Lavish Belle Fiore Winery offers fine food along with fine wine in a spectacular setting
By MJ Daspit
My husband and I ventured out to Belle Fiore Estate Winery several weeks ago on the recommendation of friends who said the charcuterie plate was to die for. If you aren’t familiar with this vineyard and winery, I offer a few vital stats. Belle Fiore is an estate owned by Dr. Edward Kerwin, a specialist in allergy and immunology who founded the Allergy and Asthma Center of Southern Oregon in Medford in 1997. In addition to his medical resume — he has conducted over 750 clinical trials of new medications targeting asthma and allergy — Kerwin’s bio on the center’s website mentions his interests in viticulture and wine growing, art and architectural history. These diverse interests account for the beauty of the grounds and state of the art efficiency of the winemaking facility at Belle Fiore.
Belle Fiore was the new kid on the block in 2007. The chateau, a turreted Disneyesque confection, was regarded by some long-time residents as something of an invasive species — such opulence springing up hard by the Ashland Gun Club. But with the maturing of the Rogue Valley wine industry and the recognition that a little polish never hurt anybody, perceptions have changed. Winemaker Rob Folin observed that, because of its physical beauty, visitors would always be drawn to Belle Fiore. “People are always going to come here, so I want the wines to show well and I want this place to keep moving forward and keep doing the right thing for the area.”
Folin took up winemaking at Belle Fiore starting with the 2018 vintage, a challenging job given small lots of some 15 estate varieties running the gamut from Bordelaise to Iberian to Italian. The challenge got a little steeper when vineyard management company Results Partners decamped from the Rogue Valley amid the employee scarcity of the recent viral lockdown. Folin found farming the vineyards was now part of his resume.
Fortunately, farming is in Folin’s DNA. His parents established a kiwi and alfalfa farm in Sam’s Valley. With seven vintages in the Willamette under his belt, Rob influenced the family to convert the kiwi farm to vineyards, specializing in Viognier, Syrah, Tempranillo Petit Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache. He produced his first Folin Cellars vintage in 2005. When the family decided to sell the Folin Cellars property, Folin kept his proprietary label, Ryan Rose, as he transitioned to producing wines at Belle Fiore.
Fast forward to the recent visit. We knew, based on our friends’ hearty recommendation, that we’d be ordering the charcuterie plate. The only question was what wine. Toward the top of the white list, Caprettone got my attention because I’d never heard of it before. A light, dry Italian, it was refreshing and delicious. All the more reason I went straight to my reference books to learn about it when I got home. This is where my story gets interesting. Imagine my surprise when I checked “The World Atlas of Wine” and found Johnson and Robinson had no entry on the variety. Likewise the “Wine Lover’s Companion.”
I scurried to Wikipedia where I found an entry on Caprettone. It begins, “Caprettone is a white Italian wine grape variety that is grown in the Campania region of southern Italy where it is a minor blending component in the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) wine of Lacryma Christi bianco. Caprettone is also grown in the Rogue River Valley of southern Oregon.” Wait — what? We’re it outside Campania? How did that happen?
According to Belle Fiore’s first winemaker Kathy Kaigas, as quoted in an article in the online publication The Local Dish, it was a case of mistaken identity. When the vineyards at Belle Fiore were first established, the owners procured an Italian white grape known as Coda di Volpe — or so they thought.
When the vines matured and started to bear, Kaigas was surprised by the appearance of the fruit clusters. She thought something was off and submitted plant material to UC Davis for DNA analysis. Lab results obtained in 2014 revealed that instead of Coda di Volpe (tail of the fox), the variety that had been grafted onto the rootstock procured by the Kerwins was actually Caprettone (beard of the goat).