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Land of the Umpqua Wine, Oregon

Story and photos by Larry Turner   June 1, 2009

In wine there is truth
In Wine There is Truth

The land of the Umpqua conjures up memories of blackberry picking as a child. Between hay cuttings—in the doldrums of summer, with the August moon waning—Mom and Dad would load my brother and two sisters and me in the old ’51 black Chevy and we would head to the Umpqua River near Elkton, Oregon, 230 miles from our hometown of Malin, Oregon.

In the brambles beside the Umpqua River, we would pick until our hands turned blackberry purple. Our lips turned the same color, too, as it is inappropriate to pick and not eat your fill. We would spend the night camping, or in some family-run motel, our booty secure in the trunk of the black beast with shiny hubcaps that looked like full summer moons.

In the confines of our humble kitchen back home, Mom and my sisters would make jams, jellies and syrup from our pickings for winter and spring consumption. If there was space left in the freezer, there would be frozen blackberries for pies and ice cream.


Umpqua Back Road Wild Turkeys
Umpqua Back Road Wild Turkeys


Oregon wine sign Umpqua wines
Oregon Wine Signs
Umpqua Wines

It was the fruit that brought us to the Umpqua country first. Fishing came soon after. My first salmon was caught where the Umpqua empties its mountain treasures into the Pacific at Winchester Bay outside Reedsport. One of famed western writer Zane Grey’s favorite fishing camps is along the banks of the North Umpqua which has a world class summer steelhead run.

Fast forward fifty years later and I’m back in the Umpqua. Once again, it is the fruit that brings me here…but a different fruit this time: grapes and its greatest derivative: wine. The Umpqua Wine Association had hired me to photograph their 18 member wineries. It was perfect, as I was thinking about a new business card titled: Will Work for Wine!

Umpqua Country is located in the lower right lung of Oregon—an enchanting land of evergreen mountains, hills and dales, reaching from the mighty roar of the Pacific to the rugged and beautiful Cascade Mountain Range. The valleys and hillsides of the Umpqua Country offer unique micro-climates for varietals ranging from the Bordeaux style wines with a deeper voice to the Rieslings and Muller Thurgaus, whites with tastes that echo the timbre of a Maria Callas singing a Verdi piece. Ooops, was I sipping while writing?



Hillcrest DeMara family It all started with Richard Sommers—noted as the father of the modern Oregon wine industry—with his 35 varietal plantings in 1961, establishing Hillcrest Vineyards as Oregon’s oldest estate winery. Sommer was the first to plant Pinot Noir, Malbec and Pinot Gris grapes in the state. Today, Oregon wines are noted throughout wine-drinking and critic circles globally. The eccentric Sommers’ first harvest was in 1963. His pioneering plantings and experiments paved the way. Youthful and robust, the Umpqua Region is like a fast growing adolescent, bursting from its seams. Hillcrest riesling
Hillcrest's DeMara Family
Hillcrest Riesling
Dyson and Susan DeMara, and their young family of three, purchased Hillcrest from Sommers and  they continue on with the tradition of producing artisan wines from naturally farmed vineyards. Hillcrest wines can only be purchased from the winery. Gregarious and witty, Dyson, like Sommers, likes to experiment with Old World wine-making techniques. “Recently, the 10-year-old Roseburg soccer boy’s team, of which our son is a member, crushed four tons of syrah grapes for us. We cleaned their feet well before they started stomping,” laughs Demara. “They were the perfect weight for helping with the crush which brings a better texture and amplifies color as opposed to a mechanical crush.”


Traveling Interstate 5 through Oregon south to north, the Umpqua Wine Association’s southernmost winery is Carlos and Denise Figueroa’s Wild Rose, located on a bucolic country road outside the town of Dillard. A recently retired engineer and college instructor of engineering and viticulture (Umpqua Community College), Carlos (and Denise) discovered the Umpqua, resulting from a random road trip 30 years ago. “We stopped at Richard’s (Sommers) and with the tasting of his Rieslings and sparkling wines, we were hooked.
Carlow Figueroa of Wild Rose

I’ll never forget seeing some of his Rieslings with the top of the corks being taped to the bottles. With bottle fermentation, they were naturally pushing out,” he giggles. In 1995, the Figueros began their vineyard.

“We left the San Francisco area, finding our Shangri La here in the Umpqua. In many ways a pristine environment, in the Umpqua we’ve found unique microclimates and geological components for growing grapes. The cooler temperatures here allow for a greater range of grape varieties,” says Carlos.

Wild Rose is totally organic,  using Old World viticulture practices without disturbing the original makeup of the soil. Wild Rose is noted for their Pinot Gris (their 2007 Pinot Gris won a silver medal at this year’s Newport Seafood and Wine Festival), merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a unique white port named Tears of the Rose.

Wild Rose Vineyards
Carlos Figueroa of Wild Rose
Wild Rose Vineyards


Philippe and Marc Giradet Giradet Vineyard
Philippe and Marc Giradet 
Giradet Vineyard

Traveling back roads from Wild Rose, next stops on an Umpqua Region wine tour would include stops at Giradet, Abacela and Spangler wineries. On a hillside outside Tenmile,Oregon—where the cooler Coast Range meets the warmer interior Umpqua valleys, Switzerland native Philippe Giradet and his American bride Bonnie established their vineyard in 1971, making them the elder statesmen (along with Sommers) of the Umpqua country.

They are special favorites to me as they were my first contact with Umpqua wines thirty-some years ago. Eighty-year-old Philippe and Bonnie were pioneers in establishing the first plantings of Baco Noir and Marechal Foch grape varietals in Oregon. Giradet’s tannin-free Baco with its fruit forward dark berry and carmel taste is distinct. Melrose Vineyards and Bradley Vineyards in the Umpqua also produce Bacos of note. Hailing from the French speaking Swiss region where the Rhone River headwaters exist, Philippe’s exuberance for wine began as a child while working in his uncle’s vineyard. That same passion has carried over to his son Marc who has taken over as Giradet’s winemaker, under the wise and steady guidance of Philippe. One of Giradet’s trademark wines is called Grand Rouge, a blend of 14 Rhone style grapes.

Abacela founder Dr. Earl Jones Spangler
Abacela Founder Dr. Earl Jones
Spangler Wines

Abacela—a Spanish/Portuguese word which means to plant a grapevine—Vineyard is making splashes nationally and internationally. Dr. Earl Jones—a retired clinical dermatologist—and his Icelandic wife Hilda are producing varietal wines previously unnoticed for the state of Oregon: Tempranillo, Albarino, Dolcetto, Garacha, Rosado, Malbec and Petite Verdot. It is the Iberian varietal Tempranillo that has brought them into the wine circle headlines.

A grape associated with Spain’s regions of Rioja and Ribera, Jones was challenged when the University of California Davis told him that there was no climate location in Oregon where the Tempranillo grape would successfully grow. Loving a challenge, Jones found just the perfect microclimate in an interesting geological plate tectonic convergence zone outside Winston, Oregon…and the rest is history.


Recently, Abacela received a banner headline as their 2005 South Face Reserve Syrah received Southern Oregon’s first 95-point award in the revered Wine Enthusiast magazine’s April issue (2009). It was also named Editor’s Choice.

On the edge of Winston near Interstate 5 is Spangler Vineyards, owned by Pat and Loree Spangler. Their cabernet franc is second to none, as evidenced by a Gold Medal at the 2008 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition for their 2006 vintage.

Deedy and Wayne Parker Gabor Palotai and Vanessa Gabor Palotai Enjoys a Sip
Deedy and Wayne Parker 
Gabor Palotai and Vanessa
Gabor Palotai Enjoys a Sip
Continuing northward on Interstate 5, take exit 125 (Garden Valley Road) and follow the signs into the heart of the Umpqua Wine Region. It is here where the fabled Umpqua River flows through Douglas County’s principal city Roseburg. West of Roseburg is five wineries, each worthy of a visit, providing your designated driver hasn’t fallen off the wagon. Better yet, if you’re a serious enophile, give yourself a minimum of three days in the Umpqua Wine Region, though a week would be better for the full swirling, sipping, spitting and swallowing symphony of wine tasting. If you’re starting south and moving northward, the heart of the Umpqua could be day two with Hillcrest, Melrose, Palotai, Julianna and Becker vineyards on your “hard working” agenda.

Julianna VineyardMelrose, located on a beautiful stretch of the South Umpqua River where once stood a French settlement, has some of the largest vineyards in the Umpqua Region. Hard working wine visionaries Deedy and Wayne Parker felt that Southern Oregon would become the next great viticulture area in the Melrose Tasting RoomUnited States. Leaving Fresno, California where Wayne grew grapes for 20 years for other wineries, they arrived in 1996, rolled up their sleeves and tirelessly went to work to establish Melrose…including surmounting the devastating effects of the Great Umpqua Flood in the winter of their first year.

Julianna Vineyard

Melrose has a full roster of great wines, including my personal favorites: Melrose’s Syrah, Baco Noir and Equinox (a blend of Dolcetto, Baco Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah; this wine won the gold medal at this year’s Newport Seafood and Wine Festival). Melrose is a perfect place to purchase a bottle of wine and to enjoy a picnic outside on their spacious grounds. Browse their store for some unique gifts connected to the wine culture.                                                                                                                                      

Melrose Tasting Room
Melrose Vineyard Scene

Down and across the river, near where the South and Umpqua Rivers converge are Palotai Vineyard and Winery and Julianna Vineyards. They share a property line. Palotai is one of the Umpqua’s most unique and charming wineries, established by Gabor Palotai who defected from communist Hungary as a young man. His unforgettable hand-crafted boutique wines come from skills that he learned from his wine-making ancestors. He introduced the Northwest to his most popular wine: Bull’s Blood.

Neighbors Debbie and Henry of Julianna, new wine kids on the block, sell five wines coming from 25-year-old vines: Semillon, chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc.

Becker Tasting RoomDown the river and through the woods—five miles north on Garden Valley Road, notice the blue and white wine sign (used throughout Oregon) that will lead you to Charlie and Peggy Becker’s winery, exquisitely located in an Umpqua Region Garden of Eden. Try their 2007 Pinot Noir that recently won “People’s Choice” at the Greatest of the Grape competition.

Melrose Vineyard Scene
Becker Tasting Room


Henry Estate Grapes Driving north along Garden Valley Road leads one to the shoulder and neck of the Umpqua Region. Be aware though: Upon seeing this country, you might want to spend the rest of your life here. Following the mighty Umpqua, the mountains gather tighter, the river gets swifter and the scenery more beguiling as this area is less populated. Take Cal Henry Road which will lead you to Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyard. In autumn when the oaks and maples are singing with color and a light fog is unveiling the vineyards, it is a surreal experience. One of owner Steve and Gloria Reustle’s most unique wines is their Gruner Veltliner of Austria fame, gold medal winner of the 2008 West Coast Wine Competition. While visiting, make sure you take a tour of their wine cave, the only one of its kind in the Umpqua Region.
Henry Estate Grapes

Henry Estate Winery, located beside the river outside the hamlet of Umpqua, is steeped in family tradition. They are the largest winery in the Umpqua Region. Three generations run the winery. Five generations have farmed in the Umpqua Valley. Calvin Scott Henry III, a retired aeronautical engineer, founded the winery in 1978. His imaginary trellising system is used in vineyards worldwide. Henry Estate is known for their pinot noir (a favorite of mine), Muller Thurgau, gewürztraminer and a delightful red blend named Henry V.

North of Henry Estate, a dirt country lane will take the wine country traveler to Misty Oaks, owned by Steve and Christy Simmons who moved from their Alaska home in 1999. The bottle names on the six varietals, along with the tasting quality, are well worth a visit to Misty Oaks: Stuckagain Heights Pinot Noir, Consitution Ridge Pinot Blanc, Julio’s Hill Pinot Gris, Jones Road Cabernet Franc, Gobblers Knob Red Blend and Viper Ridge Malbec.

Henry Estate Winery
Henry Estate Winery
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyard Misty Oaks
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyard 
Misty Oaks


Reustle-Prayer Rock Cave Mural Reustle Prayer-Rock Wine Cellar
Reustle-Prayer Rock Cave Mural
Reustle Prayer-Rock Wine Cellar


MarshAnne Landing MarshAnne Landing Winery owners Greg and Fran Cramer have a penchant for opera and wine. At any given time when entering their tasting rooms, your tasting may be accompanied by the likes of Puccini, Scarlatti, Mozart, Rossini or Bizet. With his eccentric and convincing character, Greg might get non-opera lovers to change their minds. But if that won’t work, their wines will convince you, especially their Syrah and a Bordeaux style blend of merlot, cab and cab-franc which they call Red Planet. Up the road from MarshAnne Landing and within view of Interstate 5 is Sienna Ridge Winery, located beside John Long Road. Sienna Ridge owner Wayne Hitchings has a 267-acre vineyard called Red Hill Vineyard, one of three individual vineyards in the US designated as an AVA (American Viticulture Area). Red Hill is the largest grower in the Umpqua country. Sienna is named for the red soil of the large vineyard. Sienna Vineyard
MarshAnne Landing
Sienna Vineyard


Bradley Vineyard Brandborg Winery Rivers Edge Winery
Bradley Vineyard
Brandborg Winery
Rivers Edge Winery

The northernmost wineries of the Umpqua Region are located in and around the picturesque small town of Elkton, located where the Umpqua River changes its northerly course and heads west once more, this time not changing directions as it offers itself to the Pacific. The four wineries—Anindor, Bradley, Brandborg and Rivers Edge—are known for their pinot noirs and the white varietals Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The winsome town of Elkton would be a perfect overnight stopover as a gateway to explore these small family owned wineries.

The Umpqua Appellation is like Napa was 30 years ago. Within ten years, it is predicted that the number of wineries may grow three- to four-fold. Now is a good time to experience this stunning land of wine and landscape song…and as the summer progresses, bring a basket or two as there will be blackberries to pick, too.


Anindor Vineyard in Elkton

Larry can be reached at POB 312, Malin,OR 97632/phone#541-723-6041/


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