A recent international wine competition gave credence to the quality of the Oregon wine industry. Judges awarded 25 percent of all the gold medals, including two “Best of Shows,” to Southern Oregon wines.

That may have surprised some people but not Ruth Garvin.

“The quality of the wine here has grown immensely in the past 10 to 15 years. We’re being recognized as a quality wine making region,” says Garvin, president of the Southern Oregon Winery Association. “We are not a region limited to two or three varietals. We have a vast selection for any visitor to taste. We have a diverse growing region with small terroir regions and microclimates. We can grow Spanish, Italian and French varietals and all of them do very well.”

Geography benefits enthusiasts looking to visit area wineries. Whether you enter Southern Oregon along Interstate 5, Highway 101 or from central Oregon, you are near one of 75 wineries. “It doesn’t matter where you are, you have the chance to drink Southern Oregon wine,” Garvin says.

The Southern Oregon wine region stretches north near Eugene and south to the California border, east to the far side of the Cascade Mountains and west to the Pacific Ocean. There are four distinct valleys, each with smaller valleys within them.

“We’ve started looking at these as our wine trails. You could spend a day in any of these valleys,” Garvin says. “Most of the wineries in Southern Oregon are growers. They are inviting you to their vineyard. People here want you to enjoy the vineyard experience.”

And it’s not unusual to find the winemaker or a family member pouring in the tasting room.

“They are behind the counter telling their story and perhaps even walking you through their vineyard. That doesn’t happen as much in other regions,” she says.

“Southern Oregon is for the visitor who wants to experience the unknown. You walk into a tasting room here and you don’t know what’s going to happen. People are excited about what they do here.  We’re on an adventure and we want to bring the visitor along.”