2018 Greatest of the Grape Results Announced!

The 48th Annual Greatest of the Grape, presented by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association at Seven Feathers Casino Resort, was held Saturday, March 3rd, 2018.
The Greatest of the Grape 
Winner: Abacela, 2014 Tempranillo-Malbec “Fifty-Fifty”
Winner: Hillcrest Vineyard, 2015 Malbec-Tempranillo

Runner Up: Bradley Vineyards, 2016 Ruby’s Red

Winner: Cooper Ridge Vineyard, 2016 Riesling

Runner Up: Delfino Vineyards, 2016 SuBerwein

Wine / Food Pairing

Bradley Vineyards, 2016 Ruby’s Red with Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill & Cafe’s Cherry and Blackberry braised Beef Brisket

Favorite Food
Cow Creek Restaurant’s oven braised Pork Belly, Asparagus-Corn Relish, and Pimento Oil

Gold Medals
Cliff Creek Cellars, 2016 MRV 
Becker Vineyard, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon 
Chateau Nonchalant, 2015 Malbec 

Silver Medals
Paul O’Brien Winery, 2016 Fume Blanc 
Cooper Ridge Vineyard, 2016 Riesling 
Spire Mountain Cellars, 2014 Tempranillo 
Triple Oak Wine Vineyard, 2015 Temptanillo 
Spangler Vineyards, 2015 Dolcetto 

Bronze Medals
Foris Vineyards, 2016 Pinot Blanc 
Henry Estate Winery, 2015 Pinot Noir 
Marsh Anne Landing, 2015 GSM 
Misty Oaks, 2015 BN2 


First Place: True Kitchen & Bar, Spanish spiced Lamb Croquette w/Romesco topped w/tri-colored Peppers & Queso fresco 

Runner Up: Fuel Mobile Kitchen, Goat Cheese Tamale Poblano Romesco & roasted Corn charred Spring Onion Relish 

This year’s wine judges were Mattie John Bamman, Hilary Berg, and Erin James. This year’s Food Judges were Nathan Radford, Nancy Rodriguez, and Greg Vincent.

Reustle named “Best of the Best”

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, 2017 Northwest Winery of the Year, wins “Best of the Best!” title at Wine Press NW Platinum judging.

Kennewick, WA. Eric Degerman of Wine Press NW reported, “Stephen Reustle caps his reign as the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by topping the 2017 Platinum Judging with his flagship bottling of Grüner Veltliner.”

Wine Press Northwest’s 2017 Platinum Judging held in Kennewick, WA, awarded Stephen Reustle its top honor as his Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Grüner Veltliner was awarded a DOUBLE PLATINUM Medal and was named “Best of the Best” winning the best of show. This year’s competition was marked by success across the spectrum of wine for Reustle, as he earned 4 Double Platinum Medals, 5 Platinum Medals moving Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards into fourth place on the all-time list – not bad for a winery which has only participated in less than half of the competitions. In addition to the platinum medals, Reustle also earned 5 Double Gold Medals and 2 Gold Medals during the three-day competition.


Known for his award-winning Grüner Veltliner, Reustle scored Platinum or higher medals for three distinctly different offerings of the varietal he pioneered in the United States. All three Grüners elicited “Wow” responses from this year’s judges who noted the fruit characteristic balanced with spice and acidity that lingered on the palate, producing a “Forever finish.”


A “Vivid and Everlasting finish” was how judges described Reustle’s 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, which won a Double Gold Medal as well. Noting Reustle’s success with Grüner, judges were not surprised to find his Sauvignon Blanc was a shining star at this year’s competition.


Not limited to success with white wines, Reustle took home a Double Platinum for his 2015 Syrah. “Sultry and smooth” are word used to describe the 2015 Syrah. Noting previous success with Reustle winning the 2015 Six Nations Wine Challenge Best Syrah Trophy, judges were captivated by notes of roasted coffee, fig, blackberry, and blueberry.


When asked about this year’s competition Owner/Winemaker Stephen M. Reustle was enthusiastic about moving up to number four on the all-time platinum list with the additional 9 Platinum Medals he won at this year’s competition. Reustle noted that this year’s invitational competition was filled with over 650 entries of Gold Medal winning wines and that the level of competition was the highest ever.


This year’s competition proved that you can find terrific wines at affordable price points. The average price point of the Double Platinum Medal winners was under the $30 threshold at $29.15, with the Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards’ price point just above the $25 mark at $25.75. When asked about pricing Owner/Winemaker Stephen M. Reustle stated that one of his top priorities was to bring world-class wines at approachable price points to the market.


The 2017 medal results for Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards are as follows:
“Best of the Best” – 2014 Grüner Veltliner
Double Platinum – 2014 Grüner Veltliner, 2015 Grüner Veltliner, 2015 Syrah, 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
Platinum- 2013 Syrah Reserve, 2014 Rojo Dulce, 2014 Pinot Noir Reserve, 2015 Côt et Merlau, 2015 Grüner Veltliner Reserve
Double Gold – 2014 Syrah, 2014 Syrah Reserve, 2014 Riesling, 2015 Tempranillo, 2015 Grüner Veltliner – Smaragd
GOLD – 2014 Pinot Noir, 2015 Malbec

The Umpqua, a Sense of Place

By Nancy Rodriguez, Oregon Valley Verve Magazine

A convergence of three mountain ranges, the Klamath, the Cascades and the Coast Range created this region with a series of interconnecting small mountain ranges and valleys.  A convergence of another kind occurred when in the 1880’s pioneers with a vision and a passion traveled the Applegate Trail to create a “sense of place” in this valley of one hundred valleys. That interconnection led to the new frontier of winemaking and to a success that far exceeds the boundaries of the geographic limits or confines of time. “The fundamental idea of place led to success.”  Earl Jones, Abacela

Standing on the threshold of the future and where the old world meets the new world, in 1961 Richard Sommer established Hillcrest Winery. It is the oldest bonded winery in the state and officially designated the birthplace of Pinot Noir in Oregon. His humble words of “let’s see what works,” were the beginning of the modern day wine industry in Oregon. The Umpqua is the oldest wine producing region in the state. The Oregon Winegrowers Association was established here in 1969 and designated an AVA in 1984. It is home to 23 wineries producing 40 different varietals.  All of the Umpqua winemakers begin their story with the *belief in terroir, a search for the place where the “wine tastes like the growing conditions.” Micro-climate driven the region produces varietals from the cool climate Pinot Noir of the coast range to Tempranillo first planted here in 1995 by Earl and Hilda Jones owners of Abacela. “Listen to the vines, do what the fruit says to do.” Earl Jones

There is a history here of firsts in this valley. The first planting of Pinot Noir at Hillcrest Vineyards, first of Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest at Abacela, first Grüner Veltliner planted in the United States at Reustle Prayer Rock, the Paul O’Brien Winery, the first urban winery in Roseburg, part of the new wave of winemakers, “Creating something unique and transforming the downtown.” Scott Kelley, Owner Paul O’Brien/ Winemaker.

All on the forefront of the new frontier, defying the odds and following the lead of those who had found their place. “This is the chosen place, the golden moment; it took everyone to get us here.” Dyson DeMara Owner/ Winemaker Hillcrest Winery

The recognition of the region continues to grow with each vintage.  From the awards presented at the Greatest of the Grape, the oldest wine festival in the state and now in its 47th year to the medals bestowed upon the wines of the Umpqua at the recent Oregon Wine Experience 2016 in Jacksonville, to the international attention putting the spotlight on the winemakers and wines of the Umpqua. Giving more credibility to what gives this region the distinction of being one of the top ten wine country destinations is the Somm Camp being hosted by the Reustle Prayer Rock Winery this coming spring. Based on the accolades and awards received for their 2012 Syrah at the Six Nations Wine Challenge held in Sydney Australia in 2015, Reustle Prayer Rock gained the attention of the Somm Journal which has declared the Umpqua an upstart AVA redefining wine in Oregon. The ‘Big Three’, Reustle Prayer Rock, Abacela and Brandborg Winery, each having been named ‘Winery of the Year’ and in total producing 20 different varietals all gold medal winners was the determining factor in bringing the Somm Camp to the Umpqua and which is now open for participation by all wineries in the region. Stephen Reustle’s philosophy and motivation comes from the idea that all will benefit from each success and the identity of this region will be further established as a place producing world class wine. *At a recent seminar hosted by the Southern Oregon Wine Institute on agritourism in Oregon, held in collaboration with the Oregon Wine Board and Travel Oregon, the future of the wine industry was the full agenda. Creating identity for this region which encompasses wineries which in addition to the “Big Three” would include the long established Girardet, Delfino, Spangler, Misty Oaks, Bradley to wineries now making a name for themselves, Paul O’Brien, Season Cellars, TeSoAria, Anindor, Triple Oak Vineyard, to one of the  newer vineyards with a view, Cooper Ridge.  

The prevailing wisdom of the winemakers is that they are collectively “stewards of the land.” With roots in the valley spreading out, the journey continues along the Umpqua Valley Wine Trail and beyond. Perhaps the embodiment of the pioneering spirit as evidenced in the new pioneers is best stated by Terry Brandborg owner and award winning winemaker of the Brandborg Winery, “I feel as if I haven’t arrived yet, always learning, haven’t made the best wine yet.”

* Three mountain ranges colliding would bring together a force from which would emerge the essential elements, climate, terroir and determination to create a “sense of place.”  To borrow from Marc Girardet, owner-winemaker of Girardet, “Taste three times, bottle only once. The power of three.”

Sensational SOMM Camp

by Kevin Breck, Wine Scene Magazine

Recently, 15 sommeliers from Oregon, Washington, California and Colorado arrived in Roseburg to attend the Umpqua Valley 2017 SOMM Camp. Unlike most of the camps that you’ve attended, this camp did not feature lanyard making or s’mores. This camp featured WINE. Lots of wine. Created by The SOMM Journal, SOMM Camps bring certified sommeliers to different winegrowing regions of the world to experience the terroir of the place, and to meet local winemakers and winegrowers. Organized by the “Big Tree:” Abacela Winery, Brandborg Vineyard & Winery, and Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, the event gave the Somms a unique opportunity to meet with scions of the Umpqua Valley wine industry, in particular Earl Jones, Terry Brandborg, and Stephen Reustle.

Over the ensuing four days, campers sipped almost countless wines from nine Umpqua Valley vineyards and wineries, toured much of the region, and enjoyed gourmet meals featuring locally-sourced ingredients. Here are some of the highlights:

Climatologist Greg Jones gave an overview of the region’s unique climate and terroir. Jones explained that Southern Oregon is unique among winegrowing regions in number of varieties that grow here (70), in the length of its growing season (175 days from bud break to harvest) and in its 32° diurnal temperature swings in August and September. Stephen Reustle noted, “Cold nights preserve acidity in the grapes, while hot summer days enhance aromatics in the wine.”

Campers participated in a blind tasting billed, “Umpqua vs. the World,” featuring six blind flights: Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo. Each flight included three wines made by one of the Big Tree; the fourth was a European “sleeper.” Campers had to decide which ones were not made in the Umpqua. Te best score was four out of six.

The Somms also visited the 550 acre Blue Heron Vineyards, the largest vineyard in Douglas County. Vineyard managers Teal and Taylor Stone provided a short explanation of vineyard operations, and gave the sommeliers an opportunity to try their hands at shoot thinning.

Based on their comments, the Somms enjoyed their time in the Umpqua Valley. Mike Pickering, Sommelier for the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, has a special connection to Brandborg: he shared a bottle of 2006 Brandborg Pinot Noir with his bride-to-be on their first date. Pickering described his experience, saying “I love visiting ‘under the radar’ regions like Umpqua because there isn’t any pretense; the experience is a lot more welcoming than, say, going to Napa. To really be able to pick the winemaker’s brain about on-site location, terroir, and wine making techniques shows that there is a lot of talent in the area, and I can’t wait to watch the area evolve.”

Shelby Peterson is Wine and Beverage Director at the C Lazy U Dude Ranch in Granby, Colorado. During the summer, she hosts wine tastings every Monday. She plans to share her experience in the Umpqua Valley and will feature as many wines as she can.

Amanda Cannon, Wine Director at Q Restaurant & Bar in Portland, described her experience saying, “Umpqua Valley wine camp exceeded my expectations. I went into the weekend knowing I would have fun and learn a lot, but left feeling connected to the Umpqua Valley. Wineries always treat their guests well, but in this case, we were treated like family. It was amazing to see how the community banded together to share their stories and passion for the region. Te Umpqua Valley has more to offer than wine; it has beautiful scenery, amazing food, and even better people.

The Golden Anniversary of Oregon Pinot Noir

by MJ Daspit, Wine Scene Magazine

This year marks the 50th-anniversary of the first commercially-released vintage of Pinot Noir in Oregon. Only 200 cases were made in the Umpqua Valley’s Richard Sommer from his HillCrest estate grapes harvested in 1967. Of those 200 cases, only one case remains, carefully preserved by present HillCrest owners Dyson and Susan DeMara.

As officially commemorated by Oregon House Resolution 4-A in 2011, Sommer was the first to plant Pinot Noir in Oregon in 1961. DeMara, who acquired HillCrest from Sommer in 2003, explains that Sommer propagated cuttings obtained in 1959 from Louis Martini’s famous Stanley Ranch, previously known as Talcoa Vineyard, the first vineyard planted in Napa Valley. Two years later, after the vines had rooted, Sommer transplanted them to establish his vineyard. The House Resolution goes on to credit Sommer with being the first in Oregon to use stainless steel tanks for fermentation, an innovation he introduced in 1963, and the first to bottle a commercial Pinot Noir in 1967.

What do we know about the quality of Sommer’s 1967 Pinot Noir? The fruit was not of a specific clone. Clone notation was not in use at that time; rather, different strains of fruit were distinguished by “selection,” a term used to denote plant material sourced from random vines of a great vineyard. “It’s like a bouquet of different flowers versus a single flower,” DeMara explains. Sommer’s fruit was of Stanley Ranch’s highly-prized “Martini” selection.

DeMara relates a story told by the founder of the legendary Oregon wine distributor, Henny-Hinsdale, who dropped into the HillCrest tasting room over Thanksgiving weekend, 2016. “This man is about 75-years-old. He and his wife walk into the tasting room and he says, I’m Mr. Hinsdale. I said, Oh my God, of Henny-Hinsdale? You’re a legend! Hinsdale was the distributor for Sommer, David Lett and Charles Coury as well as for the French house Domaine Drouhin, a prominent Burgundy producer. Hinsdale asked Robert Drouhin if he’d be willing to do a tasting of some new Oregon wines that he repped. So in 1970, Hinsdale had a tasting at his house and all those gentlemen were there. Drouhin said the ’67 Pinot he tasted from HillCrest was the first American Pinot Noir that tasted like Burgundy to him. He said the wine tasted like Monthelie and that’s what made him decide to come to Oregon over California.” Domaine Drouhin Oregon was indeed established in the Dundee Hills in 1987.

DeMara remembers his own first encounter with Sommer’s 1967 Pinot. He came across some bottles a few years back when cleaning-out an old egg barn. Sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck to taste the wine, DeMara was amazed that it was still very drinkable, still showing some fruit.

So how will HillCrest Pinot Noir show at 50? DeMara plans to open a bottle with a few invited guests this fall at the start of harvest at HillCrest. “I’d like to keep as much of the ’67 vintage as I can for the future. But having said that, I’d also like to commemorate the significance of what Richard Sommer did for Oregon and American wine. We’ll christen the harvest and then have a very special dinner.”

To mark this special anniversary year, the 2017 HillCrest Pinot Noir will have the original label that Sommer’s pioneering 1967 Pinot Noir wore. A charity auction of one of the famous 1967 bottles is also in the works. How much will a connoisseur pay to add such a unique bottle to his collection? That remains to be seen.  As Dyson says, “It’s an amazing thing today to have one of only 12 bottles of the first Oregon Pinot Noir ever commercially produced in Oregon.”