Skip to main content

“I did it, I’m alive and now I’m drinking wine,” says Carole Beauclerk, sitting under an umbrella on the patio of LongSword Vineyard.

The 68-year old Portland retiree sips the house tempranillo and peers up at the sky. She has just landed from a paragliding flight over the Applegate Valley vineyards with Nick Crane, a local tandem pilot.

It wasn’t long ago that the southern Oregon area winegrowers jokingly called the valley the “fly-over region,” for the wine writers who bypassed it on their way to review the better-known pinot noirs of the Willamette Valley. But as local wine quality and recognition have improved, the Applegate Valley has at last become a popular place to land — and not just for wine writers.

These days, the vineyards are also landing zones for paragliding and hang gliding pilots who launch their fabric aircraft from the 3,780-foot peak of nearby Woodrat Mountain, a nationally known flying site. The same geographic features that make the region great for grape growing also make it great for flying. Hot days and cool nights create the thermal lift that keeps the gliders aloft. Those same temperatures also allow for full ripening in the vineyards and perfect acidity in the grapes.

The twists and turns of a valley that hosts a great diversity of wines also create versatile cross-country conditions for pilots. They are known to trace ridges for miles, sometimes to neighboring valleys. One pilot made it all the way to Mount Shasta on one flight, and another set the local altitude record of 14,400 feet.

The pilots fly solo or carry passengers such as Beauclerk, who describes her flight as “a real privilege.” Vineyards such as LongSword, with their wide pastures and consistent winds, provide ideal landing zones. LongSword owner Matt Sorensen lures pilots to land at his winery with a free glass of wine. The scheme works. On the weekends, a dozen or more “fruit flies” (as Sorensen calls them) land near his tasting patio. They’re greeted with applause and the winery’s popular frissant called “Accolade.” This semisparkling chardonnay is perfect after a hot summer flight.

“The idea of getting a glass of wine at the end of the flight made it really fun,” says Beauclerk.

The first such landing at LongSword took place in 2006. Sorensen was working in the vineyard when he heard a voice overhead. “Was it God?” he wondered. “Am I crazy?” He recalls looking up and seeing a paraglider descend. “I never knew people did that,” he says. “It was nuts.” His daughter ran over and gave the pilot a glass of wine. A tradition was born.

Other wineries have since hung windsocks and hopped on board. Next door, Fiasco Winery is owned by hang glider pilot Dave Palmer, who has combined his lifelong love of flying with his love of wine. This year he secured a grant from the Foundation for Free Flight to bury the power lines on his property, making it a safer place to land. Clients can watch landings from the deck. Inside the tasting room, a slideshow of launches, flights and landings plays nonstop.

The nearby Red Lily and Valley View vineyards also occasionally serve as landing zones. It may seem like an unusual relationship, but the pilots and winegrowers learn a lot from each other. Pilots often discover the wonder of good claret, and the winegrowers sometimes discover flying.

Sorensen has taken a couple of tandem flights, but he’s too busy in the vineyard to pursue the sport full time. “I can see how it would be addictive,” he says. “Paragliding is definitely one of the most interesting human endeavors.

With all the flying action, the atmosphere at LongSword can get lively. Fortunately, staff members are used to a certain amount of controlled chaos. Their three resident sheep, Einstein, Hawking and Newton, are constantly raiding the potted pansies outside the tasting room door, and a gaggle of geese often follows Sorensen around the parking lot. Did he ever imagine this scenario when he purchased his vineyard in 1999? “Sometimes,” he admits, “you’ve just got to wonder about your life.”

Trip planner

Want to fly over Applegate wine country? In LongSword’s tasting room you’ll find stacks of brochures and business cards for certified pilots offering tandem flights over the valley. The flights cost around $130.

Paragliding tandems:
Kevin Lee

Hang gliding tandems:
James Tibbs

To watch:
For the best view of the gliders, go to LongSword Winery

(8555 Oregon 238, 541-899-1746). Just down the road Fiasco Winery

(8035 Oregon 238, 541-846-3022) is also good — especially on Friday evenings when the pilots land there to socialize and enjoy live music. You can also relax at the riverfront property of the nearby Red Lily Winery

(11777 Oregon 238, 541-846-0601), where the pilots occasionally land. On rare occasions, they touch down at Valley View Winery

(1000 Upper Applegate Road, 541-899-8468), the region’s oldest bonded winery since prohibition.

When to go:

Summer is the best time for flying and wine tasting in the Applegate Valley. The gliders typically land at the wineries between 1-3 p.m. An annual competition each June, known as the “Rat Race,” lures pilots from around the world. During this weeklong event, hundreds of gliders fill the sky over the Applegate Valley.