Meet the undiscovered wine country of your dreams



Even serious enophiles describe Oregon wines with one word: Willamette. And one grape: Pinot Noir. It’s understandable. The Pinots produced in places like McMinn­ville and Dundee are among the very best in the world. 

But another Oregon wine country is rising 230 miles to the south of the Willamette Valley. For the wine-minded traveler, this destination feels almost utopian. Here, tasting fees cost less than a latte; hotel rates are actually reasonable; wineries go way beyond water crackers (wood-fired fig and caramelized-onion pizza with a 92-point 2012 Syrah, anyone?). And, as in Santa Barbara County but unlike many other wine regions in the West—all kinds of grapes thrive. 

“We can ripen anything,” Southern Oregon winemakers joke, and judging from the wide array of varieties found here—in this sprawling land of 150 microclimates across three river valleys, high desert, and mountains—it’s true. Roam from the Rogue Valley to the Applegate Valley, all the way north up Interstate 5 to the Umpqua Valley, and you’ll find about as many types of good wine as you would in your beloved bottle shop. Good wine. Albariño, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Cab Franc, Malbec, and yes, plenty of Pinot Noir too. 

What you won’t find are crowds. “We are the last undiscovered wine region in the world. Truly,” says Jamie McCleary of Jaxon Vineyards. The secret may not last, with tasting rooms opening all the time and 1,000 acres of grapes planted in a year alone. Talented winemakers like Stephen Hall from Napa, Scott O’Brien Kelley from Paso Robles, Jean-Michel Jussiaume from the Loire Valley, and Chris Graves from the Livermore Valley (who is heading up one of three custom-crush facilities) have moved to Southern Oregon, to be pioneers in a place where pioneering is still possible. 

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The Perfect Autumn Getaway: Ashland, Oregon

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Ashland, Oregon
Early autumn in Ashland may be the best time of year to visit the southern Oregon town: The leaves are turning, and this year, its legendary Shakespeare fest is as lively as ever. We sent writer Christopher Hall to check it out. Here are his picks for the five perfect components to an autumn Ashland visit.

Play time

During the first season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 80 years ago, Ashland residents and students served as actors on a simple stage that also hosted boxing matches. Now the Tony Award-winning company has three state-of-the-art theaters—and not a fist-swinging bout in sight. It produces everything from the Bard (Richard III runs through October 10) to modern musicals (Into the Woods runs through October 11). It also stages its own new commissions during a season that goes from February to November. September offers a full slate of performances, including an outdoor series that seems perfectly timed to the weather: Days this month stay mostly sunny, even as a nip starts to spice the air each evening around curtain time.

Go-to fall foliage

Picnickers, Frisbee tossers, and kids on swings populate the busy end of Lithia Park (pictured below), near Ashland’s downtown plaza and the Shakespeare Festival complex. But deeper inside this 93-acre oasis, tranquility prevails along the forested paths that follow Ashland Creek through a wooded canyon. September is especially scenic. “That’s when our fall color starts, usually with the maples in the Japanese garden,” says park superintendent Bruce Dickens.