By Janey Wong
Nestled in the Siskiyou Mountains just 7 miles north of the California border, Foris Vineyards has the distinction of being Oregon’s southernmost wine producer. The high elevation of Foris’ vineyards makes for a stark contrast between daytime and nighttime temperatures that gives way to a Foris’ characteristic wine style. Owner Ted Gerber has been a steward of his land for 50 years, and along with his wife, Terri, and their daughters and grandchildren, the family-operated winery is proud to offer affordable wines from their old-growth vines.
We caught up with winemaker Stephanie Pao — who has 20 years of experience at vineyards from Napa to New Zealand — to chat about Foris’ unique qualities and why it makes an excellent place to stop over on your next Southern Oregon road trip.
1. Foris is known for its crisp Alsatian white wines that are great for warm-weather sipping. Can you share some seasonal food pairings from small bites to meals?
I’m mostly vegetarian, so I do a lot of citrus salads. Kale-carrot salad flavored with citrusy dressing or cilantro-lime shrimp with our Riesling — anything flavored with citrus will do. People like our Pinot Gris with different fish dishes, Pinot Blanc with ceviche, and our Moscato with charcuterie and Cypress Grove cheeses.
2. Can you describe the unique characteristics and features of the land that make Foris so singular?
We’re located in the Siskiyou mountain range and are ecologically very unusual; different types of plants grow here that don’t grow well elsewhere. There are some plants here that are found in only four other places in the world. The age of our vines is a real draw. If you haven’t seen 40- or 50-year-old Gewürztraminer vines, it’s kind of interesting [and an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed]. On our property, there’s also a 100-year-old farmhouse that we rent out — it’s right across from a vineyard and has views of the grapevines and surrounding mountains.
3. Can you share any not-to-be-missed local gems or activities around the winery?
Right within our area, there are a number of different vineyards and Out ’n’ About Treehouse Treesort. I always think of the Illinois Valley as very unchanged. You know, in the 1970s, when people would get into their station wagons and travel to the different parks? The signs are still the same! There’s that gigantic log sign with the old typeface. The lodge at the Oregon Caves National Monument [less than an hour southeast, in Cave Junction] is really great and very old-school as well. And this area is really great for swimming holes. All of our interns head out to the Illinois River to jump in during harvest. I also highly recommend going to the Redwoods. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park [just over an hour southwest, in California] is pretty incredible.
4. How can folks enjoy Foris’ award-winning wines?
[Note: The small tasting room is temporarily closed to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic but will reopen once indoor dining resumes in the region.] If you’re in the area you can come by for curbside pick up of your purchases. Foris wine is widely distributed in all 50 states, and more people might know us in other states than in Oregon. I think even in Cave Junction, not everybody knows we’re here in this little back pocket of the Rogue Valley!
5. What can visitors expect from a spring or summer visit to your tasting room?
Ted built the tasting room himself out of rocks from the quarry out back. It’s very rustic. During the summer, the flower gardens are in full bloom. [Ted’s] stepdaughter leads people through tastings…it’s very much a family business. We’ll give you a tour [of the grounds] if you ask for one. If people come by and I’m not busy, I’ll run them through the winery, the tank room and the barrel room.
Photo of Stephanie Pao courtesy of Foris Vineyards