Extraordinary Elkton

Discover the AVA's unusual wines

River’s Edge Winery Cascade Pétillant Naturel of Pinot Noir has notes of strawberries, biscuits and raspberries. ##Photo By Robin Renken
Brandborg Vineyard and Winery is easy to find in downtown Elkton.##Photo By Michael Renken
Bradley Vineyards Skin Contact Gewürztraminer is made by Tyler Bradley with grapes planted by his father in 1983.##Photo By Robin Renken


Southern Oregon has a reputation for being warmer and dryer than the regions farther north. Yet, tucked in the Umpqua Valley AVA, you find an exception to this rule in Elkton, Oregon.

As you drive toward the town of Elkton, along the Elkton-Sutherlin Highway, notice where the Umpqua River has cut into the mountains. The water, green and often shaded, introduces you to the Elkton Oregon appellation, the coolest and wettest grape-growing region within the larger Umpqua Valley.
No surprise that they grow Pinot Noir; the cool climate perfectly suits the variety. Only 33 miles from the coast, a marine influence often follows along the Umpqua River from the Pacific.

This region has found its individual voice. And while there are customary varieties– Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer–winemakers are breaking traditional winemaking styles. I discovered four unconventional wines in the various wineries.

Brandborg Vineyard and Winery Fleur de Lis White Pinot Noir

Terry Brandborg felt drawn here during his search for property to plant cool-climate wine varietals. He started in the mid-‘70s, making wines in California’s Anderson Valley and Mendocino area. While he and wife Sue were driving north exploring possible vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley, they stopped at Abacela Winery in the Umpqua Valley. Owner Earl Jones pointed them toward Elkton, already growing Pinot Noir and Riesling. Upon they arrival, it felt like the ideal location.

Their vineyard, at 1000 feet elevation, lies four miles southeast of Elkton. The grapevines usually ripen a couple of weeks later than the rest of the AVA. It is a cool location– during some years– too cool…

Classified Region I on the Winkler Scale, it represents the cooler end of the spectrum, with 2000-2500 growing degree days, or GDD, per year, the heat unit average used worldwide in grape-growing regions.

In 2010, the Brandborgs’ Ferris Wheel Estate Vineyard accumulated just 1485 GGD. Says Brandborg, “I returned from the vineyard and told Sue there was no way the Pinot Noir fruit would ripen enough to make red wine that year.” A few industry friends were making White Pinot Noir so Brandborg used his entire harvest to create the new wine.

Received favorably, now Brandborg makes white Pinot Noir each year. The wine is delicately whole-cluster-pressed to avoid releasing too much color. After settling, Brandborg transfers it to a combination of French oak barrels and puncheons. Barrel-fermented and aged sur lie, malolactic fermentation is prevented to retain the natural acidity.

Depending on the vintage, you’ll find the gamut of flavors and aromas; stone fruits, pears and apples to melons, white cherries and raspberries. Sometimes white flowers and honeysuckle are prevail; other times fresh herbs and earthier notes. No matter the year, Fleur de Lis consistently delivers high acid and a pleasant roundness in the mouth from the sur lie aging.

Bradley Vineyards Skin Contact Gewürztraminer

Tyler Bradley grew up in Elkton– his father and uncle planted Bradley Vineyard in 1983. Dad John, worked as a viticulturist for 17 years, selling his fruit to winemakers throughout Oregon. After Mike and Vonnie Landt relocated and opened River’s Edge Winery, the three started a partnership. Bradley began producing wine under his own label.

Tyler moved to Chicago, where he worked with sommeliers and restaurants creating a large Farm-to-Fork dinner. He noticed some wine trends, including orange wines and Pétillant Natural. When his father died, Tyler returned home to help his mother manage the vineyard. “When I came back in 2014, Pét-Nats and orange wines were popular in all the Chicago restaurants, yet non-existent here,” he explained. But he realized just a couple hundred miles away, people were discovering these exciting wines.

Some research uncovered a few orange Gewürztraminer producers; Bradley knew there was a market for such a unique wine. He began making one under the Bradley Vineyards label with grapes from his family’s vineyard.

The Bradley Vineyards Skin Contact Gewürztraminer wine produces a fun, floral funk on the nose yet a clean palate. Dry without being tart, it’s reminiscent of a craft beer. With classic Gewürztraminer aromas of rose and lychee, the wine then exhibits an earthiness, like a rose petal in the process of drying. A sip reveals light tannins– from the skin contact– and baking spices with a touch of ginger, followed closely by tart dried apricot and subtle notes of curry.

River’s Edge Winery Cascade Pétillant Naturel of Pinot Noir

In 1996, Mike and Vonnie Landt bought the Black Oak and Elkton vineyards from Ken and Mary Thomason, who had planted both vineyards in the early 1970s. Four years later, River’s Edge Winery opened and became the first winery in Elkton. Shortly after Tyler Bradley returned to Elkton, they hired him as their assistant winemaker. When Bradley was promoted to head winemaker in 2017, he brought in Colin Duddy to assist in the winery. The following year, Duddy mentioned the idea of making a Pét-Nat.

“We were doing a saignée of Pinot Noir from our upper vineyard and Landt asked what we should do with it. I suggested we make a Pét-Nat, and to his credit, Landt agreed. We didn’t necessarily know how to make one and just figured it out,” shares Duddy.

The Cascade Pétillant Naturel of Pinot Noir had a smoky nose suggesting a wild herb garden after the rain and tall grasses as they warm in the sun. Fermented on the lees, the wine also smelled like bread yeast. Earthy, it tasted tart with flavors of dried red fruits and hibiscus.

Lexème Wines Blanc de Gamay Noir

Lexème Wines’ co-founders grew up a world apart; Monja Hudson-Desmeules on the French side of Switzerland and Christopher Hudson in Redmond, Oregon. The two met while interning at King Estate Winery and decided to plant a vineyard. Their search lead them to a piece of bare land south of Elkton with rolling hills along the main fork of the Umpqua River.

Shallow soils with equal parts clay, silt and sand, the Hudson Family Vineyard planted Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Viognier, Chasselas and Malbec. In a slightly warmer location, fruit frequently ripens earlier than neighboring Elkton vineyards.

The couple planted two acres of Gamay Noir when only 30 acres of the variety existed in the state. Waiting for the vines to mature, they made rosé from these grapes. Then, in 2018, they added Blanc de Gamay Noir.

Says Hudson, “We now have the opportunity to spotlight an underrated variety. This offers another way to express a white wine, and share our art with customers.”

In the glass, the Blanc de Gamay Noir possesses a light onion skin color. It contains notes of strawberry, white peach, raspberry and Mandarin orange. This wine, with pleasant acidity, underwent malolactic fermentation, making it exceptionally food-friendly.

Southern Oregon’s Elkton Oregon AVA produces some delicious cool-climate wines with winemakers exploring beyond the typical. Known to some as the “Jewel of the Umpqua,” these wines certainly live up to that name.

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