Brandborg: A Gem Off the Beaten Track
I met Terry and Sue Brandborg at last year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration where they were
proudly pouring their Pinot Noirs as one of the featured wineries. I could see their passion for wine in
their eyes and recorded an interview for Grape Radio which will air this month. Terry started out his
winemaking career in California, crafting Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Valley
and Anderson Valley. He met Sue at a wine tasting event in Wyoming and soon they came together to
search for the perfect spot to grow Pinot Noir. They fell in love with rural Elkton in the Umpqua Valley,
which is located south of the better known Willamette Valley in Oregon (see map on page 18).
The Umpqua Valley actually has an interesting viticultural history. Richard Sommer came to the area
in 1961 from California and ushered in the modern era of Oregon’s wine industry when he settled in
Roseburg in the southern Umpqua Valley and started Hillcrest Vineyard. He planted Riesling in 1961
and was the first to produce commercial quality wine in Oregon. Sommer has been largely forgotten,
because most winegrowers followed David Lett to the Willamette Valley, 180 miles to the north. In
1972, Henry Estate and Giradet Wine Cellars were established in the Umpqua Valley and continue in
business to the present. The Henry Estate is famous for the Scott Henry trellising system which was
developed by Scott Henry to allow good air movement between canopies and increased fruit exposure
to the sun. The trellising proved particularly useful for high-yielding vines. Viticulturalist Dr Richard
Smart from New Zealand visited Henry Estate and he carried the trellising system to his native country.
The Scott-Henry trellising system is now widely used in New Zealand and Australia.
Since 1979 the Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference has been held at the Steamboat Inn on the North
Umpqua River. This conference started out as a winemakers-only event for Oregon Pinot Noir specialists
and over the years has expanded to include winemakers from Pinot Noir growing regions worldwide.
No trade, press or consumers are allowed at this event.
There are now 16 wineries and 29 vineyards in the Umpqua Valley. With multiple microclimates, both
cool and warm climate varietals thrive here. Terry and Sue chose to settle in Elkton, the coolest part of
the Umpqua Valley. (Today while writing this feature I checked the weather in Elkton: the forecast is
for snow the next three days and highs of 43° F and lows of 35° F. See photo of Terry in the snow on
page 19). Here the geography allows for a significant maritime influence which moderates the warm
summers. The Brandborgs chose a site 4 miles southeast of the town of Elkton where the marine sedimentary
sandstone soils are well-drained, the elevation (750-1000 ft) is above the fog line, and the
southern exposures are ideal. They planted the 50-acre estate Ferris Wheel Vineyard to primarily Dijon
clones of Pinot Noir. A winery was built in time for the 2002 vintage and a tasting room opened.
The first year production was 2,500 cases from purchased fruit in the Umpqua Valley and included several
white varietals as well as Pinot Noir. The Estate vineyard came into production in 2005. The 2005
Brandborg Ferris Wheel Vineyard Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir was chosen to be poured at last year’s International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon. Total production has now reached
The Brandborgs recently sent me three 2006 Pinot Noirs that are as yet unreleased.
2006 Brandborg Vineyard & Winery “Love Puppets” Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 800
cases, $30. The grapes for this wine come from favorite dry farmed vineyards, all with yields below 2
tons per acre. The wine represents the best of the grapes they bring in from diverse growers.
Benchlands is a buck private, this is a sergeant demanding more attention. Similar, but more intense aromas
of wild berries, spice, forest floor and a subtle touch of oak. A little more full-bodied, very smooth on
the mid-palate with very decent acidity. Sweet red berry flavors. Commendable balance.
2006 Brandborg Vineyard & Winery Estate Ferris Wheel Vineyard Umpqua
13.8% alc., 452 cases, $38. As the estate Ferris Wheel Vineyard
develops, the wines become more deep and satisfying.
Deep ruby color.
Dark cherries dominate the aromatics with woodsy and damp earthy touches. Luscious
black cherry aftertaste that lasts and lasts. Impeccably balanced with a full
and sensual mouth feel. Oak, alcohol, acid and tannins are harmonious. I really
like this for its powerful charisma.
2005 Brandborg Vineyard & Winery Benchlands Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., 2,961
cases, $22, screw cap. This blend is sourced from several Umpqua Valley vineyards. All of Brandborg’s
Pinots are made the same way: small lots fermented separately with hand punch downs, gently
pressed and barreled “dirty” to 100% French oak, 33% new. This is the winery’s value bottling.
wild berries in the nose. Plenty of likeable berry flavors, especially strawberry, with a little spice
and an earthy, mineral bent. Light on its feet and easy to drink.
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery is located at 345 First St, Elkton. The phone is
541-584-2870. Order the wines on the website at www.brandborgwine.com (the 2006 wines will be
released in a few months). The tasting room is open 11-5 daily and the winery often features special
tastings including entertainment from local musicians. Definitely worth a detour from the Willamette