Surprise Winners: Umpqua Valley’s Greatest of the Grape returns

Greatest of the Grape Winners 2024

Greatest of the Grape Winners 2024

By Aakanksha Agarwal

The 52nd annual Greatest of the Grape festival, held in February at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, drew over 500 guests. Hosted by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association, Oregon’s oldest wine event, returned to the venue following a five-year hiatus. This year not only doubled its attendance but also rekindled the spirit of the celebration.

Although the Greatest of the Grape return was not without its challenges, the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association navigated issues with dexterity. Ali Rodgers, the organization’s executive director, served as this year’s planner. Attendees chose from a selection of over 40 local wines, voting for their favorites during the elegant evening. She incorporated innovative ideas without compromising the event’s integrity. Rodgers observed, “Guests enjoyed the convenience of staying at the venue’s hotel, allowing them to indulge without worrying about the journey home.”

The Unique Charm of the Umpqua Valley

The Southern Oregon wine-growing region is home to stunning topography– much of it elevated– with numerous microclimates and terroirs. Unlike many areas, the Umpqua Valley can ripen both Bordeaux and Rhône varietals in warmer locations, while still practicing dry farming. With more than 150 soil types, the Valley remains one of the most distinct wine-growing regions globally. Warmer– and cooler–climate grape varieties thrive there. Influenced by marine breezes during summer, cooler sites produce exceptional Pinot Noir and aromatic whites. As Scott Kelley, co-owner and winemaker at Paul O’Brien Winery (and former director of winemaking at La Familia di Robert Mondavi and Estancia Estates), noted, “There is not another place in the U.S. that can lay claim to that versatility.”

Innovation Beyond Conventions

Venturing beyond the traditional, the Umpqua Valley has consistently pioneered unique varietals. It lays claim to being the first in Oregon to commercially produce Tempranillo, Baco Noir, Grüner Veltliner, and, most notably, Pinot Noir. Today, the Umpqua Valley remains a haven for over 50 different grape varieties. Kelley, with a decade of winemaking in Umpqua, boldly claims certain Pinot Noir vineyard sites can compete toe-to-toe with the finest from the Willamette Valley.

What makes the region distinctive is the personal touch in the tasting rooms, with winemakers themselves often pouring their creations, allowing visitors an intimate connection to the artistry within each bottle. This accessibility makes the Umpqua Valley a standout destination for wine enthusiasts.

Rodgers mentioned some Valley news: “Knoll Vineyards just purchased Tomaselli’s Pastry Mill & Café in Elkton, so they’re attracting visitors and breathing new life into the town. And the young owners of Haines Creek Vineyard & Tasting Room are drawing a hipper crowd to the Umpqua Valley. Additionally, they’re reviving an older vineyard with plans to craft world-class wines.”

The Winning Wines

Girardet Vineyards and JosephJane Winery emerged victorious at this year’s Greatest of the Grape. Girardet earned best red wine for their 2021 Baco Noir while JosephJane claimed both best non-red wine and overall “Greatest of the Grape” title for their 2023 Nouveau, a rosé. This achievement marked a significant moment with a rosé wine securing top honor, a reflection of wine enthusiasts’ evolving preferences.

Let’s uncork the details on these winners– both are available for winery visitors to sample or purchase online. Bold, and expressive, with layers of complexity best describes Girardet’s Baco Noir. And the JosephJane Nouveau? A rosé that truly steals the limelight… fruity, vibrant and, undeniably, a game-changer. This triumph challenges preconceptions, setting the scene for a broader appreciation of wines from the region.

Event Success and Community Impact

The event generated $4,300 for the Family Development Center, an area nonprofit offering support and education services to families experiencing issues from homelessness and domestic violence to substance abuse. The money was raised through a “Wheel of Wine” fundraiser. For $25 a bottle, each spin provided an interactive and enjoyable way to contribute to the cause. Guests left with wines donated by Umpqua Valley wineries, a win-win for everyone.

A silent auction further fueled the association’s mission, raising nearly $6,000 for an upcoming 40th-anniversary AVA celebration and new tasting pass promotion. Both will attract visitors to the Valley, further enhancing the region’s visibility while exhibiting its breathtaking landscapes and, of course, exceptional wines.

A Continuing Challenge

The mission is to introduce more people to the beauty, friendliness, and downright delectability of the area’s wines. The Greatest of the Grape, more than an annual celebration, serves as a launchpad for curious palates– those ready to redefine their wine experience.

Rodgers said, “We’re a small, and sometimes unknown wine region. It can be difficult educating people on where we are, and how to get here. But once they arrive, they love it and can’t wait to return. This year’s event drew a lot of guests who had never before visited the Umpqua Valley. Once they taste the quality of our wines, we hope they plan another wine-tasting trip.”

Next year’s Greatest of the Grape will be held at Seven Feathers Casino Resort on Saturday, February 1, 2025. Visit to learn more.

Aakanksha Agarwal is a wine, travel and lifestyle writer from India. Formerly a Bollywood stylist, she now resides in the U.S., embracing writing full-time while juggling family life and indulging in her passions for cuisine, literature and wanderlust.

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