New and Old: Come For the Wine, Stay for the Venue
Europe has all the luck. Rome with her Colosseum. Paris her Notre Dame. Countrysides littered with ancient castles and stone walls that have been around for centuries. Yes, the Rogue Valley has her trees, mountains, Table Rock too, but when it comes to man-made architecture, the Costco Warehouse just doesn’t represent us.
Enter our wineries.
Now there is something beautiful to build for—long term. It takes decades to properly establish the grapevines that are producing some of our time’s best wine. And our booming wine industry can attest that our wines mean business. So, like the castles of Europe, our local wineries have risen to the challenge of mirroring their excellent wine and beautiful landscape with impressive architecture that will stand the test of time.
Check out Grizzly Peak Winery, overlooking Ashland. What started as a dream in 1998 for owners Al and Virginia Silbowitz is now a deep-rooted winery, with a positively grand space for processing and enjoying it. The towering, yet intimate, structure that was completed last year has been built for beauty and functionality. It is comprised of a 1,000-square-foot tasting room with large sliding glass doors leading to a patio, and a monstrous 54-by-54-foot wine production space. What is the humongous room for?
“We call it the ‘barrel room,’” says Virginia.
It was dubbed the barrel room because of the curved glue lam that forms the ceiling, giving the impression of the inside of a wine barrel.
“If you were gallons of wine, you would be looking up and saying, ‘OK, I recognize,’” explains Al.
But the expansive space with its massive double swinging doors (at least ten feet square with large windows, but I was able to open them easily, with the dramatic effect of a conquering monarch entering a great hall) was made for so much more than just giving the occupants a wine’s-eye-view.
“The space was designed and built to function as a facility for wine production, so we made choices based on that,” adds Al. “It is a heavily reinforced concrete structure with walls a foot thick. It is dug into the hillside so that we could regulate the temperature. It maintains a steady temperature of 60 to 65 degrees, even in the hot hot summer.”
Because when processing grapes for wine, a consistent temperature is key.
“If we could have afforded digging further into the hill to create a cave, we would have,” he confides.
They aren’t quite to the capacity to fill the space with towers of barrels up to the ceiling, so in the meantime, it can serve as an impressive performance space.
“We’ve tuned it,” assures Al. They used sound blankets so that it wouldn’t “sound like a basketball game in a gym. It was a delight to have the members of the Rogue Valley Symphony use it, and they were pleased with how the sound was.”
But how about working with already existing structures?
Jesse Brons, in charge of Outside Sales and Marketing at Schmidt Family Vineyards outside Grants Pass, who is a “tractor in the morning, office work in the afternoon” type of guy, is the grandson of the Schmidts, who acquired the property in 2001. The family guesses that the structures on the property were built in the 1960s, as a part of a cattle ranch.
The ranch was a destination of sorts in the 70s and 80s; people would come in on a train to the ranch for a carnival. Some of the train tracks are still there, and a large train house with a railway turntable or wheelhouse that actually turned a train in a different direction was still on the property. Brons and his brother and grandfather remodeled the structure into Schmidt’s original tasting room, though they outgrew the space and it now serves as an event space.
What was the cattle barn became the winery in 2006, continuing remodeling in 2007 to become the barrel room, and as they kept growing, their current tasting room was added on to that structure in 2009, with bright wood throughout. Last year, all of those spaces were further expanded to make the tasting room, well, roomier, and add a mercantile area.
And there was one more structure on the property that they knew could be put to good use.
“There was a smaller train station that you could stop at, with the arm that would drop,” recalls Brons. “It measured about 20 by 10 feet. We moved that into our garden, and it is now a chicken coop.”
As they grow and expand, new structures have been made, and more grapes have been planted. In addition to a recent seven to eight acres that were recently planted, another 20 acres will be planted in the coming years, which will bring them to their capacity.
Looking across our Valley at all the wineries that have come into existence and grown, not only in production but also prestige, Al Silbowitz of Grizzly Peak feels like he is getting to be an “old timer.”
“It’s great to see wineries around, and their growth” he says. “Pebblestone has a new tasting room, and every time I go to Bella Fiore Winery, I think, ‘that is a big space.’ The industry is maturing, and changes are happening. There is a greater degree of professional thought and business. There were maybe five wineries around in 1998, and they didn’t have the same competitive sense. The bar has been raised since then, and Southern Oregon is known as a great place to grow all types of varieties of grapes.”
Grizzly Peak Winery
12 – 4 pm, Thursday – Sunday
1600 E. Nevada Street, Ashland
Schmidt Family Vineyards
12 – 5 pm, Saturday – Thursday
12 – 8 pm, Fridays
330 Kubli Road, Grants Pass