In Central Oregon’s high desert, Bend has built quite a reputation as one of the best places for dog lovers, best places for mountain biking, best places for hiking, best places for skiing, and of course the best place for beer. With so many new breweries in Bend it can be hard to keep up with the experimental beer culture, but what if you’re looking for something other than beer?
Well, you’re in luck! It’s an exciting time for wine in Central Oregon.
Sure, there’s lots of interest in bringing in tasting rooms from popular wineries on the west side of the mountains to take advantage of the strong tourist culture. But over the past decade, a small but hardy bunch of winemakers have been working hard to supplement Bend’s local breweries and distilleries with locally-produced wines.
There are even a few dedicated grape growers who are striving to find the best vines to grow grapes in Central Oregon! It can be tough with a climate that’s sunny, dry, and cool and altitudes around 3000 feet. (Argentina and Sicily are the only places with vineyards consistently at or above that elevation.)
On a recent Cellar 503 research trip to Bend, I met with three different small, local wineries that are worth checking out on your next trip to the area. Take advantage of the quiet time this winter and spring while you’re taking a break from skiing to visit these wineries and enjoy chatting with the winemakers and owners themselves.
Since 2004, Scott and Liz Ratcliff have operated Volcano Vineyards, Bend’s only urban winery. Producing 1500 cases of their popular Volcano Wines and Bend Blends at their winery and tasting room in Bend’s Century Center Complex, the Ratcliffs have their hands in many projects throughout the area to encourage more winemakers and wineries to come to Bend.
They produce Bend’s most popular sangria which can be found in virtually every restaurant and growler station in town! Stop by their tasting room on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and enjoy great wine and great people.
About 30 minutes outside of Bend through the rolling countryside, you’ll come across Maragas Winery. Doug Maragas comes from a long line of winemakers and grape growers. His grandparents emigrated from Greece in the 1930s and were highly successful grape growers in California for decades. He still has cousins growing grapes and making wine on the family’s land in Greece.
The family legacy influences winemaking style and he uses traditional Greek methods passed along by his parents and grandparents. The result? Intense, deeply flavorful wines made from some of the region’s best grapes.
Doug is committed to growing his own grapes but the climate can be challenging. He’s got over 20 varietals planted on his property and is hoping that in the next 5-10 years he will be able to successfully grow the varietals that he loves to use. Visit their tasting room to see some amazing art produced by his mother, taste some beautifully rich wines and enjoy hearing the story behind this passionate producer.
Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards
Another 15 minutes into the countryside will bring you to one of the most gorgeous pieces of winegrowing property I’ve ever visited. Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards is named after the peaks of the looming Three Sisters mountains that can be seen in full glory from every corner of the property.
Roger and Cindy Grossman opened the winery in 2010 as one piece of a larger resort that will include private homes, a guest ranch, cottages, and an amphitheater when the development is complete. In the meantime, they are one of the most sought after event locations in the valley with stunning views, a private lake and room for dancing around every corner.
They are committed to growing grapes that grow best on their cold site and have enlisted the help of enologists to plant cold-hardy hybrid varietals usually only seen in the Midwest or Northeast United States. The result is a big line-up of unusual and delicious wines that you’ll likely never taste anywhere else: Marechal Foch, La Crescent and Frontenac. Go visit Cindy and spend time in their warm and inviting winery with good music, good food and great wine!
Winter is a great time to visit these wineries. With harvest over and the latest wines resting in barrels, winemakers are more available to chat with visitors. So if you’re taking a break from skiing and want to explore the newly emerging wine scene in Central Oregon, you’ve got some great places to go!