Southern Oregon’s Big Secret

Spotlighting Pinot Noir from the lower half of the state in Oregon Wine Press Magazine

By Becky Garrison

While the Southern Oregon AVA, established in 2005, is better known for growing warmer-weather grapes, certain locations have ideal microclimates for Pinot Noir. Hillcrest Vineyard in Roseburg, Oregon’s oldest estate winery and birthplace of Oregon Pinot Noir, first planted the variety in 1961. Other area winemakers have done the same, producing award-winning Pinot Noir distinct from their counterparts in the Willamette Valley.

Umpqua Valley

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards, Roseburg

In 2002, Stephen and Gloria Reustle planted their first ten acres of vines, comprised of Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah. Their latest vintage, a 2021 Pinot Noir Reserve was produced from three clones (Wädenswil, plus clones 115 and 114). After aging in 74 percent new French oak, the wine is best described as light and perfumed. It was recently awarded gold at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, as well as chosen as an Oregon Wine Press Cellar Select wine.

Paul O’Brien Winery, Roseburg

According to Paul O’Brien co-founder and winemaker Scott Kelly, the Umpqua Valley maintains a beautiful tension between power and elegance uncommon in Pinot Noir. “Usually a region will trade one for the other. But to make a truly world-class wine, it must have that balance,” Kelly opines. With distribution in 48 states, the winery impresses sommeliers and wine buyers “seeking the next big thing” embrace Pinot Noir from the region.

Their grapes are sourced from two sites in the Umpqua Valley, one near Elkton and another in the northern part of the appellation at high elevation. A blend of Dijon and Wädenswil clones, their wine is fermented with 25 percent whole clusters in concrete open-top fermenters and then aged for 10 months in 25 percent new French Oak. The Paul O’Brien 2021 Pinot Noir opens with bright cherry, crushed raspberry, blood orange and thyme. Integrated oak, silky tannins with depth and concentration are balanced by beautiful structure and lengthy acidity. No wonder it, too, was designated as an Oregon Wine Press Cellar Selects choice.

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery, Elkton

Founder Terry Brandborg feels his 1000-foot elevation estate vineyard, located a mere 25 miles from the coast produces distinctive Pinot. With very deep, old marine sedimentary soils, his grapes ripen roughly two weeks later than nearby vineyards. LIVE-certified, he holds the distinction of being the first in Elkton to plant 113, 115, 777 and Pommard clones. In Wine Enthusiast, Paul Gregutt describes Brandborg’s 2006 Ferris Wheel Vineyard Estate Pinot as “elegant and seductive with a feminine grace.” More recently, the 2021 Bench Lands Pinot Noir received a double gold medal at the 2023 Oregon Wine Experience.

Bradley Vineyards, Elkton

Winemaker Tyler Bradley considers Elkton the southern end of premium Pinot Noir country in Oregon. “Elkton has the perfect climate and conditions for Pinot, with some warmer days but, due to our proximity to the coast, drastically cooler nights and mornings,” he observes. The Bradley Vineyards 2021 Flagship Pinot Noir stands as an excellent example of a robust, yet restrained Pinot with abundant finesse.

River’s Edge Winery, Elkton

Bradley, also winemaker for River’s Edge Winery, ages the wines somewhat longer, releasing a more developed product to the market. River’s Edge wines can be cellared up to and beyond 10 years, a reflection of the high-quality fruit and traditional winemaking methods. In Wine Enthusiast, Gregutt summed up their mission: “The River’s Edge lineup of Pinot Noirs, taken all together, may well represent the finest value Pinot portfolio in the state.”

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