Ashland, Oregon may be famous for its Shakespeare Festival. But it's also a place for good food and very good drink, thanks to wineries such as Irvine & Roberts Vineyards, a beautiful facility at the edge of town.
And the wines? Wonderful. And still in progress, because Irvine & Roberts is new and experimenting. Located at an altitude of 2100 feet, the vineyard is certified sustainable. Of its 52 acres, 26 are under production now. This will expand to another 26, dedicated primarily to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but some Pinot Meunier and Gamay will be included.
The Rogue Valley, where Irvine & Roberts is located, is riddled with microclimates, so it's not possible to zero in on any one varietal as typical of the area, Dionne Irvine said.
Nebbiolo bombed on their property, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive. And Pinot Meunier produces a delightful wine that can be paired with almost anything "It's one of the favorites among tasters," she said. Here, it's at the left, with two of the Pinot Noirs.
These three grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, are the classic components of Champagne. Therefore, sparklers are in the future for Irvine & Roberts.
The easy way to taste there is with structured flights of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Each flight consists of four wines, which can be supplemented with single block Pinot Noirs and a reserve Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier is in the Pinot Noir flight. The extra on the Chardonnay flight is a rosé of Pinot Noir.
The 115 block Pinot Noir is from one of six Pinot Noir clones in the vineyard. "Each clone brings a little something different," Dionne Irvine said, noting that 115 on their property offers big, lush, cherry notes. "I'll pick up a little bit of spice, a little bit of earth tones from that particular clone," she said.
Here is a section of the vineyard with Pinot Noir clone 115.
Then I tasted two more "extras," the fruit-forward Clone 777 Pinot Noir, which is in the glass at the top, and the 2015 Reserve Pinot Noir.
Irvine & Roberts does everything first rate. The wine-tasting glasses are Riedel. And the winery has its own chef, Kris Elder (above), who has been a professional pastry chef and a line chef at Amuse restaurant in Ashland.
Elder creates wine and food pairings, and his cheese and charcuterie boards show off artisanal products such as elk salami from Medford, Oregon; handmade Cheddar from Seattle, goat cheese and Castel Vetrano olives from Spain and some of Elder's own handiwork--pickled onions and cucumbers, violet toffee and five-spice walnuts.
Events include winemaker dinners and cooking classes featuring Ashland chefs. Just before the 4th of July, Doug Irvine presided at a Pinot burger tasting featuring beef patties soaked in Pinot Noir.
Another place to taste the wines is the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa at Riverside in Southern California. Irvine & Roberts partners Duane and Kelly Roberts own the inn, and you can be sure the wines are on hand in all of its restaurants.