Hero-History

Belle Fiore Winery overlooks sweeping vistas, from Ashland to the Siskiyou Mountains and from Pilot Rock to Pompadour Butte.  Prospectors arrived in Ashland just as gold was discovered in Jacksonville in the 1850’s.  After Lewis and Clark’s explorations in the early 1800s, hunters, trappers and early farmers journeyed to Oregon following the Oregon and Applegate Trails.  Southern Oregon mountains and valleys hummed with farming, logging, hunting and trapping.  Indian tribes roved from Ashland to the Soda Mountain Wilderness, Lake of the Woods and Klamath Falls.

For a hundred years, Belle Fiore’s slopes thrived as a cattle and hay farm first settled in approximately 1880.  Belle Fiore’s flourishing hay fields were homesteaded by the Murphy family.  As railroads pushed expansion to the west, the post-Civil War Homestead Act granted one hundred sixty acres to families willing to move to western lands and eke out a farming existence.  So the Murphys settled on Belle Fiore estate, tending the land, raising cattle and cutting hay for more than fifty years.

There has always been a tradition of longevity and permanence on this land.  The Murphy’s constructed a historic hundred year old stone barn at the bottom of the property.  They bred horses, herded cattle, cut hay.  In the early 1900s, they helped inaugurate the Talent Irrigation Ditch, traversing the valley’s western and eastern hillsides, flooding abundant summer water down sun-soaked fields.  By the 1910’s, the Rogue Valley earned fame for “Royal Riviera” pears produced in Medford.  Burgeoning Christmas fruit baskets transited from Oregon to delighted recipients across the U.S.  Logging and early tourism further propelled the local economy.

As any farmer knows, agriculture brings trouble and turmoil as well as transcendent joys.  Through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, Ashland families, like many across America, became forlorn, losing their jobs, farms and homes.  The Murphy’s land eventually was claimed by a bank.  When the economy finally recovered around 1937, the Miller family, originally from Georgia, became owners and farmers of Belle Fiore Estate’s fields, ponds and mountain slopes.

The Miller’s greatly expanded cattle and hay farming operations, as well as developing a nearby quarry.  They aggregated surrounding properties and eventually controlled three thousand acres, grazing cattle on many of these lands even without irrigation.  I’ve heard from the current owner, James C. Miller, that he literally began his youth as a cowboy, riding on horseback, herding cattle up and down sweeping slopes and vistas which are now planted with grapevines.

The Millers also worked during the 1940’s and 1950’s to improve the Talent Irrigation Ditch.  Each summer the land now generated two or three cuttings of hay, while cattle grazed contentedly in the spring and fall.  The Miller’s irrigated hay fields thrived through sixty years from 1937-2000 providing a distinctive emerald landscape set within the drier Eastern slopes of Bear Creek Valley.  This summarizes some of the early history of the Belle Fiore Estate.

The Kerwin family relocated from Denver to Oregon’s Rogue Valley in 1993.  Edward Kerwin was an allergy & asthma specialist physician and clinical research scientist.  He had done his training in hospitals in Denver and Iowa City, Iowa.

Although born near Chicago, Ed grew up in the Denver area.  He trained as an undergraduate physics major at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.  Colorado College advocated a liberal arts curriculum promoting broad learning in sciences, humanities and arts, rather than a strict focus on a restricted field of study.  Such diversity of classes excited students’ imagination and broadly prepared collegians for unchartered future paths.  Besides physics, at Colorado College Ed took courses in history, philosophy, economics and literature.  He also completed a six month art history program in Florence and London as part of his college endeavors.

Ed graduated in 1979.   By the late 1970’s, Arab oil boycotts had pushed energy supplies to become a central focus in the United States.  Ed was hired out of college by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Houston, Texas. In the 1970’s, U.S. astronauts and NASA engineers were preparing initial launches for the Space Shuttle rocket.  In Houston, Ed worked on a research program, the Solar Power Satellite (SPS) concept, exploring potential construction of vast solar collection surfaces in orbit to collect intense solar energy.  Ed worked on the design for an innovative SPS microwave antenna, which could (in concept) transmit five giga-watts of solar electric power from orbit down to receiving antennas scattered across the U.S.  The SPS concept was never built.  But microwave technology now powers our ovens, our touchless faucets and hand driers and even detects underground metals.   Ed published three scholarly articles on the solar power satellite during his time at NASA through the early 1980s.

After two years at NASA, Ed returned to studying history.  Working at Princeton University, he obtained a MS in the history of science.  Ed especially focused on visually creative scientific work by Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Isaac Newton, and other early natural philosophers who flourished during the “scientific revolution” period from the 1500s through 1800s.  Innovative scientists like da Vinci and Newton often pondered ideas with artistic visualization and drew beautiful anatomical renderings and abstract diagrams.  This type of visual thinking powered their scientific discovery process.

By the mid-1980s Ed embarked on a career in medicine, attending the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver for four years.  Ed and Karen Kerwin relocated to Iowa City in the Midwest in the late 1980s to complete an internal medicine residency.  Ed returned to Denver for allergy fellowship at the National Center for Immunology, completing advanced training in Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.  By 1993, after years of academic studies, the Kerwin family moved to Medford and Jackson County Oregon.

Ed’s wife, Karen Kerwin, also had a diverse educational background.  As a student, she studied languages in Tours, France, Viareggio, Italy and Salzburg, Austria.  She completed her B.S. degree in Biochemistry at the University of California, Davis. Karen later obtained her Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling at the University of Colorado.  The Kerwins also have four children.

When the Kerwins arrived in Oregon in 1993, they originally lived in Jacksonville, a delightful historic and picturesque region located in the West Hills of the Rogue Valley.

The Kerwin’s also dreamed of developing a vineyard and winery.  During the 1990’s, they toured Rogue Valley locations looking for farmlands with promising potential to be converted into vineyards.  Ideal “terroir” should have sweeping slopes allowing grapes to bask in the gracious heat of summer, and shed cold air freezes in early spring and fall.  Ranging across Southern Oregon, there are numerous beautiful lands that can sustain vineyards.  In 2000 the Kerwin’s located a 55 acre property outside Ashland for sale by Miller Ranch.   The Kerwin’s purchased the land and began to implement the development of Belle Fiore Winery, Estate and Vineyards.

The Kerwin’s planted the Belle Fiore Vineyards in 2007, cultivating extraordinary wine grapes from many wine growing regions across Mediterranean Europe.  From France’s Bordeaux region, we grow varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot.  From the Rhone, we grow Syrah grapes.  And from Burgundy, our Pinot Noir grapes are celebrated and esteemed.  Belle Fiore also grows Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque, two additional classic French white wine grapes.  The winery fashions exemplary wines using each of these classic French grape varietals.

Our boutique vineyards above the irrigation ditch house sixteen micro-blocks to cultivate exemplary Spanish and Italian grape varietals.  These robust grapes produce a number of wonderful, unique wines in the Rogue Valley.  Italian white wine grapes include Coda di Volpe, which means “the tail of the wolf.” Delightful Italian red grapes include Montepulciano and Barbera.  Muscat Canelli grapes ferment into a sweet and delicious sparkling dessert wine.  Fiano and Teroldago are Italian grapes growing in our Vineyards.  With such classic vitis vinifera grape varietals derived from diverse hillsides of France, Italy and Spain, Belle Fiore cultivates savory and esteemed wines.

Ed, as a doctor, and Karen Kerwin as a biochemist and genetic counselor, have always sought to promote wines and foods that are natural, local and healthy, as well as being delectable.  Belle Fiore Vineyard follows sustainable practices which allow us to grow grapes with superb quality, marvelous final taste, and minimal use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Edward Kerwin grew up as a boy in a large Denver family with four brothers and three sisters.  Ed’s father worked as a Colorado attorney, and his mother also completed law school after raising eight children.

Ed grew up in a large, gracious Beaux Art style home built in the 1910s by the manager of Denver’s park system.  If you have visited Denver, you have admired the city’s beautiful green spaces, including city parks and parkways.  With foresight and dedication, the city built mountain parks, including the Red Rocks Amphitheater hosting music festivals, and the Winter Park Ski Area.  The Kerwin’s Denver home was a classical Italianate residence, built by George Cranmer.  As a child, Ed travelled with his family across the U.S., visiting old American estate homes and gardens.  So Ed always had a taste for stylish architecture from his youth.

In Jackson County, the Kerwin’s goal was to establish a European style chateau winery and estate to host guests, embrace daily wine tasting, and allow Southern Oregon residents and travelers to encounter extraordinary wine tasting rooms, stroll through gracious Mediterranean architecture, explore burgeoning gardens and refresh themselves with delightful wines.

Belle Fiore Chateau arose during 2003-2007, designed by John Kvapil and Phil Doza of DKA Architects of Bend, Oregon.  DKA designs offices, hotels and spas, as well as wineries, and installs elaborate masonry, beautiful brickwork and stonework in many of their structures.  The Chateau was built by Ed Bemis Construction, with interiors, cabinets, and tile work designed by decorators Rene Weiss and Ron Bray.  The Belle Fiore Chateau was crafted to express timeless character and beauty, and was constructed of granite, slate, copper and stucco to hold up for many generations.  The Chateau is fashioned in a French Mediterranean style and surrounded by gardens, pathways, ponds and a panoply of flowering plants.  BelleFiore Chateau has hosted wine tasting events and celebrations for public audiences since 2007.

By 2010, Belle Fiore required a second facility for expanded wine production and daily wine tastings.  The Belle Fiore Winery and Wine Pavilion was constructed in the midst of our vineyards during 2011-2013.  The winery includes large Italianate tank and barrel rooms for active winemaking.  Guests can relax in our expansive tasting and ceremonial Barrel rooms.  The upper level Wine Pavilion, Board Room, Deck and Celebration Terrace host music and other wine related festivities.  The Winery resembles an Italian basilica with Campanile tower, gracious decks, and an artistic Galleria overlooking tank room operations.

Belle Fiore wines are crushed outdoors on south and west facing crush pads.  They are fermented and aged in the sanctuary-like tank room, and finished in stone walled barrel and case-good storage rooms.  The Winery’s finishing touches were completed during 2012 – 2013, built by Batzer Construction, under the guidance of DKA Architects and interior designer, Bonnie Davidson.

At Belle Fiore Estate, we seek to serve wine in surroundings that are beautiful and durably built, but are also engineered with clever, innovative energy efficiently.  The Belle Fiore Chateau and Winery have many energy conservation features.  The Winery is embedded twenty feet underground on its east side, with barrel rooms sheltered underground, maintaining bottles and barrels at a steady 56 degrees Fahrenheit (8°C) year round.  The Winery is blanketed with high technology polyurethane foam insulation to achieve very high “R” values throughout the walls and ceilings of the building.  Outdoor and indoor facilities are lighted with LED and compact florescent lighting, approximately five times more energy efficient and more permanent than incandescent light.

Ground source refrigeration, heating and cooling is another remarkable, energy efficient feature of the Belle Fiore Chateau Winery.  If you ask for a special tour, it is possible to view the Belle Fiore Winery refrigeration control room.  This resembles the interior dive chamber of a submarine, with pipes flowing in all directions, valves and control switches.  This plumbing accomplishes refrigeration, heating and cooling for the Belle Fiore Winery at about one fourth of the normal energy expenditure for conventional refrigeration and air conditioning.  Ten miles of buried underground pipes circulate below the vineyard, providing cooled, 50 degrees Fahrenheit water.  The ground temperature water generates coolness in the hot summer months, and sustains heat during cold winter months.

The Kerwin’s have always embraced a love for the arts and humanities.  Although Ed was a college physics major, his favorite areas of academic study converged scientific and literary artistic thinking.  From Colorado College, Ed embarked for six months to study art in Florence and architecture in London, and to travel around Europe.  While many students in high school and college may gravitate toward practical disciplines like math, computers and science, other creative students may delight in the arts, reading, and social studies.  This split emphasis has been termed a “two cultures phenomenon.” Students and workers frequently segregate themselves into denizens of mathematical thinking (perhaps “technicians”), and a second culture of emotional devotees who embrace the arts (perhaps “artists”).  Belle Fiore Winery sees one of its missions to celebrate equally, art, beauty, writing, music, and at the same time to deeply grasp science in the process of wine production.  Our wine brands and the soubriquets of some of our wines, reflect our spirit that great wine is a product of both inspired, careful art and the scientific craft of masterful wine making.

Belle Fiore Winery currently produces three distinct brands of wine.  The “Belle Fiore Winery” brand combines the French and Italian words for “beautiful flower.”  These wines invoke the gracious beauty of refreshing garden pathways, meandering wilderness pastures, and the satisfaction you achieve when you appreciate each exquisite flower or tree.  Such garden delights are representative of satisfactions you can gain from tasting Belle Fiore wines.  Our Chateau, Wine Pavilion, and the Belle Fiore Estate gardens create memorable, inspiring experiences complementing the tasting of our wines.  Each Belle Fiore wine flourishes like a unique classic blossom: les belles fleurs and i belli fiori.

The second label in the BelleFiore family, “Belle Esprit Winery,” translates from French as “beautiful spirit.”  Belle Esprit wines are crafted to refresh your imagination and emotional energy.  With all the progress of modern science, words still struggle to explain, or even recognize, spiritual aims.  Yet wines surpass reason.  Our Belle Esprit wines captivate you, reward your spirits, and help you sustain emotional energy and belonging.  These are wines for the young at heart, the musical, the creative, the energetic.

The third label in the Belle Fiore family, “Belle Arte Winery,” utilizes the ancient romantic spelling for “beautiful art.”  Artists capture poignant moments, and document these in drawings, sculpture and photography.  The traditional concept of “arte” was not so individualistic as the ethos of contemporary modern artists who often mold personal or self-indulgent creations.  In older times, artists were artisans, preserving ancient techniques and working as teams.  They were barrel makers, miners, farmers, and smiths, who invented special tools to pump water and farm soils.  They were precise craftsmen and women who cut and gleaned grains.

Winemaking has always been an “arte,” where art and craft come together.  This art is practiced with careful study, imbued with personal creativity, and with trial and error.  You devise a work of beauty through long practice and effort.  It’s like cooking, where great chefs harness their talents, cleverness and creativity to make extraordinary food.  So the Belle Arte label celebrates the age-old art of winemaking, and the recognition of beauty which artists have always inspired.

Several of our special blend wine names recognize age-old historical concepts.  Our celebrated Belle Fiore meritage wine is designated “Numinos.”  This word derives from the Greek root “noos,” by which the ancients denoted mind, thought and contemplation.  Classical Athenians devoted themselves to great spiritual understanding as a transcendent accomplishment for humans.  Philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle celebrated “noos” in their dialogues and treaties, which greatly shaped western contemporary culture.  Of course, the Greeks were also great appreciators of wine, shipping stone wine urns across the Mediterranean.  Belle Fiore Numinos provides a historical, distinguished, cultivated red wine intended to bring inspiration and reflection.

Another Belle Fiore white wine name is “Calypso.”  Calypso was an enchantress appearing in the famous story of Ulysses, who sailed home from the Trojan wars to Macedonia.  It took him ten years to reach his destination and wife, Penelope.  Penelope kept at bay ten aggressive suitors whom she rejected.  She told the suitors once her tapestry was completed, she would choose a new husband.  She would weave the tapestry each day, but at night she would unwind it again.  During these times, Ulysses became shipwrecked on an island and was bewitched by a princess Calypso.  Calypso wine provides a white wine that is captivating and enchanting.  It typically blends several white wine grapes, and is as beguiling and intriguing as Calypso of the Ulysses myth.

Another red wine in the Belle Fiore family name is “Souspire.”  This name is inspired from French words, to sleep, to dream and to be fully relaxed, in reverie.  Some of the great moments in life simply involve being outdoors in a grassy meadow with gourmet cheese, bread and of course a bottle of wine preserving in a dreamy meditative mood.  The Souspire name designates a wine that is a perfect complement to such a spirit of reverie and contemplation.

All our staff, as well as the Kerwin family, welcome you to Belle Fiore Winery, Estate and Vineyards.  In school, the Kerwin children followed educational principles that adopted the motto “Head, Heart and Hands Together.”  The “head” celebrates the process of thinking and learning.  The “heart” memorializes caring and putting your love and thoughtfulness into your work.  And the “hands” endorses being creative and artistic in the crafts you do manually.  At Belle Fiore Winery, we keep all these alive in the wines we make.

We wish you great enjoyment and profound experiences in sampling the products of our heads, hearts
and hands from all our staff at Belle Fiore Winery, Estate and Vineyards.