Meticulously tended grapevines ― Chardonnay and Viognier, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon ― march up the steep, narrowing canyon above Wooldridge Creek's wood-and-stone winery. Curiously, tangled along the vineyard's edge are a few unkempt rows of Chardonnay. A sacrificial hedge, explains Applegate Valley winemaker Greg Paneitz.
"The bears like it," he says with a grin.
Once the blackberries shrivel, the resident black bears (one of which is featured on Wooldridge Creek's label) start munching on grapes. That's when keeping these hulking pests occupied ― in addition to keeping the wild turkeys out of the Merlot vines ― becomes chief among Paneitz's day-to-day concerns.
Selling his wine is the easy part. Local restaurateurs, wine club members, and tasting room visitors snap up Wooldridge Creek's entire 2,500-case annual production. Luckily for the increasing number of eager-to-taste tourists making the trek to this rural oasis of small farms in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, there's plenty more where that came from.
Blessed with crisp mountain air, early springs, and long, luscious summers, Applegate Valley became a distinct wine appellation in 2001, splitting off from the surrounding Rogue Valley. Today, it has close to a dozen wineries, almost all with tasting rooms.