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stories from a stay-at-home traveler

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There is one wildflower I allow myself to freely harvest...

The native wildflowers in my valley mark time like a calendar. The first purple Larkspur and Shooting Stars indicate the start-line of spring and then the blooms progress toward summer like a slow-motion fireworks display: red Fritillaria, white Trillium, purple Lupine and then blazing red Indian Paintbrush. I get to know these flowers on my daily hikes on the Jacksonville woodlands and even feel bonded to particular ones—like the singular Mission Bell that grows each May in an old gold mining ditch. I feel as protective over the blooms as a parent and fume when I pass a hiker carrying a bouquet of the rare and endemic Fritillaria--or worse, see the flowers plucked and then dropped on the ground. Nothing gives me a more pessimistic view of humanity than a rare flower smashed into the dirt—a small transgression perhaps, but one that feels deeply symbolic of something larger. That said, there is one flower I allow myself to freely harvest: the magenta sweet peas that grow along our country Highway 238 in

June. When I see them, I carefully slow my car, find a pull-off and pick to my heart’s content. This particular L. latifolius is somewhat invasive, crowding out native plants, so in picking it you might even feel you are doing nature a favor. The sweet pea is originally from Sicily and the annual variety was brought here from England, intentionally cultivated, and even sold in the Burpee catalogues. As pretty as they are, they are considered simple and unspecial. According to a poet named Junkin, sweet peas are “built of common earth” and grow “in lowly place beside village lanes.” But for me, these roadside sweet peas are as magnificant as any store-bought bouquet and when every tableside in my house is adorned with a splash of magenta, I know for sure it is June.

Footloose in The Applegate thanks A Greater Applegate for supporting homegrown writers. Click the image below for more info about this wonderful community organization.

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Stressed out about the future? Applegate winegrowers will make you feel better.

Winemaker, Herb Quady, sees hope in the Southern Oregon soil.

I settled onto my Ruch property ten years ago. I have nectar-sweet memories of moving into my place, planting bulbs in the yard, and hosting dinners under my grandaddy oak tree. It was a summer of carefree discovery, blackberry-picking, paragliding and of making enough friends to nearly sink a pontoon boat in Applegate Lake. That first summer, I was definitively sure I’d found paradise.

A decade on, some of that early exuberance has faded. Wildfire smoke, the pandemic, and politics have got me down. The proliferation of illegal pot grows with their water theft and plastic hoop houses have, at times, made the cruise along the normally-bucolic Highway 238 sort of, well, distressing. I sometimes look around and worry: What is the future of the Applegate?

Lately, though, I’ve found reasons to be encouraged: One, there’s been a crackdown on illegal grows; plastic greenhouse trash is getting balled-up and hauled-out every day. Two, the spring rains have made the valley lush again; poppies electrify my front yard. But the real seismic shift in my perspective came yesterday, when I attended the Applegate wine event, Uncorked. There, I got to chat directly with the valley’s winemakers. I was inspired by their stubborn optimism.

Eighteen nearby wineries showcased their new-releases paired with food. For my sanity and sobriety, I limited myself to three: Valley View Winery, the new Quady North tasting room, and the beloved Plaisance Winery.

At Valley View, I met Mike Brunson, their new winemaker from the Healdsburg area. As he drew some ‘21 pinot noir direct from the barrel, I shared my worries: Isn’t it going to get too hot? What about water? What about wildfire? He explained that farmers always have to pay attention to varying conditions, climate change-related, or not. They have to be ready and able to adapt to whatever the weather throws at them. In the case of heat, techniques like managing the leaf canopy can be used to create more shade.

"Nothing has been added or subtracted from this wine." -Mike Brunson, Valley View Winery

While I ate the pork and polenta dish the winery paired with the pinot, Mike explained how when he worked for larger outfits in France, Sonoma and Italy, he sometimes faced pressure to produce consistent product year after year—regardless of the weather fluctuations. This maintained predictability--but also risked creating soulless wine. “You can’t taste the challenges,” he explains. In the Applegate, he feels free to make wine that express the seasonal variables—wine that has personality. “Nothing has been added or subtracted to this wine” he explains.

I went to Quady North next. Their new tasting room is perched above Ruch and surrounding hills are bare--but only temporarily; planting stakes and reels of trellis were laid out and looked ready to stretch. The owner, Herb Quady was there pouring a merlot. He explained that he had to pull all the old vines at the site because they were afflicted with "red blotch"--a pest-transmitted disease that is difficult to eradicate. He is ready to replant in syrah, grenache and rosè.

“Isn’t it frustrating,” I asked, “doing all that work and then having to yank them up and start over?”

“Yeah, but I’m in it for the long run,” he said, waving his glass around to reveal a forearm tattoo that read: I refuse to make bad wine. His long view comes partly from being around the wine industry for a long time; in fact, his parents started a California winery in 1975.

"I'm all in on The Applegate." Herb Quady, Quady North

“If I didn’t feel optimistic, I wouldn’t have built this new place.”

Herb walked us over to view clear jars of soil samples displayed on the walls. There was a “river wash” soil from right off the Applegate River that is sandy and very deep—good for high quality syrah and viognier. He also picked up a jar of silty loam soil that was good for the grapes he uses for rosé. The area’s incredible soil diversity seemed to inspire him

“I’m all in on the Applegate” he concluded.

I ended Uncorked at Plaisance Winery where owner, Joe Ginet, was pouring his 2018 and 2020 tempranillo side-by-side. That very morning, one of his frost protection fans broke and some of his crop got damaged. “The crop will be less, but, oh well.” he said.

Joe has been in farming long enough to know how to take such

things in stride. “If you’re a farmer, it’s been this way since day one,” he said. “There is always a frost, or a drought, or a flood. Welcome to farming.” He’s had to adapt in different ways, even setting up a rainwater catchment system to ensure his water supply in dry years—all the while knowing some problems can’t be solved.

"I believe in the positive power of the mind. Sometimes you get spanked. And sometimes you get rewarded." Joe Ginet, Plaisance

“New people come here who are used to throwing money at problems to make them go away, but Mother Nature never goes away--no matter how much money you throw at it.”

Far from discouraged, Joe recently planted three acres of new vines.

Touring the wineries at Uncorked did a lot to ease my Chicken Little worries. The optimism of these three winemakers –Mike, Herb and Joe--is not a fluke, but a trait shared by farmers at large.

This Will Rogers quote I found pretty well sums things up:

“The farmer has to be an optimist-- otherwise he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”

So, thank you Applegate winemakers for the much-needed attitude adjustment. I feel better.

As Herb Quady says:

I’m all in on the Applegate.

*Thank you Raven Brault for attending Uncorked with me and helping me with the interviews!

Gratitude to this community sponsor. Click image for more information!

Tourism trends suggest an uptick of visitors to the Applegate Valley. They'll need a place to stay.

“We aren’t trying to come up with things that visitors want. We want to come up with things that residents want.” -Seth Kaplan

Short-term rentals, or “STRs,” have been a flash point of controversy in many communities around the world. As a relative late-comer to STRs, the Applegate Valley is fortunate: It has a chance to benefit from the hard lessons learned by other communities.

This was the premise for the Vacation Rental Convening at the Applegate Fire Station last Wednesday. This open-invitation event was hosted by local organization, A Greater Applegate (AGA), and over forty community members attended. Dinner was catered by local restaurant, Sweets-N-Eats.

Until recently, the Applegate Valley was not much of a destination. Straddled between Jackson and Josephine County and lacking a Main Street or clear borders, it has been a sort of No Man’s Land.

“We live in an area that’s not really considered a 'place', AGA Executive Director, Seth Kaplan, said in his welcome speech. Tourism has been pretty light—so far.

Trends in wine, recreation, and off-the-beaten-path travel preferences suggest that more visitors will be arriving soon. And they will need a place to stay. In the extensive listening sessions that AGA conducted throughout the Applegate last year, one thing was clear: Applegate residents did not want big hotels moving in. This brings up the issue of STRs like AirBnB and VRBO.

A Greater Applegate isn’t advocating or discouraging STRs, but rather recognizes that Valley residents should have a chance to guide the process so that the area gets maximum benefit with minimal disruption.

“We aren’t trying to come up with things that visitors want,” Kaplan explained. “We want to come up with things that residents want.”

Land Use Consultant, Clark Stevens, then made a presentation

that explained how STRs fit into the county’s permitting system. Since STRs were not around 20-years ago, there are no clear ordinances that address the particularities of these platforms. This leaves homeowners confused about what they can and can’t do with their properties. So far, STRs are lumped into ill-fitting B&B provisions that are outlined in the Land Development Ordinance.

Gina Savage then gave a presentation about ways to maximize the benefits to local businesses by encouraging hosts to point visitors in the direction of local wineries, restaurants and producers. This could be done through word-of-mouth and by providing maps and coupons. Savage is an AirBnB host and also manages properties for other hosts. She has a background in interior design. She thinks the benefits of STRs are that they give local people more opportunities to make a living without leaving the valley.

Joanna Davis, owner of the Applegate River Lodge, then shared her experiences navigating unexpected county pushback after 25 years of hosting weddings and events at her lodge without a problem. After investing so much time, money and passion into her vision for the Lodge, this unexpected permitting obstacle was harrowing, but the matter was ultimately resolved. “Where there is a will, there is a way—that’s my motto!” she said.

After the presentations, community members attended four different break-out groups to discuss their particular interest in more detail. The topics were: Design, Business-to-Business Support, Permitting and Marketing.

The meeting ended with Ashley Bradfield encouraging local entrepreneurs to apply for a Technical Assistance Grant—which are funded by the State’s economic development agency. AGA was one of 33 state organizations to receive this grant and is now in a position to distribute support to small, rural businesses in the Applegate.

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