By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

The winery off the dirt road near Cave Junction remains quiet in February, the grapes dormant, the pressing and crushing machines sitting clean and unused, the wine mulling in barrels.

Yet visitors still drive down the winding dirt road on a cold, sunny Saturday.

andquot;Cause no one's here,andquot; said vacationer Tracy Merchant of Reno, Nev.

In vacation plans to visit a relative in Salem, Ore., the Merchant family included a wine tour of the state's southern region. They prefer the nearby spots to the more pretentious places that they have found in Napa Valley, where some winery taste rooms charge cover fees.

At Foris, tasting room host Patti Brain described the wines and the group talked about favorites.

andquot;It's better when there's nobody here,andquot; agreed Jon Merchant, buying a case before heading to the nearby Bridgeview Winery.

Nearby wine region

A day trip from Crescent City to Oregon's vineyards could include 13 wineries between Cave Junction and Ashland. The region sees a range of weather, with a higher elevation than other wine growing parts of the state, according to Foris information on its vineyards.

Brain admits that the vineyard doesn't look its best in the winter.

andquot;It's a pretty stark presenation right now,andquot; she said, recalling the green spring growth.

But visitors can enjoy an uncrowded tasting room and tours, along with clear views of the mountains.

andquot;Plus, they can taste our port and warm up,andquot; Brain said.

Brain tailors her tasting presentation to different groups, offering glasses of the driest to the sweetest white wines, then repeating the process with the reds.

andquot;You get two types of people,andquot; Brain said. andquot;Those with no clue and those who know exactly what they want to try.andquot;

Foris attractions

Foris has operated since the 1970s, when owner Ted Gerber bought land in the Rogue Valley and started planting vines. He now owns three vineyards in the area that total about 130 acres, all hosting a mix of grapes.

The winery produced about 120,000 gallons of product in 2006, averaging about 30,000 cases each year.

Now known for its Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer and Muscat, a San Francisco Chronicle review this month gave the Cabernet Franc three stars.

Foris also creates blends with grapes from around the Rogue Valley and a late October harvest of muscat grapes produces an even sweeter dessert wine.

That grape has attracted another fan bears that prefer them over any other fruit growing in the fields.

andquot;They love 'em,andquot; Brain said, noting the dogs that the vineyard uses to scare them off.

Open each day all year, Foris also hosts open house events, with music and picnics on Mother's Day Weekend and the weekend after Thanksgiving. The first crush of the year in October draws a crowd to eat, drink and watch machines pull stems and press the grapes.

At the nearby Bridgeview Winery, mountain views back grassy picnic areas and ponds, where swans swim and squeak greetings to visitors.

Oregon Caves National Monument also attracts visitors, when open for the season. Downtown Cave Junction has collected various stop-off places Bebe's Art shop, Bagel Junction, Coffee Heaven Espresso and Juice Bar, Wild Rivers Brewery. The Puppet Lounge promises free lessons to teach visitors to juggle within 15 minutes.

Brain has noticed more Crescent City visitors to the region in recent years

andquot;I just think we're one of those kind of hidden jewels,andquot; she said.

Reach Hilary Corrigan at