Homework. Describe Brandborg tradition in a single sentence. That would be: “Brandborg Vineyard & Winery grows and produces distinct, elegant Pinot noir and Alsace inspired white wines with pure varietal expression”. Over 20 years ago, Terry and Sue Brandborg began their search for a cool, coastal climate terroir that would produce harmonious, distinct wines. Their journey of discovery led them to Elkton (pop. 170), in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. With passion and a steadfast belief in the quality of their chosen site, they planted in 2002 the first 5 acres of Pinot Noir, only the beginning of an eventual 50 acres of vines (20 hectares). Their spectacular property rises to 1100 feet with a direct sightline to the Umpqua River and the Oregon coast range.
The Brandborgs have built a functional winery with a beautiful spacious tasting room in charming Eltkon. Both are self-taught in winemaking and grape growing and after many vintages remain committed to continued learning and growth. A stubborn focus on detail and an uncompromising, do it yourself, hands on approach has resulted in harmonious wines made for the table, praised by customers and critics alike. At the moment the couple’s yearly production is between 100.000 and 120.000 according to the vintages.
This is a unique winegrowing region in Oregon’s south-central coast range foothills.
The Umpqua Valley has 3000 planted acres, with pinot noir the most planted variety. Lying within the Umpqua Valley is the Elkton Oregon AVA (American viticultural area), which was officially designated in 2013 as a means to differentiate this area from the much warmer microclimates characteristic of most of southern Oregon. Elkton lies just 36 miles inland from the Pacific. There is a very long frost free growing season, with cool temperate conditions lasting until late fall. The average July and August high temperatures are only 83F. This all results in grapes that can hang on the vine longer, developing truly complex flavors.
Quoting Terry: “The Umpqua Valley saw huge growth from 2002 to 2007 when Sue and I moved here,” he said. “We were the eighth winery, and now we’ve gotten up to 24. We came to Elkton because we saw an opportunity,” Terry said. “At the time I working in California I was first invited to attend the Steamboat Conference in 1994, and I really liked the vibe of the Oregon wine industry, and when we found out that Elkton was growing what we were seeking, it was an easy transition.”. Few years later the couple moved from California to Elkton where the Brandborgs’ award-winning wines are mainly grown in and around this town, located less than 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
The soils of the Umpqua Valley are an amazing amalgam of different types of rock and minerals from three very distinct mountain ranges. The Coast Range is created by the Pacific Plate being sliced off as it dives under the westward advancing North American Plate. To the south, the Klamath and Siskiyou Ranges are composed of some of the most ancient rock in Oregon: Pacific volcanoes that have docked on the North American continent, along with uplifts of volcanic rock from closer to the source. The Eastern Range is the Cascades, a volcanic formation that is much younger.
Umpqua’s drainage is wholly within Douglas County and headwaters form in each of these ranges. All of the minerals, washed into the Pacific through the various river drainages, contribute to this wild diversity of marine sediment. Umpqua’s variety of soils has been called the most diverse and complex array of soil types found anywhere on the planet in a single river drainage.
Terry’s wine experience has been long, starting in 1975, just by a funny accident, helping his uncle making homemade wine. Quoting Terry “In 1986 I started a bonded commercial winery as a home occupation in my garage. The first vintage included Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. Then I bought a sample bag, threw it over my shoulder after work, and took to the streets of San Francisco. I began to realize how small the wine community really is by knocking on doors and making cold calls to sell my wine. I got to know most of the food and beverage folks in just a few years of selling on the street”. His first wines were coming from Anderson Valley. In 1998 Terry met Sue (at the time living in Wyoming) and they both shared a vision of growing their own grapes. After a couple of years searching the cool coastal valleys of California, they came to the realization that they needed to look farther afield. California land prices had become too much for the couple to get the kind of property they wanted. Therefore Oregon was the promised land.
Of all the wines they’ve made for themselves and others, the 2012 Ferris Wheel Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir best tells the story of Terry and Sue Brandborg. “When someone comes into the tasting room in Elkton and says,‘If I’m going to taste just one wine, which wine should it be’?’ I tell them that one“ Terry said. “This is the reason why we are here.” On the other hand, that specific Pinot Noir from the recently established Elkton AVA is just one reason why this small estate has won several awards. Just to mention the most important accomplishment, the Wine Press Northwest has named Brandborg the 2015 Oregon’s winery of the Year. Terry’s skill with cool-climate grapes grown in the Elkton AVA also showed earlier with a gold medal for his 2011 Riesling at the Judgment of Geyserville, an annual conference of North American wine critics who meet in Sonoma County to judge many of the continent’s top examples of a specific variety. Global climate change and more heat units do have the Brandborgs a bit concerned. “We had 1,866 growing-degree days in 2012,” Terry said. “In 2013, it was the first time we were over 2,000, when was it 2,087. And in 2014, we got totally flabbergasted when we finished with 2,442.” Brandborg has moved the needle globally for Elkton with Gewürztraminer. Eric Asimov, acclaimed wine critic for The New York Times, raved in a 2010 column about Brandborg’s 2007 Gewürz, which topped Asimov’s East Coast tasting of North American producers. Furthermore this variety won several Platinum awards in the Wine Press Northwest completion during the last decade and in 2015. “I worked with Gewürz from the Anderson Valley when I was a home winemaker in the early ’70s, and I continued to work with that fruit up until we moved to Oregon” he said. “It’s still a bit of a hand-sell, but we get nice placements in restaurants and had some visitors to the tasting room who came in especially for Gewürz after tasting it at Le Pigeon in Portland.“
Terry keeps going: “We handcraft fine varietal wines with minimal intervention to preserve the character of the fruit. This style creates wine that is an invitation to fine dining. While our own vineyard matures, we will be making wine from carefully selected vineyards throughout the Umpqua Valley . This unique and diverse grape growing area has allowed us to select varieties best suited to their individual terroir. The northwest and coolest part of this region is Elkton. Here the marine influence permits only cool climate varietals to ripen”. The Brandborgs make Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer from the Bradley Vineyard, planted in Elkton in 1983. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the Melrose Vineyard are both very lush and fruity. The couple selected three clones of Pinot Noir from the Red Hill Vineyard, the highest in the Umpqua AVA. These grapes see the biggest daily temperature swings in the area and are very well structured. Beside the usual “cool climate” suspects, the couple cultivates as well Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. Overall currently a dozen of wines are produced every single year with Pinot Noir and its single vineyards expressions dominating the stage. In a nutshell Steep Hill distributes Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurtraminer, Syrah and some of the Pinot Noir made by our friends.
In a nutshell
Brandborg vineyard and winery