Interviews

Brian and Lisa Dunagan Ashland Wine Cellar

For over 32 years the Ashland Wine Cellar has provided specialty and fine wines to wine lovers in Ashland. Last year long-term owner and founder Lorn Razzano sold the business to Brian and Lisa Dunagan, who now carry on the tradition. On top of re-organizing the vast collection of wine, Brian and Lisa have stocked up on more local wines than you can count. They also have updated the space to provide a warmer feel, better lighting, a unique wine tasting and sitting area, and soon-to-be installed beautiful cork floors. I stopped by to learn more about the every expanding world of wine.

Brian and Lisa thanks for speaking with me today. It’s been a year now of owning and operating the Ashland Wine Cellar.
What are some of the biggest changes you have brought to the store since taking over ownership?
Most importantly we have tried to make the place more comfortable to customers. From there we have also reorganized the store so if you want to just browse through the shop you can.  We have most of the wines identified by varietal or region.
We have added a significant number of Southern Oregon wines from the Rogue Valley, Applegate, and Umpqua Valley along with continuing to expand the number of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wines we carry.  We currently have over 200 Oregon wines including over 50 Pinot Noirs in our inventory.
Your priority to spotlight and feature local wine has been huge.
Can you tell us more about this?
The quality of wines coming out of Southern Oregon has improved significantly in recent years and both locals and people visiting the region are beginning to appreciate this.  We have developed great relationships with local vineyards and winemakers and it just a natural fit to carry as many local wines as we can.
Can you give us a little tour of some of your local inventory?
We carry local wines from the Rogue Valley, Applegate, and Umpqua Valley.  At last count we had over 100 different local wines.  If there is a local wine that we have tasted and feel it is a good fit, and if it is available to us as retailers then we will look to have it in our shop.
Lisa, you’ve also set to work to reorganize the shop. Tell us about what you’ve done to make the wine cellar even more accessible to customers.
The wines in the shop have been arranged by varietals and regions and then we have labeled these areas as well.  This allows customers who would just like to browse through the shop to more easily find what they are looking for.   Some customers enjoy just wandering thru and looking at the different wines we carry and now with some order and consistency they can do this and do not have to have our input or assistance.  We have also created an under $10 value section and have a wonderful collection of wines under $20.  And for those looking for that special bottle of wine or to add to their cellar, we have a nice collection of exclusive wines priced all the way up to $300.
Not only are you both wine lovers but you really enjoy sharing the joy of wine with all sorts of people.  Can you tell us more?
Wine is a social experience for us.  Lisa and I still have the first bottle of Beaujolais we shared on our second date and we have many memories of trips to the wine country, dinners with friends and family where we shared a bottle of wine together.  We feel wine can be enjoyed by all, the novice or beginning wine drinker or the seasoned wine connoisseur.  Wine is not just about drinking; it is about sharing time together with friends and creating memories.
You are both part of a wine group in which you sample and enjoy learning about all different sorts of wines.
What are some of the best aspect of being part of such a group?
We were lucky enough to be invited by some new friends whom that we met through our common love of wine to join a class where we learn about wines from all over the world.  The class is a series that is available on CD and the presenter is a master of wine.  She provides us with a background on the wines and then we get to taste the wines as a group.  It is a great way to learn about the wines of the world but, more importantly it is fun and we have made some great new friends.
Brian, give us a list of your current top ten wines that you currently carry in the store?
That is a very difficult question.  I do not really have a top ten list.  I have always enjoyed big and full bodied red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are my favorites.  Now I am learning to appreciate a wider variety of wines.  I really enjoy the Italian wines that Lorn Razzano has introduced to me, and now I also appreciate the Viognier and Pinot Gris wines from our local wineries.  Pairing wine with food is much more important to me now than it ever was.  Creating a great match of food and wine is an amazing experience.  That said, just sitting down with a glass of Zinfandel on a winter evening by the fire is not bad either.
Lisa how about yourself?  
My favorite wines changes with my mood, the weather and the food I’m eating.  I tend to prefer lighter wines than Brian.  During the colder time of year, medium-bodied reds such as an Oregon Pinot Noir and some Bordeaux style blends are my go-to wines.  In the summer, I love my white wines.  Some favorite varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Dry Rieslings and Argentinian Torrontés.  I am now also enjoying exploring ports and dessert wines.  There are several local wineries that are making very good ports and dessert wines and it is a fun way to expand my wine knowledge.
Let’s talk about the synergy that is occurring between vineyards, tasting rooms and winery shops such as yourself here in Southern Oregon. Where is all this going are we going to be the next Napa Valley?
Wine in southern Oregon is exploding.  Recently, several local wineries have been written up in Wine Spectator Magazine and local wines are winning awards at wine tasting events all over the West.  Our local tasting rooms are unique and very similar to the tasting rooms of Napa Valley in the early eighties.  The wine makers, owners, vineyard managers, etc. are in the tasting room and available to discuss their wines and the passion they have for the industry.  The experience of wine tasting in our region is very low key and is affordable.  What is great for us is that many of the wine owners/makers come into our shop regularly so we can taste their new releases.  Many times because of these close relationships, we are able to offer exclusive wines when just released or the ability to offer wines that are only offered int eh restaurants.  This is great for our customers because we can talk about the local wines with information that has come directly from the wine maker.  We also have weekly wine tasting in our shop every Thursday generally hosted by local wineries with the winemaker there to share their knowledge and experiences with our customers about their wines.
As for the question, will we be the next Napa Valley?  Who knows, but we have all the ingredients to become a world-class wine vacation destination.  We have great weather, fabulous culture such as OSF, outdoor activities & wonderful culinary events & restaurants, and of course, great wine.
Ashland Wine Cellar has a very good reputation for having some excellent Italian wines. Can you give us a little back ground on this.
Lorn Razzono.  Not sure what else to say.  Early in the shops history Lorn began carrying an excellent selection of Italian wines and the word got out.  It is our goal to continue this tradition.  We have excellent distributors that help us with providing the best Italian wines available.  We have everything from value priced Chianti’s for under $15 up to exclusive Barolo’s, Brunello’s and Barbaresco’s.  We also carry many unique wines from around the world that you may not find in other retail shops in the areas.
You guys ship wine all around the country for individuals can you tell us about a recent order?
Our most recent shipment was several cases of Italian and Southern Oregon wines to a customer that visits us twice a year.  They cannot get the wines we have in our area back home and enjoy the opportunity to visit our shop when they come to town.  It has become a tradition for them to visit us as part of their vacation experience every year. Different state regulations do not allow us to ship wines anywhere; however, we can ship wines to most locations in the country.   We do offer case discounts to our customers and also have helped many customers coordinate their wine and champagne needs for events such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries.
Being involved in community has been a huge part of both of your guys lives. How has the Wine Cellar enhanced this opportunity for you?
Both of us were very involved in the community in our previous home, Reno, Nevada.  The Wine Cellar has put us in a position to help out with community events and support local organizations and businesses.  Brian is serving on the ScienceWorks board of directors and we are both involved in several local charity and business organizations.  We feel it is very important to be involved locally and to support local business.
Lisa, what are the Top Ten Reasons To Visit The Ashland Wine Cellar:
  1. To check out the changes we have made in the shop.

  2. You want to learn about wine and don’t know where to start.

  3. Have a special occasion to plan.

  4. Have some time to kill and want to talk about wine, or anything.

  5. Looking for a great Oregon Pinot Noir.

  6. Looking for a great Italian, French or other imported wine.

  7. Need help finding a specific wine.  We are also happy to place special orders.

  8. Want to go wine tasting in the region and need some direction.

  9. Wine tasting every Thursday evening and First Fridays.

  10. Happy Hour with Lorn Razzano on Fridays during season (May through September).

Brian, what’s the most interesting aspect of wine that you have learned in the past year?
Probably how the same grape grown in different regions can have a completely different taste and feel on my palate.  That said, I have learned so much in the past year and I learn something new every day it seems.  I still remember tasting wine for the first time with Lorn and wondering how I could ever master this skill.  Now I know it is a constant process of learning and experience that will never stop.
Brian, you mentioned that one of your favorite comments to hear back from customers once they have purchased wine from you is how much they love it.
Last spring a customer came into the shop and asked me for advice on choosing a wine for her and her husband.  We talked about what they liked and I recommended a local Cabernet Sauvignon.  They took the wine home and loved it.  They found us on Facebook and sent me a note saying how much they enjoyed the wine and could not wait to come back again for more wines next time they were in town.  This was the first time this happened and it really motivated me.
Lisa, tell us any other exciting things on the horizon.
We are updating the store with new paint, lighting, flooring, and hopefully a new counter with tasting bar.  It all takes time as we are doing most of the work ourselves, but hopefully by summer the entire shop will have a new feel that will make our customers feel welcome and comfortable.  We are also in the process of creating a website, but for now, you can follow us on Facebook & Twitter.  We are also exploring how to create a Southern Oregon Wine Club for our customers that we hope to have implemented by the end of this year.
Any last words or comments for our readers?
Come visit us and see what we are doing with the shop, we’d love to meet you.
Business Information
Ashland Wine Cellar
Under the Liquor Store
38 Lithia Way, Ashland, OR 97520
Hours: Closed Monday, Tuesday thru Thursday – 11 am to 6 pm; Friday and Saturday – Noon to 7 pm; Sunday – Noon to 5 pm

 

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Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.
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Shields Bialasik

Hi, I am Shields. I am the creator or LocalsGuide. The mission or my company is to provide a positive media platform for my community which in turn makes it stronger and more resilient. I hope you will enjoy and feel inspired to start your own LocalsGuide in your town or community.

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