Friday, October 22, 2021

Umpqua Valley A Surprising Find In Oregon Wine Country

The first of our two-part look at Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, a region ripe with innovation and diverse grape varieties.

Oregon wine continues to grow in popularity and reputation. The state has 21 AVAs and contributes more than $7 billion annually to the Oregon economy. Much of the buzz focuses on Willamette Valley and its Pinot Noir, but further south in Umpqua Valley, there is a world of quality wine unknown to most wine lovers.

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The Umpqua Valley sits between the Cascades to the east and the Coastal Range to the west. It stretches 65 miles from north to south and is 25 miles wide and is nestled between Willamette Valley to the north and Rogue Valley to the South.

Its wine history dates back to the 1880s, when German immigrants established the first vineyard and winery, producing an estimated 22,000 gallons of wine. The region has quite a few firsts. Between 1959 and 1961, Richard Sommer, a winemaking pioneer in the Umpqua Valley planted 36 acres of vinifera grapes, including Oregon’s first Pinot Noir, despite warnings from his U.C. Davis educators that grapes will not grow in Oregon.

The Umpqua Valley AVA was founded in 1984 and innovation continued. In 1984, Abacela Winery planted the first Tempranillo in the Northwest. In 2001 the winery planted the first Albariño vines in the Northwest. In 2003-2005, Steve Reustle of Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards planted and produced the first commercial Grüner Veltliner.

The region historically was home to vineyard plots of five to 30 acres. Today larger vineyards from 100 to 200 acres are planted. The number of grape varieties has expanded to include Syrah, Tempranillo, and Grenache. In fact, the 30 family-owned wineries of Umpqua Valley grow 40 different wine varieties.

We recently had a chance to tour Umpqua Valley during the Wine Media Conference in an excursion hosted by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association. Here’s a look at five impressive Umpqua Valley wineries and we’ll continue with winery reports in our second part.

Meadows Estate Winery - 175 Hogan Road, Oakland, Oregon

Formerly MarshAnne Landing, this winery was purchased by Dexter and Marilyn Meadows in 2019. Meadows Estate Winery is 17 acres of deep, cobbled volcanic soil and features 10 varieties. We tried the first two wines that are “their own,” the 2017 White Grenache and the 2017 Syrah Rosé. The focus is on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. Be sure to check out the Cote du Umpqua, a Rhone-style blend of 50-50 Grenache and Syrah.

Their goal is to produce “out of this world” wines. With a stylish tasting room that features a deck with scenic views and beautiful estate wines, Meadows Estate Winery is ready for liftoff.

Brandborg Vineyard and Winery - 345 First Street, Elkton, Oregon

Brandborg Vineyard and Winery are located in Elkton, the coolest and most maritime climate in the Umpqua Valley. I was familiar with their elegant Pinot Noir but got my introduction to their Alsace-style white wines during my visit. With just a touch of sweetness, their Bradley Vineyard Riesling is one of the top sellers in Oregon. The 2015 Bradley Vineyard Gewürztraminer is an award-winner with citrus and green apple notes.

The array of 11 different Pinot Noir includes the 2014 Ferris Wheel Pinot Noir, limited to 465 cases and supple with blackberry, spice, and cherry notes.  The Ferris Wheel Vineyard is the most westerly in Umpqua Valley and stands at 1,000 feet and just 30 miles from the ocean. For a treat, try the 2018 2018 Fleur de Lis (White) Pinot Noir.

Bradley Vineyards and River’s Edge Winery - 1395 River Drive, Elkton, Oregon

We tasted wine from these outstanding wineries at River’s Edge. Bradley Vineyards was founded by John and Richard Bradley and sold almost all of the crops to wineries around Oregon. When friends opened the River’s Edge Winery, it provided an opportunity to begin producing a small amount of wine under the Bradley Vineyard label.

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Our tasting began with the River’s Edge 2019 Aligoté. There’s not much of this white grape to be found in the US market. It’s light and crisp with a delicious minerality. In a bottle with a distinctive piece of art, the River’s Edge Cascade is a Pinot Noir pet nat wine with just the right amount of bubbles and a nice unfiltered texture.

The 35th Leaf Edition (it’s their 35 harvest) 2018 Skin Contact Gewürztraminer from Bradley takes Gewürz and stands it on its ear. The unique orange color comes from skin contact during primary fermentation. The bouquet is a blast of roses, which gives way to tree-fruit and spicy flavors. Their 2018 My Bon Pinot Noir uses Pommard and Wadenswil clones. It’s a classic beauty.

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards - 960 Cal Henry Road, Roseburg, Oregon

Our lunch stop was at Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards and, if I had my way, I would still be at the winery! Owner and winemaker Stephen Reustle has carved an impressive wine estate in the shadow of Tyee Mountain. There are 14 grape varieties planted among the 40 acres of vines. The complex includes a winery and tasting cave as well as an observation deck and amphitheater.

Inside the wine cave, we were treated to a gourmet meal with a salmon entrée. In 2005, Reustle became the first winery in the US to commercially produce Grüner Veltliner. The 2018 Grüner has a big mouthfeel and round mineral flavors, perfect for our fish dish. We closed with a cheese course that featured the 2019 Syrah. Their 2012 Syrah took the title of Best Syrah in the World in the 6 Nations Wine Challenge. It’s a savory wine with blackberry and cocoa notes.

There is indeed a Prayer Rock, a large boulder at the top of a south-facing slope that served as a meeting place for Stephen and his son. Reustle Prayer Rock is an answer to a wine lover’s prayer.

More fun in Umpqua Valley in the second part of our story, coming soon.

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