Oregon, it’s easy to get lost in the rolling hills and inspiring-yet-occasionally-temperamental weather of the Willamette Valley. However, when it comes to the state’s history with grapes, Willamette’s 50-year modern winemaking is relatively brief. The Rogue Valley, the southernmost AVA of Oregon, which lays mere miles from the border of California, is where winemaking truly started in the state.
Grape plantings first started in the Rogue Valley around 1840, and the first official winery (and the first winery in all of Oregon!) was Valley View Winery, started in 1873. After a booming beginning, prohibition took a toll on the burgeoning wine scene of the Pacific Northwest (and much of America). The Rogue Valley was largely forgotten until the resurgence of wine interest took over the rest of the state in the 1960s. Though it’s the birthplace of Oregon wineries, the Rogue didn’t become an official appellation until 2001.
This southern end of Oregon is a special place in the world of west coast winemaking. While this region is definitely old school Oregon, it doesn’t quite fit into any one categorization. The region is closer in proximity to California than many parts of Oregon, but it’s definitely not California. It grows pretty Pinot but it’s definitely not the Willamette. The Rogue Valley’s people and climate feel a little more removed from the big city—a little more rugged, perhaps; and the Rogue’s separation from these major winemaking regions represents a real win for PacNW wine lovers. Southern Oregon’s physical separation from more populated areas provides many of the wineries a freedom from expectation—especially when it comes to price. For example, today we’re offering an exceptional $15 dollar Pinot Noir (and a bonus white wine) from one of the oldest winemakers in Oregon—and there’s no catch. We can tell you who made the wine, where it come from, etc etc. Where else is that possible? Only in the Rogue.
2014 Foris Pinot Noir
The Rogue Valley benefits from three distinct valleys that host microclimates with varying temperatures. The region is planted from the valley floors up the mountains that surround them, which means that the Rogue boasts some of the best cold climate growing and the warmest and driest regions of the entire state. In 1971, when Ted Gerber purchased 15 acres of land settled into the Siskiyou Mountains, there were no wineries in the Rogue Valley. Ted’s family quickly began planting their property, just seven miles from the California border, and officially established Foris winery in 1986. Now, Foris has 225 acres of land, 135 of them planted as estate vineyards.
Ted and his family still manage the land to this day. His commitment to the vineyards, coupled with winemaker Bryan Wilson’s long and impactful history with wine, create the hallmark house-style of Foris. These are wines that are distinctive, lively, and high-quality for the asking price. The Foris Pinot Noir is sourced entirely from the Gerber family’s corner of the Rogue valley, an alpine climate with ancient volcanic soils that favors pure fruit expression. The Foris approach to winemaking is minimal. They believe that winemaking starts and ends in the vineyard. The winery itself has one goal: don’t screw it up.
The 2014 Pinot Noir clocks in at 13.9% alcohol. A bigger vintage for the Rogue Valley, this wine easily finds a sense of depth. It pours dark-toned and opens with a nose of pure, juicy red and black fruit complemented by resinous notes of mixed herbs and forest floor. It is earthy in its herbaceousness, but balanced by honest fruit. The palate continues the trend, providing a plush texture with strong citrus acidity that leads to a savory, long finish. Even at a higher tariff, this wine would still be a rare breed—full of character, but ready and able to be paired with just about any autumnal meal. At a $15 price point, this is wickedly good, and it drinks like a warning shot to the Willamette: Watch out; Rogue Valley is here.
2016 Foris Pinot Blanc
…and because team Full Pull liked it so much during our Foris tasting, here’s a bonus white for good measure.
Foris’ Pinot Blanc comes from three estate vineyards: Gerber Vineyard (Foris’ original planting), Maple Ranch, and Cedar Ranch. The winery notes that their Pinot Blanc likes to take its time ripening, allowing a distinctive streak of minerality to build that has become a tell-tale for this particular wine. True to Foris’ house-style, the winemaking on this bottle is straightforward. The Pinot Blanc is pressed whole cluster and fermented in stainless steel. It’s then aged sur lie for half a year to add a touch of texture and volume. The stylistic goal is alpine pinot blanc, with texture, a sense of crispness, and pure fruit—a goal they easily achieve.
It wine clocks in at 14% alcohol. The nose is light and lovely, playing with pear, fig, lemon, a touch of floral incense, and a saline minerality. On the palate, ripe peach and pear take off. There is a touch of weight through the mid palate, which slowly moves toward a leaner, crisper finish. Again, this is a great wine to pair with so many of my favorite fall dishes. Freshly baked bread, toasted, and served with mussels or clams; whole-roasted chicken glazed with fruit preserves and wine; crispy brussels sprouts with pepitas.
The wines from Foris are a spot-on representation of southern Oregon. They bring up a question we’ve asked before about the Rogue Valley. If these wines were anyplace reasonably closer to a major population center, would they still be under-the-radar gems? Probably best not to ask such questions and just enjoy $15 Pinot while we can.