Somm Camp introduces wine professionals to the Umpqua Valley

Emily Hoard, The News-Review

Swirling, sniffing, tasting and enjoying, a group of sommeliers from around the U.S. experienced a variety of wines in the Umpqua Valley during last week’s Somm Camp.

The 2017 Somm Camp, sponsored by The SOMM Journal magazine, brought the wine stewards and Douglas County wineries together to learn what makes vineyards in the Umpqua Valley complex, diverse and unique.

Through vineyard tours, wine tastings, presentations and more, the three-day event offered a variety of activities at several local businesses.

Nanette Rapuzzi, a sommelier at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, California, came to Somm Camp to expand her knowledge of wine in Southern Oregon.

While judging the quality of wines, she looks for complexity, balance and structure.

“The wines are amazing, terroir driven and with age ability potential,” Rapuzzi said of local wines, adding that she loves the region and can’t wait to come back. “I think the Umpqua Valley has so much potential!”

She expressed enthusiasm for the hospitality in the area and said everyone she met made her trip special.

Fellow sommelier Sharon Coombs, the beverage director at Craft Los Angeles, said touring around the Umpqua Valley during Somm Camp allowed her to get a better sense of place and put the whole piece together, from the soil and the landscape to the climate and the people.

“I’m really impressed with the quality of the presentations and how well organized the events are,” Coombs said under a pavilion at Blue Heron Vineyards in Roseburg.

Teal and Taylor Stone of Blue Heron Vineyards held a question-and-answer session about their grape production before leading sommeliers in a shoot-thinning demonstration among the vines.

Another highlight for Coombs was the Umpqua versus the World wine tasting at Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards last Sunday evening. The sommeliers tasted local wines next to highly rated European wines in a blind tasting, and found they could rarely distinguish which were from the Umpqua and which were award-winners from across the world.

Stephen Reustle, owner of Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Roseburg, said Somm Camp was a great success.

“The sommeliers were in large part unfamiliar with wineries in the Umpqua Valley, and they were blown away with the quality of wines they experienced here, and also by the beauty of the Umpqua Valley,” Reustle said. “A good majority of them said they’ll be coming back with their spouses to enjoy the area.”

A wine tasting at Abacela Winery on Tuesday afternoon stood out for Reustle. Abacela, Reustle-Prayer Rock and Brandborg Vineyard & Winery each brought wines over 10 years old for the tasting.

Earl Jones, owner of Abacela Winery, said geology, soil type and climate have a profound effect on vineyards, which is why different wines come out of Brandborg to the north, the centrally located Reustle-Prayer Rock and his winery in the southern part of the valley.

“All of us in the valley agree climate is the critical thing,” Jones said, adding that climate permits grapes to grow, thereby determining the length of the growing season.

The key to the Umpqua Valley, he said, is its seven-month growing season that allows the grapes to ripen just before harvest in the fall.

“This climate envelope we enjoy is the only place on the American West Coast that has this climate,” Jones said. “We’re the only ones that are at the right latitude to have the right solar angle to give us a spring, summer and autumn that’s just right to do this.”

Greg Jones, a climatologist and son of Earl and Hilda Jones, presented about the climate framework for producing quality wines in the Umpqua Valley. He explained that different types of grapes grow at different climates and ripen during certain months. Between the three different climate zones and the seven-month growing season in the valley, this area could grow about 73 varietals of grapes.

Terry Brandborg hosted a tasting and dinner at his Elkton-based winery Monday night and told the sommeliers about the history of wine growing in Elkton. In 1972, a man named Ken Thomason planted the first grapes there, reisling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir, which remain the core varieties grown in Elkton today.

Elkton’s climate is largely impacted by maritime influence, as its terrain consists of ancient sea floors that have been uplifted by movement of tectonic plates.

“It was an opportunity to get greater exposure for the Umpqua Valley, promote growth in the industry and bring awareness to wine professionals to the work we’re doing here,” Brandborg said of Somm Camp. “They’ll share their experience with other people and it creates quite a buzz for our region.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Umpqua Valley and the outstanding wines that are being produced in the valley to a group of sommeliers with a sophisticated palate,” added Jean Kurtz, president of the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association. She said Reustle had a big part in making the event possible.

According to Reustle, the success of the Umpqua Valley wine country also benefits the local economy through restaurants, gas stations and hotels.

“We’re hopeful this is the first of many events to bring attention to Douglas County and Umpqua Valley wineries,” Reustle said.

Reporter Emily Hoard can be reached at 541-957-4217 or Or follow her on Twitter @hoard_emily.