When you think of Oregon and wine you probably first think, Pinot Noir and then of the Willamette Valley. That’s good! Willamette Valley Wine has done its job well! But while that Willamette Valley Pinot is delicious, there is more, much more to Oregon wine.
Southern Oregon Wine country is often lumped together as everything south of the Willamette. That’s a huge region that takes in everything from the California border to almost Eugene.
Encompassing 5 regions with over 150 wineries Southern Oregon has some of the most diverse growing conditions in the world
At the Southern end, you have the Rogue and Applegate Valleys and their AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).
Moving North you find the Umpqua Valley. This region is home to the oldest Estate Winery in Oregon at Hillcrest Vineyard near Roseburg.
But calling the area the Umpqua Valley is a bit of a misnomer. This region is a mosaic of valleys. Scott Kelly of Paul O’Brien Wines likened it to the facets of a diamond. The region has a popular nickname the “Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua”.
We visited the Umpqua Valley as part of a Wine Media Conference 2021. This wine media tour happened before the conference began in Eugene. This tour was sponsored by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association and the Oregon Wine Board.
The sponsors provided transportation to the wineries, tastings as well as meals other than breakfast. We provided our own transportation to the region and our housing while there.
The Umpqua Soils
The topography here is rolling hills with valleys creating multiple microclimates. These hills and small mountains were created by the collision of the Cascades, the Coast Range, and the Klamath Mountains which are all of different ages geologically. As they collided they pushed up different soils in different areas.
Dyson DeMara of Hillcrest told us that there are over 150 soil types found in Douglas County, which encompasses the region. Compare that to the 32 soil types found in Napa.
This soil diversity is on display at Abacela Vineyard near Roseburg where they discovered a thrust-type fault running east-west through their vineyard. Soils to the south are Klamath soils with serpentine, jasper, quartz, sandstone, and blueschist. These soils date to 250 to 400 million years ago.
Step a few feet north and you are into the coast soils with sediments from the ancient sea that once covered the region.
Microclimates in the Umpqua
In addition to many soils, you find a variety of microclimates here. In general, the Northern area is cool with a marine influence, the southern area is warmer and dryer, and between them, well that middle ground gives you a bit of both worlds. Within all these regions you find valleys and rivers that twist and turn, changing the aspect, and altitude, creating areas where the sea breezes can come in, and overall creating smaller microclimates where from one vineyard to the next conditions can differ dramatically.
This means that the region has a wide range of varieties that will grow well. So if you like exploring and tasting different varieties, this is the place for you. Within 65 miles north to south, you can taste, over 40 different varieties of wine grapes.
The Varieties of wine grapes in the Umpqua
The Umpqua Valley Winegrowers site the varieties that are focused on as Syrah, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. So Syrah, which is known in Southern France in the Rhône Valley, Tempranillo from Northern Spain, Pinot Noir from Bourgogne, Pinot Gris that grows to well in Alsace and Riesling which is best known from Germany. Do you see how much ground we have covered there?
History of wine the Umpqua
I mentioned earlier that the Umpqua Valley boasts the oldest Estate Winery in Oregon. Before that, the first winery in the area was planted by Adam Doerner sometime around the 1890s (source). Doerner’s Old #7 Winery ran until 1965. (source)
It was in 1961 that Richard Sommer planted the Hillcrest Vineyard, not too far from Doerner’s. This was the first Pinot Noir planted in Oregon. The 70s and 80s saw an increase in wineries in the region.
Today the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association has 22 wineries as members throughout the region which includes wineries in the nested Elkton Oregon AVA. During our 2 days in the region, we were able to visit 13 of these wineries and taste from 4 more. Get ready for our whirlwind trip through the Umpqua.
The region is a bit homegrown. You won’t find snootiness here, you will find family-run wineries often with winemakers or family behind the counter in the tasting room, and amazing hospitality.
Nested AVAs in the Umpqua
The Umpqua Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) contains 2 nested AVAs the Red Hills/Douglas County AVA and the Elkton AVA.
The Red Hills/Douglas Country AVA with vineyards between 800 and 1200 feet in elevation in red Jory soil has vineyards but no wineries within the AVA.
The Elkton AVA in the Northernmost part of the Umpqua Valley sits just 33 miles from the coast with the Umpqua river weaving through it bringing cool afternoon breezes. Here you will find 12 vineyards and 4 Wineries. We tasted with all 4.
Day 1 in the Umpqua Valley
Meadows Estate Vineyard
Our first stop of the day was Meadows Estate Vineyard. This Vineyard North of Roseburg was previously known as MarshAnne Landing Winery owned by the Cramers. The Meadows family purchased the property 2 years ago and became the newest member of the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers.
Owners Dexter & Marilyn Meadows with their daughter Angela greeted us at their beautiful tasting room and winery.
While it was just our first stop, they didn’t want us sipping wine on an empty stomach and had an array of small bites for us to enjoy.
We gathered on the patio overlooking the vineyard, as they poured the wines and told us their story.
The wines we would taste, their 2020 White Grenache and Syrah Rose are the first two releases that are completely their own. They also have a 50/50 Grenache/Syrah blend that was made under the previous owner and a Grenache that they blended and bottled from barrels put up by the previous winemaker.
The property is 100 acres with 17 acres planted to 10 varieties with a winery/cellar below the tasting room. They also have a house on the property that they will renovate and rent out as an Air BnB.
Their winemaker Devey Michaels spoke briefly on the wines and teared up when she spoke of working with the Meadows. She also made the beautiful and delicious food that they had for us.
(We had an opportunity to stop back later in the week and spend part of a morning with Angela and her father Dexter, so we will give you a more detailed look at the vineyards and the Meadows in the future)
175 Hogan Rd, Oakland, OR 97462
Triple Oak Vineyard
In addition to meeting the Meadows, they had invited Betty Tam and her husband Geoff Faraghan of Triple Oak Vineyard to speak to us and pour their wines also.
Betty and her late husband Paul planted Triple Oak Vineyard in 2000. Paul passed in 2013 and Betty had to rethink her life. For the first year, she simply sold her grapes. The community rallied behind her with the Southern Oregon Wine Institute at UCC College used her vineyard for viticulture classes where students could learn to spray and prune etc. So Betty had people working in the vineyard to help her through that year.
She and Geoff now run the business together and have a tasting room in historic downtown Oakland. The tasting room is called the Triple Oak Wine Vault because it is in a historic bank building.
They produce their white wines at their tiny winery at the vineyard. The reds are made custom crush at Brandborg Winery in Elkton.
We tasted their 2020 White Oak a co-ferment of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Albarino, their 2020 Winter Sunset Rose of Pinot Noir, and their 2016 Pinot Noir, which is 100% Dijon 777 clone of Pinot.
137 NE Locust St, Oakland OR 97462
Brandborg Vineyard and Winery
We next headed North West to Elkton Oregon, to Brandborg Winery, located in the small downtown area.
Terry and Sue Brandborg produce about 9000 cases of their own wines and 4000-4200 cases of custom crush wines for clients. Their barrel room holds more barrels than there are residents in Elkton (200 residents/over 500 barrels).
Their estate vineyard is the Ferris Wheel vineyard. Terry and Sue were pen pals at the beginning of their relationship. Sue included in one of her letters, a refrigerator magnet of two puppets on a Ferris Wheel, resembling the two of them. Years later planting their vineyard, they chose the name Ferris Wheel.
The vineyard is the most westerly in the Umpqua Valley and one of the highest, sitting at 1000 feet. Just 30 miles from the ocean, the cool nights, morning fog, and cool breezes make this an ideal location for Pinot Noir.
Joan Smith, the tasting room manager walked us through a selection of their wines including the 2018 Fleur de Lis, a white Pinot Noir from their Ferris Wheel Vineyard, the 2018 Riesling from Bradley Vineyard, and the 2015 Gewurztraminer, also from Bradley.
We moved on to their reds tasting the 2014 Ferris Wheel Estate Pinot Noir and the 2018 Bench Lands Pinot Noir which is their largest production with over 4000 cases.
They do have a variety of wines with over 20 wines currently available.
345 First Street Elkton, OR 97436
Chris Hudson and his wife Monja Hudson-Desmeules created Lexème in 2015.
In 2011 they planted the Hudson family vineyard with Chris’ parents. The 200-acre property with a 6-acre vineyard is south of Elkton overlooking the Umpqua River. Their vineyard is in one of the warmest pockets in the Elkton area, typically picking their Pinot Noir 2 to 3 weeks before other local vineyards.
The vineyard is planted to Gamay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Viognier, and Chasselas. They planted to 3×3 spacing, gobelet style (head-trained, without trellising), so everything must be hand cultivated and harvested.
They make 500 to 700 cases each year and have a humble tasting room down the street, that would not have accommodated all of us. (Hence we were in an upstairs tasting space at Brandborg, for this tasting). They are building a new facility on their property.
We tasted their 2020 Blanc de Gamay Noir, their 2018 Pinot Noir which is their first release of 100% Estate Pinot Noir, their 2017 Red Blend of Tempranillo from the Roseburg area, Estate Gamay to fill the middle of the palate and give mouthfeel, and Estate Pinot Noir for length and fruit.
The last wine we tasted was the 2018 Sweet Pinot Gris, made in an ice wine style.
Chris is also the President of the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers and traveled with us to the vineyards for the rest of the day.
325 2nd Street, Elkton OR 97436
Bradley Vineyards and River’s Edge Winery
Bradley and River’s Edge hosted us together at the Bradley Vineyard. These two wineries have had close ties for a while.
Bradley Vineyard was planted in 1983 by John and Richard Bradley. John and his wife Bonnie moved to the area in the 80s to go into farming. John originally thought he would grow Christmas trees, but Ken Thomason who at that time owned the Black Oak and Elkton Vineyards convinced him to grow grapes.
They planted 20 acres of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling in the days when grow tubes were not yet widely used and they had to irrigate with an antique fire wagon. It took them 7 years to get their first crop. Initially, they sold all the fruit and John became a seasoned viticulturist and began managing the Black Out and Elkton vineyards for Ken.
In 2000 Mike and Vonnie Landt were ready to retire from their careers as biochemists in Saint Louis and wanted to return to the west coast to find some established vineyards to start their winery.
They purchased the Black Oak and Elkton Vineyards (planted by Ken in 1973) in the 90s and opened River’s Edge in 2000.
In 2000 John began making a small amount of his own wine at the River’s Edge Winery.
John passed unexpectedly in 2014 and his son Tyler returned to help in the family vineyard. He worked as an assistant winemaker at River’s Edge as well as making wines for Bradley.
Today Tyler is the head winemaker at River’s Edge and brought in a trusted friend and colleague Colin Duddy to work on the team. The two greeted us at Bradley Vineyards and had us set up to taste in the shaded deck overlooking the vineyard.
They poured wines from both wineries, alternating back and forth with an easy comfortable report. They bring a bit of innovation to the region, which suddenly is popping out Pet Nats!
From River’s Edge, we tasted their 2019 Agligoté, 2019 Cascade Pet Nat of Pinot Noir, and the 2017 Barrel Select Pinot Noir. Tyler Bradley poured us the Bradley Vineyards 2019 Estate Dry Riesling, the 2018 Skin Contact Gewurztraminer, and the 2018 Estate Pinot Noir.
We went back for bottles of the Cascade and the Skin contact Gewurz, so you can expect to hear more about those in the future.
1000 Azalea Drive, Elkton, OR 97436
1395 River Drive, Elkton, OR 97436
Our next stop was back to the Umpqua Valley to Reustle Vineyards. This large winery was founded in 2001 by Stephen and Gloria Reustle who had been running a successful marking company.
The 200 acre property has 40 planted acres divided into 2 vineyards, the Prayer Rock Vineyard, and the Romancing Rock Vineyard. They are planted to 15 varieties. The property also has gardens their new winery, tasting room, and cellars as well as an Amphitheatre, Collannade and the “carriage house, their original winery and tasting room which is now their Guest House available as an Air BnB.
On arrival we were offered a glass of their Sauvignon blanc and directed to the Amphitheatre, surrounded by gardens, where they served us avocado crostini made by Gloria and gave us the history of the place.
We then headed down through the tasting room to their cellar, where they served us a delicious lunch paired with their wines including their 2018 Gruner Veltliner and 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve that paired with salmon and vegetables, followed by their 2019 Syrah and 2015 port style Rojo Dulce Lot #3 which paired with an artisan cheese plate.
Their plans for the site, include a three-story tower for views, a 5 bedroom BnB, and eventually a church.
960 Cal Henry Road, Roseburg, OR 97471
Cooper Ridge Vineyard
In 1999 Robin found this 25-acre plot on the North Umpqua River that was a 75-year-old neglected walnut orchard. They pulled out the walnuts and planted 12 acres of wine grapes and built a Frank Lloyd Wright-style home overlooking the river.
The vineyard is broken into 3 blocks, the Fox Hollow, named because when they began clearing the property they found a fox den with kits, the descendants of which still roam the property. Dynamite Ridge, named because they had to dynamite out a bit of granite to get this put in, and Riverview, the lowest part of the vineyard with spectacular views of the river.
Heather and Kaila poured their 2020 Ridgeview Cuvée, which is a white blend, their 2016 Syrah, and their 2016 Tempranillo.
The beautiful tasting room is said to have the best sunset views in the valley. They are open from Thursday to Sunday from 12 to 7 (so you actually can catch the sunset here). In addition to their wines, they do have cheese plates available. On Sundays from Father’s Day to mid-September, they have music, wine, and food outside. And periodically special events like cigars and port nights or pairing dinners are held on the patio of the estate home.
1389 Old Garden Valley Road, Roseburg OR 97471
Joni and Chuck Knostman were high school sweethearts. Once their 3 kids were off on their own, they found this spot on the North Umpqua River.
Chuck welcomed us and gave us the story. They were from Seattle and had looked for property in the Willamette Valley. Then while on vacation in Bend, they saw that this place on the river was for sale. They fell in love and moved. They purchased the property in January of 2019 and were up and running in August that year, with 2018s in the barrel that they could shape a bit before bottling.
They shared with us four of their wines, the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2018 Pinot Gris, the 2019 Gamay Noir, and the 2018 Malbec. Since Covid, they have adjusted to serve the wines in flights for two on paddles, which makes a nice presentation.
The patio has beautiful views right on the river and there is a historical marker on the property near the river’s edge marking the Applegate Trail – North Umpqua Crossing. This trail was a Southern Alternative Route to the famous Oregon Trail. The marker marks a crossing of the North Fork of the Umpqua River.
213 Independence Ln, Roseburg, OR 97471
The Umpqua Valley Winegrowers treated us to dinner that night at the historic Parrot House.
This historic home was built in 1891 along Parrott Creek on the south end of Roseburg. In a Queen Anne Style, it was built for Moses Parrott a successful shoemaker.
Heidi Lael purchased the home to bring it back to its former glory. The house rests on 3 acres of grounds.
The stunning property has served as a restaurant, bar, and event facility. Over the pandemic, Heidi created a general store to fill a need. They also have their Reform Bar, a bourbon bar, and a beautiful patio area with a wood-fired pizza oven.
Dinner for us was in the large dining room at the back of the property. Served family-style there was an array of appetizers including Foraged mushrooms, & crispy Brussel sprouts shared salads in Caesar and Field Greens and main course options of Alaskan Salmon over risotto, Grilled Chicken with chimichurri and asparagus or Angel hair Alfredo.
The food was delicious, the atmosphere divine. I just wish there had been time to explore more of this beautifully restored historic home.
1851 SE Stephens St., Roseburg, OR 97470
That, my friends, was Day One in the Umpqua Valley. Whew! Watch for Day Two with 7 more wineries from the region.
More on the Umpqua Valley by Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Girardet Vineyard – Sustainability in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley
- 12 Days of Wine Day 10 – Girardet
- The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 Part 2 – Southern Oregon Applegate and Umpqua Valleys
More on #TheScenicRoute2021
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.