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Dining in the Vines – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

More wineries offer restaurant-style meals

DANCIN Vineyards near Jacksonville offers stuffed mushrooms, pizza, salad and other restaurant-style food to pair with its wines. [Photo courtesy of DANCIN Vineyards]

More and more Rogue Valley wineries and vineyards are serving restaurant-style meals to go with their wines.

DANCIN Vineyards owners Dan and Cindy Marca caught on to the trend early, offering food when they opened their tasting room in 2012 outside Jacksonville.

“When we started, only a few places were doing this, and they had a very limited selection of food, mostly on weekends,” Dan Marca said. “Cindy and I wanted to do something different.”

“Food was going to be an integral part of the experience at DANCIN. We wanted the food to complement the wine and for people to stay for a bit and enjoy the experience.”

DANCIN’s menu includes wood-fired pizzas, macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad, cranberry and almond salad and mushrooms stuffed with spicy Italian sausage with chardonnay cream sauce, Parmesan cheese and balsamic syrup. Visitors can indulge in decadent desserts like Signature Semi Freddo — housemade vanilla bean ice cream with espresso, fresh whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Each item on the menu comes with a suggested wine pairing. DANCIN recommends a pinot noir with its stuffed mushrooms, for example, or a chardonnay with the Caesar salad.

People who want a snack with their wine can order an artisan baguette or a board of bread, local cheeses, candied walnuts, fig jam and other treats. DANCIN sources many of its ingredients from local food makers, from the Rise Up! artisan bakery in the Applegate Valley to Taylor’s Sausage in Cave Junction.

“We are blessed to be in the Rogue Valley where there is such an amazing variety of resources related to locally grown food. We’re so thankful to be able to partner with artisans who are here,” Dan Marca said.

Dunbar Farms in Medford started serving restaurant-style food last year with the launch of its tasting room. The farm grows and sells a variety of food, including vegetables, flour and pancake mix.

“It’s been an experiment. It’s been an evolution,” said Nick Stevenson, director of marketing and business development for Dunbar Farms. “A lot of wineries are a little nervous about offering food because we already do so much. Restaurants can be complicated.”

I have noted restaurants often operate on slim profit margins. Some wineries don’t have the expertise to make and serve food, so they may need to bring on extra staff. To meet the challenge, Dunbar Farms hired a professional chef.

“We have learned across the industry that people really like to have food with their wine and other beverages,” Stevenson said. “We, like a lot of wineries, are set up to be a destination.”

“Our customers love to come here because they can spend a whole afternoon wine-tasting, eating meals that are locally sourced, listening to music and hanging out with farm animals,” he added.

With people spending more time at wineries and vineyards, many visitors want more substantial food than a traditional cheese board, he said.

“If you hang out for a couple of hours, you’ll probably get hungry,” Stevenson said.

Dunbar Farms’ menu includes wood-fired pizzas, paninis and weekly salads, soups and entrees that change based on what’s in season. Stevenson said the chef often likes to plan meals around ingredients he finds at local growers’ markets. The pizza dough is made with organic flour that is grown and milled at the farm.

Stevenson said Dunbar Farms has menu prices that make visiting the farm affordable.

“We want to make food that’s a good value and approachable to a broad audience. They’re getting quality, but it’s not super expensive,” he said.

Cowhorn Vineyard & Winery in the Applegate Valley eased into the prepared meals-with-wine trend with a pairing menu that combines wine tastings with food.

Like many wineries, Cowhorn offers wood-fired pizza.

“We wanted to engage our garden. Pizza is a natural progression for us. We can change the toppings seasonally,” said Mini Byers, owner and general manager.

She’s found that customers prefer the pairings menu versus sampling wine alone.

“It draws the tastings out and they become more educational. Once we introduced it, there was a big demand for it. I think it’s great. Part of wine and experiencing wine is this component of pairing. It’s amazing that other wineries are doing it, too. This will do wonderful things for the approachability of wine,” Byers said. She said it goes back to the time-honored tradition of enjoying wine with food.

“A big component of enjoying wine is hospitality and bringing people together around the table,” Byers said. “Food and wine have always gone hand-in-hand.”

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.

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