Growers in southern Oregon benefit from an extraordinarily diverse range of microclimates and terroirs. The westernmost vineyards in the Rogue Valley are just a few miles from the Pacific and from there, the appellation climbs uphill, to the north and east, into the very warm, very dry areas near Ashland and Medford. As a result, the Rogue Valley hasn't yet established signature varietals that can help identify this appellation's character for wine enthusiasts. Instead, the top producers here are achieving extraordinary results by blending Bordeaux varieties with Syrah.
Cabernet and Merlot have been cultivated in the Rogue Valley since the region was first planted, but most talked-about estates are achieving success by blending significant amounts of other varieties into their clarets. Velocity Cellars winemaker Gus Janeway explains that, "with the exception of a very few specific sites, this isn't a great place to be growing Cabernet. I think we should be emphasizing our strong suits--elegance and complexity and character--over power. We need to be brave enough to emphasize varietals that maybe don't have a lot of widespread cachet, like Cabernet Franc and Malbec--and Syrah."
Gus would know. Before he became a winemaker, he spent years as a vineyard manager, first in California then in Oregon. Gus is the head winemaker at six small estates in the eastern Rogue Valley, and since 2002 he's presided over his own label, Velocity Cellars, whose two red blends have demonstrated the elegant, complex results that can be achieved when Cabernet and Merlot are blended with Syrah and so-called "underappreciated" Bordeaux varieties Cab Franc and Malbec.
Until the California-Oregon border was resurveyed in the latter half of the 19th century, the Rogue Valley was part of California. Climactically, the appellation has a lot more in common with California's North Coast than it does with the Willamette Valley. Thus, while 2004 was a difficult vintage for growers farther north, Rogue Valley growers experienced what Gus calls "ideal season . . . a very warm vintage--but not a 'hot' one--with moderate temperatures throughout."
The 2004 Velo is built for immediate consumption. With a low dose of new oak, the wine features a nice slug of fresh red fruits on the nose and palate. The middle is plump and sweet with lots of plum, anise, and chocolate. Drink now or over the next 2-3 years.