By Dan Shryock
A big red van rolls into the Spangler Vineyards parking lot. It’s 11 a.m. on a Sunday and Pat Spangler, the owner and winemaker, watches as 10 people step out of the van ready to do some tasting. He welcomes them all into his cozy tasting room south of Roseburg for some big reds.
The group, which takes an annual wine country adventures traveled down from Salem the day before. They’d toured California wineries the previous two years and they decided this time they would explore a new wine region closer to home. They chose the Umpqua Valley over the much-heralded Willamette Valley even though the Willamette was in their own back yard.
More Information: In all, 24 wineries make up the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association. For more information, visit www.umpquavalleywineries.org.
They had heard good things about Umpqua valley wines. It was time to discover what the talk was about. The group visited nine wineries in two days and headed home with cases of wine and a new appreciation for one of Oregon’s wine country secrets.
The Umpqua Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is part of the larger Southern Oregon AVA but its unique micro-climates make it an exceptional area to grow warm weather grapes.
“The Umpqua Valley is under everybody’s radar,” says Steve Reustle, owner and winemaker at Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards west of Roseburg. “There is a breadth of varietals made here. We have the heat and the site selection techniques. We can grow great Tempranillo, Syrah, Reisling, Merlot. It makes an interesting place to visit.”
There are nearly 25 wineries in the Umpqua region, some large and some small family operations. “You can taste wine made from every major grape in the world all in one location,” Reustle says. “It’s all made here. This is a good place for people to come and experiment with varietals and techniques.”
That’s what the Salem group discovered.
“It was everything I had expected and more,” says David Brooks of Salem. “We not only enjoyed some wineries but we also had a chance to hear the stories of the people working at the wineries. Each stop was unique.”
This is a region where you can discover great wines in spectacular settings without battling the crowds. There are beautiful rural scenes and winding country roads. Many of the wineries provide excellent settings to sit and savor.
“We always felt like we had the tasting rooms to ourselves,” Brooks says. “We never felt rushed.
“The Reustle winery was truly amazing. The tasting caves provided a ‘get away from it all’ feel that I had not experienced before and their Grüner Veltliner was delicious as we sat on the patio and looked out over the estate,” he adds.
Lotta Chavanne had no expectations before arriving in the Umpqua Valley. The Swedish citizen in Oregon on business was invited to join to group and was surprised by what she found.
“I was not familiar with the Umpqua Valley at all and I had not heard about it even though I have visited Oregon many times before,” Chavanne recalls. “I assume I expected approximately the same wines as in the Willamette area. I was positively surprised to find so many wineries with bolder red wines and also some really good Sauvignon Blanc.”
She, too, enjoyed the Reustle winery with its views and patio. She also remembered her stops at the Abacela and TeSóAria wineries.
“I liked Abacela for the amazing wine and great location and my absolute favorite was TeSóAria,” she says. “They have really good wines and they gave us a special welcome. They know their wines and they knew how to entertain guests.”
John Olson, owner and winemaker at TeSóAria Vineyard & Winery, exemplifies the region’s independent spirit. He takes risks with his grapes and his wines, and he’s proud to say so.
“In the Umpqua Valley, and in Southern Oregon in general, there are a lot of cowboys still here. If you put 20 winemakers in a room, all 20 of us are going to have a different idea about what is our best grape,” Olson says.
“And that’s one of the things I love about the Umpqua. Here you have Albariño and Zinfindel (grapes). Soup to nuts, A to Z. We’re willing to try anything,” Olson says. “I love the fact that we haven’t settled on any particular grape. We’re trying to do it all, and it makes for some unique wines, some interesting wines, and I believe in a lot of cases some world-class wines.”
For Olson, that means planting grapes few others dare to try.
“All we grow are Italian varietals at our Medford site,” he says. “We grow Vermentino, we grow Dolcetto, we grow Barbera, we grow Sangiovese. I love the spice note that Italian varietals bring. I love the heavy acid wines of northern Italy, wines that are great with meals, wines that are great in a glass.”
Olson turns, shares a barrel sample and says, “Only in the United States can you have an Irishman making Italian wines in Roseburg, Oregon.”
Dan Shryock is an Oregon-based journalist and travel writer. When he's not visiting Southern Oregon or sampling local wines, he can be found cycling throughout the state.