This past winter, the Oregon Wine Board presented Larks with the Oregon Wine A-List Wine Program of the Year Award. It also serves as a reward to Ava DeRosier, longtime food and beverage director for the Neuman Hotel Group and its classy restaurant inside the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. Her relationship with the property spans 12 years, and her dedication to Southern Oregon’s emerging and evolving wine industry now has Larks in the heady territory occupied by The Joel Palmer House and Portland’s legendary Heathman Hotel, the first two winners of the Oregon Wine Board’s top honor.
“It feels like the beginning of something,” DeRosier said. “I’ve never done this for recognition. It’s more for the true love for the industry here and wanting to be as supportive as possible for the local wineries, particularly the smaller ones who might not have a platform to be seen. There was a lot of energy and attention leading us in this direction, but the A-List Wine Program of the Year Award recognition was exciting for sure.”
It’s appropriate that someone named Ava be applauded for showcasing the Southern Oregon AVA. While 80 percent of her list is Oregon, half of those wines come from the American Viticultural Area surrounding Ashland.
There’s more to the program than building an inventory. Managers at both Larks locations — Ashland and Medford — attained their Level 1 sommelier credential, and DeRosier has been integrated into the Oregon Wine Experience, a month-long food and wine celebration in nearby Jacksonville that raised $720,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network last year.
“We’ve received a lot of congratulations and gratitude from the local wine community, distributorships and many locals, but that’s part of having the really amazing relationships,” DeRosier said.
It was DeRosier who accepted the award at the Oregon Wine Symposium in Portland, but she made a point to share the applause with both Larks-Ashland wine buyer Selisha Early and Jennifer Williamson, the Larks-Medford manager and wine buyer. Both restaurants were recognized as having won the award.
“We really try to focus on the Rogue Valley,” Early said. “I’m always recommending ‘Southern Oregon’ in almost any category before talking about anything else.”
It’s easy to get behind Southern Oregon wines inspired by the Rhône Valley and Iberian Peninsula, whether it be standalone varieties or blends, and there are a few brands they are drawn to, such as Cowhorn, Jaxon, Pebblestone, and Plaisance Ranch. Dairyman-turned-winemaker Joe Ginet continues to impress at his converted ranch with Syrah, Carménère and Mondeuse, an obscure grape from the Savoie region of southeastern France that he painstakingly propagated with help from French relatives.
“I love so many of the local wines, but that Mondeuse is my favorite red wine from Southern Oregon right now,” DeRosier says without hesitation. “It’s so elegant. So interesting.”
Early adds, “People are intrigued by it. I put it on ice for a few moments, treating it similar to Beaujolais, and guests love it.”
Natural light streams in through the windows in the restaurant on the first floor of this Main Street hotel built during the Roaring ‘20s. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival took root a decade later, but the hotel — despite attaining a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 — fell into disrepair and was shuttered in 1997.
A year later, California property developer Doug Neuman and his wife, Becky, purchased the hotel for $1.8 million, invested a reported $10 million in the renovation and reopened it in 2000. It now stands as a beautiful nine-story icon not unlike the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla, Wash., or the Davenport in downtown Spokane.
There is some fascinating history on both sides of their family. Doug’s father was a Holocaust survivor who made his way to Ashland. Becky’s grandfather Sheldon Coleman owned the famous outdoor company. Her father co-founded Breckenridge Ski Resort, sat on the board for Louisiana-Pacific, and spent his final decade living in Ashland.
Both DeRosier and executive chef Francesco Console go back more than a decade with the Neumans, whose empire in the Rogue Valley spans three restaurants, four hotels and two spas.
And while Larks — a tribute to Oregon’s state bird, the western meadowlark — is billed as offering Pacific Northwest- influenced cuisine, Console draws from childhood memories of summers spent in Calabria cooking with items such as olives and sparrows under his grandparents’ wings.
“It was fun,” Console said. “My dad was born in Southern Italy, moved here when he was in his 20s and worked in restaurants and travel agencies his whole life. We were always going to restaurants — always cooking, always doing something around food.”
His destiny upon graduating from high school in Medford led him to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland rather than the University of Oregon.
“I thought, ‘What do I really love?’ ” he said. “I wanted to play with some fire and cook. I’ve been doing it ever since and fell in love with it.”
Console clears his head on the seat of a motorcycle, whether it be a Ducati 696 Monster or Triumph Tiger Dual Sport, but fishing is his peaceful passion when he’s not with his young family.
“I can’t handle cities,” he said. “I love to visit, but I couldn’t handle living in it. Here, I can hop in the car and in 20 minutes be in the river and be fishing. There’s the constant riot of a day in the kitchen, so sitting by the river is one of my favorite things to do.”
Space is at a premium working in a kitchen within a historic building, and the dining room has space for just 25 tables. Summer affords DeRosier’s team five more tables on the sidewalk, and virtually every diner comes with tickets to an 8 p.m. play.
“So we are serving all the guests almost exactly at the same time,” DeRosier said. “It’s impressive to see Franco’s fire rail in the kitchen.”
Console adds, “It gets pretty harried back there. We’re doing 150-160 covers between 5:30 and 6:30, and then at 7:45 p.m., you can hear a pin drop in the kitchen. Everybody is done getting their checks turned in and headed out to the theater.”
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs February into November, reported 397,304 patrons in 2016, and that tourism is responsible for the amazing per capita of talented chefs in the region, which includes Maggie Trujillo at Larks in Medford.
“I see how the wine industry has grown, and now people changing their stay,” DeRosier. “I think the evolution is necessary in terms of what’s happening here with the culinary and the wine industry and the hospitality. The Shakespeare festival can’t be the only thing we hang our hat on.”
Console’s love for fishing helps explain his special touch with the white portion of his Match Maker assignment — working with the Pebblestone Cellars 2015 Ellis Vineyards Block 8 Viognier from the Rogue Valley. He paired it with his Wild Salmon, Lemon Brown Butter, Parsnip-Fennel Purée, Garlic Spinach and Parsley-Walnut Pistou. The citrus and fennel profile of the Viognier provides cleansing and refreshing acidity to complement the dish’s browned butter, the nuttiness and garlicky wilted spinach. Console’s repeated basting of the salmon creates a crunchy skin that carries a flavor reminiscent of caramel corn. For those who seek a Viognier that drinks akin to a balanced Chardonnay or even a dry Riesling, look no further.
And Console tapped into his Italian heritage for one of the most brilliant dishes and pairings in the 19-year history of the Match Maker series by serving Local Rabbit Cacciatore, Fresh Pappardelle and Manchego-Black Pepper Sour Cream with the Folin Cellars 2013 Estate Tempranillo. Rob Folin’s Spanish-style red offers aromas of toasted oak, cocoa and cherry, backed by approachable tannins, earthy tones and a complex finish of blueberry, sage and lavender. The black pepper and Manchego cheese are natural playmates with this rather suave Tempranillo.
“I braise the rabbit with pork belly, which I thought would work really well with the Tempranillo because it will cut through that fat, and nice herb tones in the wine come through the mushrooms,” Console said. “Rabbit is so underrated, but I love it. People are afraid to cook it because it is so lean. If you don’t do it right, it gets dry and can turn on you really quickly.”
It marked just the third time rabbit has been featured as a Match Maker dish, but the first time since 2001. Console’s recipe goes through several iterations during the year, depending upon ingredients.
“That dish flies,” Console smiled. “When tomatoes come into season, that takes it to another level. Fresh morels, as well.”
Larks Home Kitchen + Cuisine, Ashland Springs Hotel, 212 E. Main St, Ashland, OR, 97520, larksrestaurant.com, (541) 488-5558.
Larks Home Kitchen + Cuisine, The Inn at the Commons, 200 N. Riverside Ave., Medford, OR, 97501, innatthecommons.com/larks-restaurant, (541) 779-5811.
Folin Cellars 2013 Folin Vineyards Tempranillo, Rogue Valley - $32
225 cases, 14.1% alcohol
Rob Folin and Folin Cellars are proud proponents of the “We are So Oregon” movement, and it’s a concept he and his farming family began to embrace immediately in the 1990s after selling their Southern California orchards and planting vineyards in Southern Oregon in 2001.
They’ve rightly focused much of their attention on Rhône varieties, but they also shine with the Spanish red Tempranillo. In fact, they’ve won a gold medal or better with their estate Tempranillo the past two years at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Rob Folin – pronounced FOAL-lynn – operates two tasting rooms, the winery and vineyard with his family and his folks, Scott and Loraine. They oversee 25 acres of vines, a production of 1,500 cases, and an estate tasting room about 10 miles north of Medford and as well as their north Willamette Valley tasting room in downtown Carlton.
Folin’s connection with the Willamette Valley and the wine industry began at Chemeketa Community College. By chance, he found a job posting for a winery that was transitioning from Carlton to the Dundee Hills. He got that job and spent seven harvests at Domaine Serene, now one of the top producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the New World.
In 2007, he moved home, shifting his focus to his parents’ vineyard and winery. Tempranillo seems a natural fit for Southern Oregon, and the early ripening aspect of the Iberian Peninsula red grape came through in the 2013 vintage, allowing Folin to harvest from Sept. 12-16, just ahead of the torrential rains that plagued the vintage.
This latest Temp spent 22 months in 30 percent new French oak, leading to aromas of toast, cocoa and chocolate-covered cherries. Its tannin structure is rather refined for a young Tempranillo, allowing for flavors of blueberry, sage and lavender with a pinch of earthiness.
The Folin family’s tasting room at their Sam’s Valley estate is a filled with granite and features a 20-foot ceiling that leads to a gravity-flow production facility and a library cellar for club members. Their wines continue to stand out not only in the Rogue Valley but in Carlton.
“Everyone tastes all the Pinots they can fit into the day, and by the end of the day they are just finished with Pinots,” Folin said. “They come to our place and try Tempranillos and Syrahs at half the price. People will say, ‘Can I trade this case of whatever I bought for two cases of yours?’ ”
Folin Cellars, 9200 Ramsey Road, Gold Hill, OR 97525, folincellars.com, (541) 855-2018
Local Rabbit Cacciatore, Fresh Pappardelle and Manchego-Black Pepper Sour Cream
1 whole rabbit
2 pounds slab bacon (cubed)
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cans Italian diced tomatoes
2 cups red wine
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1 medium white onion (julienned)
2 roasted red bell peppers (julienned)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 bulb fennel (chopped)
1 quart wild mushrooms
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon parsley
2 tablespoons thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Season rabbit with salt and pepper. Sear rabbit and bacon with olive oil in large skillet.
2. In separate stock pot, caramelize onions, garlic, fennel, red peppers and wild mushrooms.
3. Add tomato paste and sauté until color deepens to rust.
4. Deglaze with red wine and reduce by 1/4.
5. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, herbs, whole rabbit and bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Simmer all ingredients on low for 3 hours. Remove meat from rabbit and add back to sauce after discarding bones.
16 ounces flour
12 egg yokes
2 whole eggs
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons milk
4 teaspoons salt
1. Create well with flour and salt in food processor.
2. Add eggs, yolks, olive oil and milk to food processor. Mix on low for one to two minutes or until dough begins to come together.
3. Remove dough from food processor and hand knead for 25 minutes.
4. Place dough in Saran wrap and refrigerate overnight or for a minimum of 3 hours.
5. Remove dough from refrigerator and separate into four parts.
6. Put each dough portion through a pasta roller six times, beginning with the largest setting and decreasing to the smallest setting. The pasta should be a thin sheet. Fold each sheet in half.
7. Allow dough to air dry for about 20 minutes. Hand cut pasta approximately 1/2-inch-thick and four to six inches in length.
Manchego-Black Pepper Sour Cream
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup finely grated Manchego
1 tablespoon black pepper
1. Mix all ingredients until well-integrated
Final touches and plating:
1. Heat rabbit cacciatore and fresh pappardelle in sauté pan, integrating all ingredients.
2. Fold in 2 tablespoons of butter. Remove from pan and place in large bowl.
3. Top dish with Manchego-black pepper sour cream, freshly shaved Manchego and parsley.
Pebblestone Cellars 2015 Ellis Vineyards Block 8 Viognier, Rogue Valley - $21
300 cases, 14.3% alcohol
Southern Oregon winemaker Bryan Wilson and the Ellis family continue to prove that Viognier deserves a seat at the table when it comes to the debate about this Rhône Valley white grape. And the Pebblestone Cellars Ellis Vineyard Block 8 Viognier remains a veritable staple on the wine list at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland.
For the past two years, a Viognier from Pebblestone Cellars was selected as the top white wine of the Oregon Wine Competition, a judging panel dominated by Masters of Wine. In 2015, the Medford winery used the 2013 vintage to earn a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle — the world’s largest judging of American wine. Last year, Pebblestone earned a double gold medal at the Sonoma competition.
Wilson’s résumé of aromatic whites at Pebblestone showcases the site selection and farming done by Richard and Pat Ellis, who purchased their decade-old Ashland vineyard in 2003. They soon planted 2 acres of Geneva and clone 01 Viognier at Ellis Vineyard, which stands at an elevation of 1,600 feet. It ranks among the most finicky grapes to work with, so Wilson’s track record with it is another testament to his years at Chateau Souverain and Benzinger in Sonoma, Napa Valley icon Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the past decade in Southern Oregon.
“Viognier with its thick skins and pulpy nature is prone to being phenolic, especially as it gets increasing sun exposure and becomes more golden-yellow than green,” Wilson explained. “And that's also where the flavor lies, in that yellow-gold fruit.”
So the trick is to avoid that phenolic bitterness of the skins, present tropical tones and offer enough acidity to keep Viognier from being fat and flabby on the palate.
“The two hallmarks of Viognier, great texture and aromatics, are of course the goals,” Wilson said. “The quandary when whole-cluster pressing is to be delicate to avoid the phenolics but doing that misses the unctuous flavor that comes from pressing the clusters more. So we press harder and do a press cut that is treated separately and then reassembled with the free run. We're also not afraid to make moderate tartaric acid additions that keep the wine somewhat trim and in balance.”
Then he selects yeast that will get him to his sweet spot of 0.3 percent residual sugar, essentially dry and deliciously refreshing. Viognier can be a bear to work with, but Wilson has making it down to an artful science.
“My stylistic goal for many varietals is not too big, not too small, but just right — Goldilocks wine!” Wilson said.
Pebblestone Cellars, 1642 Camp Baker Road, Medford, OR 97501, pebblestonecellars.com, (541) 512-1704.
Wild Salmon, Lemon Brown Butter, Parsnip-Fennel Purée, Garlic Spinach and Parsley-Walnut Pistou
1 cup parsley (chopped)
1 clove garlic (minced)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Parmesan (grated)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and zest
1/4 cup walnuts (toasted, chopped)
1. Use a food processor or mortar and pestle to grind all ingredients together until well integrated.
2 pounds parsnips (peeled, large dice)
3 fennel bulbs (quartered)
1 quart cream
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Coat parsnips and fennel with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast on sheet pan for 8-10 minutes or until browned.
2. Remove from oven. Place fennel and parsnips in saucepan and cover with cream. Reserve some cream for final stage.
3. Add bay leaf. Poach fennel and parsnips in cream on low heat until fork-tender. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf.
4. Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Add reserved cream to achieve desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Lemon Brown Butter wild salmon
4 eight-ounce wild salmon fillets3 tablespoons butter1/2 lemon
1. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Place fish in oiled medium-high heat pan, skin down.
2. Sear until crispy and flip to achieve same result on other side. Flip back over to skin down.
3. Add 3 tablespoons butter to pan. Turn down heat and baste fish with butter continually until cooked through. Flip fish a few times while basting.
4. Once fish is cooked, add juice from half a lemon and salt and pepper to the pan. Remove from heat.
1 1/2 pounds spinach
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1. Coat pant with olive oil.
2. Lightly sauté spinach with minced garlic on low heat.
3. Salt and pepper to taste
Final touches and plating
1. Place parsnip-fennel purée and sautéed spinach on plate. Top with fillet.
2. Spoon brown butter over fish.
3. Top salmon with Parsley-Walnut Pistou.