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Rogue Valley
The Next Bordeaux

 


Picking Oregon's next fine wine
Rogue Valley is just right for Bordeaux

10/13/02

KATHERINE COLE FOR THE OREGONIAN

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The Rogue Valley: Bordeaux Varietals

Burgundy, shmurgundy. According to Rogue Valley viticulturists, Oregon should really be comparing itself to the granddaddy of all the world's wine regions: Bordeaux.

But wait, shouldn't the Bordeaux varietals -- cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc -- be the specialty of California? Not according to Phil Kodak, owner and winemaker at Ashland Vineyards. "We're at the same latitude as Bordeaux. We have the same soil, similar terrain and we're near the ocean. Napa and Sonoma, if you look at a map, are at the same latitude as Southern Italy. And we're at the same latitude as Bordeaux."

The most important factor in growing good Bordeaux grapes, says Kodak, is a climate of hot days and cool nights -- the very climate the Rogue Valley enjoys. Grapes that cool off overnight ripen more slowly, and this longer maturation time makes for a more complex wine.

Grapes that stay warm overnight ripen too quickly, and the result is high levels of sugar with insufficient levels of acid and tannin to balance the sugar. And, more and more, says Kodak, grapes are ripening too quickly in California, forcing winemakers to tinker with the chemical balance in their cabs. "Napa and Sonoma have Mediterranean climates. That's not the same thing as a Bordeaux climate," Kodak concludes.

"We're seeing more and more emphasis on merlot," confirms Philip VanBuskirk, a horticulturist for OSU Extension in Southern Oregon. "At the same time, in the Illinois Valley, it's possible to grow pinot noir." VanBuskirk foresees his region growing into a wine-producing powerhouse. "We're not just hanging our hat on one or two varieties. We will address everyone's tastes."

The bottom line: "Rogue Valley Bordeaux" could one day be a favored catchphrase among sommeliers and wine merchants. "Every year there are more and more wineries in this area. And probably in terms of planting grapes, this is the fastest-growing region in the state. Eventually this area, in terms of production, will be larger than the Willamette Valley. There's no question about it," concludes Kodak.

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