When you think of Oregon wine country, you probably think first of Portland and then of the Willamette Valley nearby. If you dive a little deeper, perhaps the Applegate and Rogue River Valleys come on your radar, from the far southern end of the state. Often overlooked is the Umpqua Valley that lies between these two regions.
Around the city of Roseburg off the I-5, you will find a couple dozen wineries. It is here that you will find Girardet.
Girardet Vineyard and Winery
Girardet was one of the first wineries in the region, planting their vineyard in the town of Tenmile in 1971.
Their story is one I love because it starts with a trip in a 1965 VW Bus. I have a fondness for those, having grown up riding around in one with my family in Southern California growing up.
After moving to Oregon when Philippe Girardet got bored as a Rocket Scientist at Cal Tech, he and his wife Bonnie decided to plant a vineyard. They needed vines so they took the VW bus and drove to the Livermore Valley to Wente and Concannon to pick up some vines, then did a cross country drive to New York, where they picked up some French American Hybrid vines.
Having never visited this region and being really interested in the hybrid vines, Michael and I set out to visit the winery last July as we traveled north to Washington. Marc Girardet, Phillipe’s son and a second-generation winemaker, was kind enough to take some time and talk with us.
We sat at the picnic table under the vine laden pergola next to the tasting room. It’s got a great view.
“It’s Tenmile. We’ve got one little gas station and houses and a winery. And that’s Tenmile”Marc Girardet, July 2019
Girardet and sustainability
We settle in and my first question for Marc was about sustainability. I had read that he was changing the vineyard over to more sustainable practices. I wanted to know where he was at with that, and what direction he was moving in.
There is a bit of perspective he has as a second-generation winemaker. He grew up on this vineyard, playing in the vines putting corks in bottles. Now he has his own 7-year-old daughter who, perhaps someday will take over the vineyard. He sees in the vineyard the future for generations past him. Of course, he wants the vineyard to be safe now, for people and animals, but he is also being careful to not mess anything up for future generations.
“I really started looking at soil health and what can we do to make sure all of our inputs are as natural as possible and really just that long term health of the vineyard, the soil and then the wines that we can make from that.”Marc Girardet, July 2019
He uses local horse manure compost that maintains the vine health through the summer without irrigation. Healthy soil with the dry long summers give you small berries with tasty grapes. He supplements with liquid fish fertilizer, focusing on things that are sourced from nature.
He has looked at biodynamic farming, but hasn’t decided if he is onboard with the more mystical aspects. Those are tough for many people, cow horns, and ceremonies at the equinox. But biodynamics has evolved and he does say that he is a firm believer in anything he can demonstrate scientifically.
He’s careful that his sprays are safe for animals and children. This has the added benefit that he knows there will not be chemical residue on the grapes.
There is a downside to this. These organic methods don’t last as long as the commercial chemicals, so he has to make more tractor passes. Lucky for him, he likes being out on the tractor. He sprays with sulfur once every 7 to 10 days.
They have switched from the herbicides that had previously been used in the vineyard to cutting the weeds. He says he is the number 1 customer for string trimmer line in the area!
“It’s very laborious, but that way, we know that we have a safer environment.”Marc Girardet, July 2019
Animals on the property and sustainability
At this point, we are interrupted by Mo. I couldn’t be happier. Traveling is great, but I miss my cat, so a little cat fix makes me beam. Mo hops up on the table and plops down to soak up some attention. She is one of a few cats that are happily on “rodent patrol” on the property.
They also have chickens and ducks that in addition to providing eggs, take care of gobbling up the bad bugs. Much better than insecticide!
In addition, Marc’s parents seeded the vineyard with lady bug eggs when they planted.
“And now decades later, whenever I’m out there pruning the vines, I always find lady bugs, almost on every vine.”Marc Girardet, July 2019
This means they won’t have to worry about aphids and they can stay chemical free.
“I really don’t want to do anything that is going to mess this up, you know, pollute the soil or anything like that. That would mean that the next generation couldn’t have the same opportunities that I’ve had or that my parents had.”Marc Girardet, July 2019
We spent a few hours with Marc, so there is more to discuss, like the soils and his Italian varieties in addition to the French/American hybrids. Don’t worry, we will share the rest of our day with you later.
In the meantime, if you want to visit, you can find them at
Girardet Vineyards & Winery
895 Reston Road
Roseburg, OR 97471
Phone: (541) 679-7252
More on Girardet
We’ve written a bit about Girardet before, including a pairing we did with their wine.
- 12 Days of Wine Day 10 – Girardet
- The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 2 – Southern Oregon Applegate and Umpqua Valleys
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Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
We know Willamette well but not Umpqua–on the list but this was article is a great reminder. And I find it so interesting how many in the field of science end up in winemaking…more interesting than being a rocket scientist? Interesting!
Quite honestly, Oregon seems to have a few Rocket Scientists! But yes, I thought it was pretty funny. He was Swiss and came to California to work as a Rocket Scientist and got bored! Winemaking is definitely tastier business!