Over the last several decades Oregon has emerged as a major wine producer. The Willamette Valley, in particular, has gained worldwide fame for its pinot noir. The valley has certainly become the center of Oregon’s wine universe, accounting for around 71 percent of the grapes grown in the state.
Along the way it’s been forgotten that southern Oregon was the birthplace of Oregon’s wine industry. Grapes were first planted in the region in the mid-19th century. In the mid-1850s, Peter Britt, arguably Oregon’s first commercial wine producer planted a vineyard, Valley View, still in operation, next to his house overlooking Jacksonville in what is now the Applegate Valley AVA in the Rogue Valley. He produced his first wine in 1858.
Britt may also have been the first to plant pinot noir in Oregon. During his lifetime, he is believed to have planted some 200 different varieties of grapes in his vineyards. One wine that he produced carried the designation Burgundy. It’s not clear, however, if that wine was made from pinot noir.
The first documented planting of pinot noir in the state occurred in southern Oregon. In 1964, Richard Sommers planted pinot noir at his HillCrest vineyard in the Umpqua Valley. That was a year before David Lett and Charles Coury planted pinot noir in the Willamette Valley. The first Oregon Wine Growers Association was organized in southern Oregon and its founding members were all vineyard owners in the Umpqua Valley.
Today, southern Oregon has been largely eclipsed by the vinicultural fame of the Willamette Valley. All too often the region is dismissed as being too warm to grow quality pinot noir, the one variety most closely associated with the state, and relegated to the role of being a supplier of bulk grapes to winemakers in northern Oregon and California. There are many other grape varieties grown there, however, from tempranillo to viognier, some with the potential of producing world class wines, but these are little known outside the area.
That’s unfortunate because southern Oregon is a world class vinicultural region, presenting a complex geology and a terrain and mesoclimates, which lends itself to the production of a broad array of quality grapes from both cool and warm climates. Only now is its true vinicultural potential being discovered and appreciated.
The geology of southwest Oregon is very different from that of the northwest corner of the state. The entire west coast of North America, from Alaska through California, was created by the amalgamation of a series of what geologists call accreted terranes or continental arcs. Numbering about nine in total, these slivers of continental crust were joined with North America as a result of tectonic forces pushing various continental plates against the North American plate. When this process started, about 200 million years ago, the west coast of North America corresponded to Idaho’s current western boundary.
As tectonic forces pushed these continental arcs into North America, they often also pushed up portions of the oceanic crust. Volcanic activity also often accompanied this process, resulting in volcanic eruptions or volcanic intrusions into the uplifting oceanic bedrock. The result was a complex geological layer cake consisting of alternating strata of continental and oceanic crust and marine sediments interspersed with the residue of volcanic eruptions and magma intrusions.
In the Willamette Valley, however, this bedrock geology was overlain by a series of repeated, massive, flood basalt eruptions, often termed fissure eruptions, which ejected some 42,000 cubic miles of lava across southern Washington and northern Oregon. That’s enough lava to bury the entire United States under 40 feet.
These deposits were further shaped by a series of gigantic floods that marked the end of the last ice age. These floods, potentially numbering several hundred over a period of roughly 3,000 years, between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago, were created when ice dams holding back Great Lakes sized bodies of water repeatedly burst, unleashing a wall of water amounting to several hundred cubic miles across eastern Washington and the drainage of the Columbia River. These massive floods created the scab lands of eastern Washington and the Columbia gorge, and were responsible for depositing hundreds of feet of rich sediments in the Willamette Valley.
The fertile soils that resulted made the Willamette Valley one of the most productive agricultural regions on earth. Such regions, however, often do not lend themselves to quality wine production. Instead, those higher elevation areas, whose nutrient poor soils remained above the flood waters unleashed by the various ice age floods and which were not subject to the deposition of sediments, would centuries later become the Willamette Valley AVAs.
Southern Oregon was spared the impact of those flood basalt eruptions, as well as the later ice age floods. Unlike the Willamette Valley, the bedrock geology was not buried under hundreds of feet of sediments. The result is a complex mosaic of some 50 different soils, many tens of millions of years old, spread across a heavily faulted landscape. It’s not uncommon in southern Oregon to walk a vineyard and see a fault line dividing it with two very different soil types on either side of the fault.
Moreover, the intersection of three mountain ranges, the Coast Range, the Klamath Mountains and the Cascades, creates an undulating landscape across the Umpqua and Rogue AVAs, which presents a variety of aspects and elevations. Each 100 feet of elevation typically affects average temperatures by one to two degrees F. A north facing slope at a higher altitude can easily be five to ten degrees F cooler than a lower elevation, south facing slope.
The river valleys funnel cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean, 50 miles away, further extenuating those differences. The peaks surrounding the intermountain valleys often act like natural calderas, trapping heat and creating warm zones on the valley bottom. The result is that cool clime varietals, like riesling or pinot noir, can often be found in close proximity, sometimes literally kitty corner, to warm climate varietals like grenache, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon or viognier.
The result is that over a length of roughly 150 miles, the southern Oregon AVA can host a range of grapes, which in Europe would span from Alsace to central Italy and from Ribera del Duero to the Rhine, making the southern Oregon AVA one of the most unique vinicultural zones in the world.
The Southern Oregon AVA
The southern Oregon AVA covers some 2.2 million acres, of which only about 8,000 acres are in vineyards. It consists of five separate AVAs, separated by four major rivers and includes portions of three mountain ranges.
Moving from north to south, those AVAs are: the Elkton, Red Hill, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley. The Elkton and Red Hill AVAs are enclosed within the Umpqua Valley AVA, while the Applegate Valley AVA is largely enclosed within the Rogue Valley AVA.
The principal grape varietal grown in the southern Oregon AVA is pinot noir. It amounts to 44 percent of the total vineyard acreage. Most of these grapes are sold in bulk to wine producers in the Willamette Valley and northern California. That’s unfortunate, because southern Oregon pinot noir, when properly cropped on the right sites, can have a very distinctive aroma and flavor profile.
The warm climate ensures both physiological and sugar ripeness, while the pronounced diurnal temperature variation ensures the retention of acidity. The result, on cool sites, when cropped at levels of around three tons per acre, can be lush, fruit forward wines with a backbone of well-integrated tannins and medium acidity.
Pinot gris amounts to 10 percent of the vineyard acreage, meaning that more than half of all of the vineyard acreage is devoted to pinot varietals. Syrah amounts to nine percent, cabernet sauvignon to seven percent and merlot to four percent of plantings. These warm climate varietals can thrive on the right site, producing cabernet’s reminiscent of Sonoma, while the syrah’s have a decidedly northern Rhone-like quality to them.
Chardonnay amounts to seven percent of total plantings. Tempranillo is generally considered a warm climate grape, but it has the advantage of early ripening. Its name is derived from the word temprano, Spanish for early. It accounts for three percent of total plantings, as does riesling, another cool climate varietal. There are approximately 70 other varietals that account for the remaining 16 percent of vineyard plantings.
The climate in the southern Oregon AVA varies from maritime to Mediterranean, with cool, damp winters and warm, dry summers. Site selection, however, can have a big impact and can offer a range of cooler and hotter mesoclimates.
Cooler portions of the Umpqua AVA, at higher elevations, are rated at about 1700 Growing Degree Days (GDD), roughly equivalent to cool climate regions like Champagne or Tasmania.
The southern portion of the Umpqua AVA is rated at around 2300 GDD, roughly equivalent to the Willamette Valley, Burgundy, Alsace or Ribera del Duero. Conversely, the warmer regions of the Rogue Valley AVA can rate as high as 3000 GDD, roughly equivalent to Bordeaux, Piedmont or Portugal’s Douro Valley.
Significantly, the southern Oregon AVA also has one of the most pronounced diurnal temperature swings of any wine producing region in the world, on average about 30 degrees F during the growing season and especially during the critical ripening period.
The region has more than 50 different vineyard soils. These soils fall into three main categories: volcanic, marine sedimentary bedrock and river sediments. The volcanic soils are different and far older than the volcanic soils in the north Willamette Valley. These soils are associated with two very different, albeit related, geologic processes. The volcanic soils in the north Rogue Valley are derived from the volcanic eruptions that created the Cascade Range to the east, which date from 10 million to about 50 million years ago.
To the west, there are volcanic soils associated with the amalgamation of the Siletz terrane, the last terrane to get absorbed into the west coast of North American. These volcanic soils were the result of underwater volcanoes and magma intrusions associated with the uplift of the oceanic sea floor as the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate collided with and was subducted under the North American plate.
These Jory soils make up a large portion of the Red Hill AVA in Douglas County and are similar to the Jory soils found in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley. Additionally, there are pockets of volcanic soils, associated with local eruptions, scattered throughout the southern Oregon AVA, especially on its western side.
These volcanic soils are 35 to 45 million years old, making them roughly three times as old as the volcanic soils of the north Willamette Valley. They are more weathered, which means they have higher clay content, an advantage in southern Oregon as it allows for more water retention, and have even less nutrients.
Although they are all basaltic in origin, the volcanic soils in southern Oregon are associated with the subduction of the Juan de Fuca plate, rather than the hot spot induced flood basalt eruptions, and have a different geochemical profile.
The marine sedimentary soils are part of the oceanic crust, and its related sediments, which were forced up and accreted to North America as the tectonic plates collided. These are similar to the marine sedimentary soils found in the north Willamette Valley. These soils have a higher clay content than the sedimentary soils in the Willamette Valley and a darker red hue. They also tend to have more nutrients than volcanic soils.
The last major category of soils are stream terraces and alluvial fans that were laid down by ancient rivers beginning some two million years ago. These terraces consist of soils that have been eroded from higher elevations and mark the ancient courses of rivers. They are comprised of a mix of silt, sand and gravel. The combination of the three components being determined by the speed of the water carrying them.
The complex geology of Southern Oregon, its various soil types and wide-ranging topography permit the region to grow a broad range of grape varietals. Additionally, the extended hang time and the pronounced diurnal variation ensures both physiological ripeness and the retention of acidity. That’s the reason why southern Oregon can produce full bodied, aromatically complex, fruit forward wines with the acidity and tannic backbone that gives them the structure for prolonged aging.
Next, we will look at the wines of the Umpqua Valley.
Read the full article and subsequent articles here.
For Immediate Release
Reustle’s 2017 Syrah Wins “Best of Class” at San Diego!
This year’s San Diego International Wine Competition saw Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Syrah continue to earn high praise by winning “Best of Class” honors and a 94 point rating. Known for producing award-winning wines across the spectrum of wine, Stephen M. Reustle, Owner/Winemaker of Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, also received a Platinum Medal with another 94 points for his flagship 2017 Gruner Veltliner along with Gold Medals (92 Points) for his 2017 Syrah – Winemaker’s Reserve, 2017 Gruner Veltliner – Green Lizard (90 Points), and 2016 Tempranillo (90 Points).
Stephen M. Reustle was obviously pleased when he noted, “I was thrilled to see our wines do so well in San Diego. Receiving medals and scores like these validate year’s of hard work, from the beginning with vineyards site selection all the way through refining our wine-making protocols and every decision we have to make each year. It is rewarding to be recognized for making good wine…really good wine in the Umpqua Valley. We are encouraged by our success, it drives us to work even harder to produce the best wines we can.”
So far this season, Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards has earned 4 “Best of Class” designations and 25 Gold or Higher Medals in major wine competitions. With several other major wine competition yet to be held, it will be interesting to watch Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards‘ wines as they continue to bring the wine spotlight on the Umpqua Valley.
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, Wine Press NW’s 2017 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, 2015 Six Nations Wine Challenge Top Syrah producer, 2015 Terroir Award Recipient & Riverside Int’l Wine Competition’s 2010 Small Winery of the Year, is 100% estate grown and produced from 40 acres of steep, hillside vineyards in Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. Family owned and operated since 2001, Reustle – Prayer Rock Vineyards produces approximately 8,000 cases annually.
May 1, 2019
Greatest of the Grape honors Umpqua Valley
By OWP Staff
Greatest of the Grape, Oregon’s oldest wine festival, continued its historical run with its 49th iteration on April 13, inside Douglas Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds — a new venue for the event. Presented by the Umpqua Valley Wineries Association, the gala featured 28 wineries alongside 14 local restaurants and caterers serving appetizers paired with the select wines.
Richard Sommer, the first in Oregon to plant Pinot Noir and considered the father of Oregon’s modern wine industry, helped establish the event in 1970 as a wine-tasting supper held at the Umpqua Hotel in downtown Roseburg. At the time, Governor Tom McCall said about the Umpqua Valley, “I can see where one day this may be a scenic valley of vineyards.” In an April 1970 issue of the News-Review, a reporter opined, “Humble beginnings have fostered many a giant industry. Continued success: that is our wish for the Oregon wine industry. We salute the grape.”
Fast-forward 49 years, and the Umpqua Valley has lived up to its expectations. In fact, winemaker Terry Brandborg, the UVWA board president, says 2019 was the first year the wines presented at the celebration were solely from the Umpqua, where more than 40 different varietals, both warm- and cool-climate, thrive today.
Throughout the evening, guests tasted through wines and nibbled on gourmet bites while listening — many even danced — to upbeat music by Roseburg’s Flashbak. Some placed bids to win luxurious prizes in the silent auction, and most everyone made their palates “heard” by voting on their favorite food and wine combinations with a specially designed mobile app.
In addition, participating wineries donated bottles to the “Wheel of Wine” fundraiser for scholarships Southern Oregon Wine Institute’s viticulture and enology program. The fun diversion raised $2,500.
This year’s wineries included: Abacela, Becker, Bradley, Brandborg, Chateau Nonchalant, Cooper Ridge, Delfino, Falk, Ferraro, Foon, Freed, Girardet, HillCrest, JosephJane, Lexeme, MarshAnne Landing, Melrose, Mustard Seed, Paul O’Brien, River’s Edge, Season Cellars, Spangler, Spire Mountain, The Cellars at SOWI, Trella, Triple Oak, Vogel and Whitetail Ridge.
Restaurants included: Big K Guest Ranch, Chef Mel’s, Condon’s Culinary Creations, Creative Catering, Fairgrounds Professional Catering, Firehouse Fudge Co., Nellie’s Deli & Tap House, The Parrott House, River Rush Catering, Smokin’ Friday BBQ, Steamboat Inn, Tolly’s Restaurant, True Kitchen & Bar and Tucky’s Southern Kitchen & Pantry.
Professional judges arrived a day early to blind-taste the wines to be poured at the gala on Saturday night. This year’s panel included: Michael Alberty with The Oregonian; Dr. Liz Thach from Sonoma State University; and Matt Talbot, a wine blogger based in Lake Oswego. The trio marked select wines as platinum, gold, silver and bronze. (See winners in the sidebar.)
Not only was the wine evaluated by pros, but also the food. The culinary panel included: Chris Cook, owner of Capiche Wine Marketing & PR; Nathan Radford, a former executive chef and graduate of the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute; Nancy Rodriguez, a food-focused freelance writer living in the Umpqua Valley; and Andrew Calvert from The Perfect Occasion, who judged the best winery and restaurant presentation. (See winners in the sidebar.) If you missed this year, you’ll have a chance to catch the big one, the 50th anniversary, next year. See umpquavalleywineries.org for more details.
Umpqua Valley Winegrowers – 2019 Greatest of the Grape
April 13, 2019, Roseburg, OR.
The 49th Annual Greatest of the Grape, presented by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, was held Saturday, April 13, 2019.
Award categories for the Professional Wine Judges are: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Professional Wine Judges come a day early to “blind taste” the wine that will be poured at the Greatest of the Grape event on Saturday night. This year’s judges are: Michael Alberty with the Oregonian, Dr. Liz Thach from Sonoma State University, and Matt Talbot, blogger from Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Platinum Medal (only one award given):
Delfino Vineyards / 2015 Delfino Forza Tempranillo
Girardet Vineyards & Winery / 2017 Girardet Take Flight White
Spangler Vineyards / 2015 Spangler Carménère
Paul O’Brien Winery / 2014 Paul O’Brien Winery Tempranillo
The Cellars at SOWI / 2016 The Cellars at SOWI Sauvignon Blanc
Bradley Vineyards / 2015 Bradley Vineyards Pinot Noir
Cooper Ridge Vineyard / 2015 Cooper Ridge Vineyard Merlot
The Professional Food Judges at this year’s event are: Chris Cook the Owner of Capiche Wine Marketing & PR, Nathan Radford a former Executive Chef, and graduate of the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, and Nancy Rodriguez a freelance writer living in the Umpqua Valley.
Winner: True Kitchen & Bar
Runner-Up: The Parrott House
Best Restaurant/Winery Presentation:
The Professional Judge for the Best Restaurant/Winery Presentation is: Andrew Calvert from The Perfect Occasion
Winner: Condon’s Culinary Creations
Runner Up: Steamboat Inn
Peoples Choice Awards:
The Greatest of the Grape award is the People’s Choice Award voted for the best wine overall, voted on by the attendees at the event. Attendees also vote on their Favorite Red, Favorite White, Wine/Food Pairing, and Favorite Food.
Greatest of the Grape: Co-Champions / Tie
Becker Vineyard / 2017 Becker Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Cooper Ridge Vineyard / 2015 Cooper Ridge Vineyard Merlot
Winner: Delfino / 2015 Delfino Forza Tempranillo
Runner-Up: HillCrest Winery & Distillery / 2015 HillCrest Vineyard Les Combettes Pinot Noir
Winner: Abacela / 2018 Abacela Albariño
Runner-Up: Girardet Vineyards & Winery / 2017 Girardet Take Flight White
Favorite Wine / Food Pairing:
Winner: Becker Vineyard / 2017 Becker Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Firehouse Fudge Company / Simple, creamy milk chocolate fudge
Runner-Up: Abacela / 2018 Abacela Albariño and River Rush Catering / Grilled peach gelato in a shortbread spoon
Favorite Food :
Winner: Steamboat Inn / Smoked bacon conserva in gourgeres
Runner-Up: True Kitchen & Bar / Rosemary toast, corned beef short rib, fire roasted tomato jam, black pepper creme fraiche, maple glazed bacon
For more information:
PO Box 447, Roseburg, OR 97470