Of all the postcard-worthy wine country landscapes in Oregon, there’s a singular pocket that appeals to those who have a sense of adventure. While you can’t declare the Umpqua Valley AVA undiscovered, it’s definitely off-the-beaten-path. Located about one hour south of Eugene, the area shines as a go-to getaway for waterfalls, wilderness and wine.
Named for the renowned fishing river that runs nearby, the appellation stretches 65 miles from north to south. “The whole length of the Umpqua River is stunningly beautiful,” says Terry Brandborg, the co-owner of Brandborg Vineyard and Winery. “Also not-to-miss when visiting the area are the Cascades and Crater Lake,” he adds.
The pristine natural beauty captivates as much as the small communities. “Most everywhere you visit, you will encounter the owners and winemakers,” says Brandborg. He and his wife Sue moved to the Umpqua Valley from Northern California in 2002. When they arrived, the region had less than 10 wineries. Now there are about 30. “It’s great to see the recognition for the area grow,” says Brandborg.
Established in 1984, the Umpqua Valley appellation was one of the first created in Oregon.
Over the years, as winemakers discovered distinct microclimates in the region, two additional sub-appellations were approved: Red Hill Douglas County in 2004, and Elkton in 2013.
The Umpqua Valley usually has the longest frost-free growing season in the state, along with cool temperate conditions lasting until late fall. This results in grapes that can hang on the vine longer, ripening and developing complex flavors.
Brandborg’s winery sits in the small town of Elkton (population 174), and is located about 36 miles inland from the Pacific. This marine influence is what makes the Elkton sub-appellation notably cooler than other areas of the Umpqua, an example of the diversity of microclimates found in the grape growing region.
Due to three pronounced climatic sub-zones, the Umpqua Valley can grow both cool and warm climate varieties. Add in the hundreds of different soil profiles found and there’s a world of wine to discover. “We say you can travel through climates like Burgundy or Alsace, through the Rhone and on into Rioja/Ribera del Duero in less than an hour,” says Brandborg.
The Wine List:
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery
2017 Brandborg Vineyard & Winery Love Puppets Pinot Noir
Made from Brandborg’s most coveted pinot lots, the three distinct sites this wine hails from — all dry-farmed vineyards — give this pinot layers of fragrance, melding floral and spice notes. The fruit expresses a core of blueberry, red fruit and dark plummy flavors.
$38 | 13.3% ABV
2018 Abacela Albariño
One of Oregon’s wine legends, Abacela founder Earl Jones pioneered Tempranillo stateside when he planted his first vines in 1995. At that time there were only 13 wineries in Southern Oregon and no winery in the nation was commercially growing or making Tempranillo. While his exceptional Tempranillo program is worthy of a wine pilgrimage, he also makes a gorgeous Albariño from estate fruit. Brisk and crisp, this white wine leads with fresh stone fruit flavors and finishes with refreshing acidity.
$23 | 13.1% ABV
Founded in 1961 by pioneer Richard Sommer, HillCrest is the oldest continually operating estate winery in Oregon. Owners Dyson and Susan Demara celebrated the rich heritage of the winery with this pinot to mark the 50th anniversary of Sommer’s first commercial Pinot Noir bottling in 1967. The beautiful label is the repurposed original from 1967. A dinner party conversation starter, this silky pinot has a generous core of ripe cherry, earth and baking spices.
$75 | 13.2% ABV
Paul O’Brien Winery
2018 Paul O’Brien Winery GSM
Owners Dyson Paul DeMara and Scott O’Brien Kelley met over two decades while working at Robert Mondavi Winery in the Napa Valley. In 2013, the winemakers launched Paul O’Brien Winery in downtown Roseburg. Sourcing grapes from dry-farmed vineyards in the Umpqua Valley, their wine program includes robust and full-bodied reds like Tempranillo, Cabernet and Dolcetto. Rounding out their program are some classic blends like this ode to Southern Rhone (53% Grenache, 34% Syrah and 13% Mourvèdre) bursting with bright red fruit layers and a pepper and herb finish.
$32 | 14.2% ABV
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards
2020 Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards Grüner Veltliner
Inspired by a glass of white wine he had on a motorcycle tour in the Alps, owner Stephen Reustle decided to plant Grüner Veltliner when he returned to Oregon. In 2005, he was the first winemaker in the United States to commercially produce this versatile and food-friendly white wine. Since then he’s honed in on four different styles that are released each year, leading a Grüner movement in the Northwest. A bright citrus-kissed classic that finishes with white pepper notes, here’s the perfect match for those hard-to-pair vegetable-driven dishes.
$31 | 13.6% ABV