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.