Okay, everyone, it’s time to direct your attention to Southern Oregon. We’re not abandoning the Willamette Valley (not by a long shot), but there is a lot of very exciting wine coming out of the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys, not far from the California border. It’s a little warmer down here, the soils are different, and visionary winemaker Leah Jørgensen homed in on Cabernet Franc when she established her eponymous label in 2011—despite having been lured west in the first place by the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette Valley.
She studied viticulture and enology in Salem, worked for top producers such as Erath, Adelsheim, and Shea, and while her current winery is in Newberg, not far from Ponzi, her signature wine is this Southern Oregon Cabernet Franc. Today’s silky and beautifully balanced 2018 is crafted in the same spirit as the best Oregon Pinot Noirs: It has an Old World sensibility, but it isn’t trying to be a carbon copy of its Old World inspirations (in this case, Chinon, etc. from the Loire). This is Southern Oregon’s interpretation, with its own compelling message, and everyone at SommSelect is convinced: This is a new must-have at the fresh, fragrant, elegant end of the red wine spectrum.
After learning more about Leah’s life in wine, I was reminded of our friend Erin Nuccio, whose Evesham Wood/Haden Fig wines have become SommSelect staples. Like Nuccio, Jørgensen is a transplant from Washington, DC; she worked in wine distribution there, and apprenticed at wineries in Virginia, but a trip to “Oregon Pinot Camp”—an annual, invitation-only pilgrimage of sommeliers, retailers, and other wine pros to the Willamette Valley—inspired her to head west and jump headlong into Oregon viticulture.
Just over 300 cases of today’s 2018 were produced, using 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from two vineyards: Crater View Ranch and the Sundown Vineyard. Both these sites, which share similarly silty, clay/loam soils and elevations of about 1,600 feet, are in the Rogue Valley, but the wine nevertheless carries the broader “Southern Oregon” AVA designation on the label. Jørgensen described the harvest in ’18 as “outstanding,” thanks to some refreshing, well-timed rain near the end of September. She de-stemmed all the fruit but subjected it to a light crushing, so that some whole berries remained intact, and aged the finished wine in a combination of mostly neutral French oak and stainless steel tanks.
For a young, fresh red, this is also a beautifully integrated and complex red—marked not just by concentrated dark fruit but a smooth, silken texture. There’s only the slightest (very pleasant) hint of the “green” pyrazine notes that characterize Cabernet Franc; it’s much more about fruit and warm spice, including Morello cherry, blackberry, pomegranate, cranberry, violets, black pepper, anise, and ground coffee. It is medium-bodied, with soft tannins and a tangy, mouth-watering freshness that will sustain it for the next several years. Decant it 15 minutes before serving at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems and take a pairing suggestion from Leah Jørgensen herself: dry-rubbed BBQ ribs. If you weren’t already a Southern Oregon devotee, you will be now!