May is Oregon Wine Month and before these celebrations come to an end, I’m highlighting an Oregon wine region that sometimes gets overlooked by wine lovers, the Umpqua Valley.
For wine enthusiasts looking to explore a new region, the Umpqua Valley in southern Oregon should definitely be on your list. This under-the-radar wine region has been producing some of the best wines in the Pacific Northwest for decades, yet it still remains relatively undiscovered by many wine enthusiasts.
The Umpqua Valley isn’t just about the wine. This region is also home to stunning natural beauty, with rolling hills, sparkling rivers, and breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains. In fact, many of the region’s wineries offer tastings with a view, allowing you to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the stunning scenery. Additionally, the Umpqua Valley is home to a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and kayaking, making it the perfect destination for adventure-seekers and nature-lovers.
Fun Fact: The word “Umpqua” is based on the Native Americans who lived in the area, and is thought to mean “thundering waters.”
The Southern Oregon wine country is a diverse terroir offering a rich variety of grape varieties beyond the well-known Pinot Noir. The region comprises several appellations, including Applegate Valley, Elkton, Oregon, Red Hill Douglas County, Rogue Valley, and Umpqua Valley. These AVAs benefit from a warm and dry climate during the summer months, with over 15 hours of daylight. Southern Oregon’s diverse meso-climates and soils allow for the growth of a wide range of grape varieties, including lesser-known such as Viognier, Tempranillo, and Syrah.
Unlike the Northern AVAs, Southern Oregon’s primary soils are mostly marine sedimentary bedrock, stream sediments, and volcanic soils. The region’s soils are derived from the volcanoes of the Cascade Mountains and the accreted exotic terrane, Siletzia. The diversity in the type of soil results in wines which display unique flavors and characteristics, reflecting the specific terroir where the grapes were grown.
In addition to its diverse soils, Southern Oregon wine country boasts the world’s largest diurnal shift, with a significant temperature drop between day and night. This temperature fluctuation plays a crucial role in preserving the acidity of the grapes, which is especially important in this warmer wine region. Winters, on the other hand, in Southern Oregon are generally cool and damp. The region’s three mountain ranges and numerous rivers help to moderate the temperature and preserve the grapes’ quality.
The area is also home to Oregon’s highest vineyards, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Fun Fact: This area is better known as “the hundred valleys of the Umpqua,”. The formation of the region is a result of the collision of three mountain ranges of varying age and structure: the Klamath Mountains, the Coast Range and the Cascades.
Since 1934 wine grapes have been grown in the Umpqua Valley and the region’s terroir, which includes volcanic soils, warm days, and cool nights, provides ideal growing conditions for a variety of grapes. The region’s location, between the coastal range and the Cascade Mountains, also allows for a diverse range of microclimates that allow winemakers to experiment with different grape varietals.
The region’s first notable wines were produced by a small group of pioneering wineries and wine makers who recognized the potential of the Umpqua Valley and were determined to bring its wines to the world.
In 1961 when Richard Somers of Hillcrest Winery was the first grape grower to plant pinot noir, which today has become the signature grape of Oregon.
HillCrest Vineyard, still in operation today, is a family-owned winery is located in the charming town of Elkton and is known for its high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.
To this day, HillCrest Vineyard is considered one of the region’s most respected wineries.
Another early pioneer of the Umpqua Valley wine region is Abacela Vineyards and Winery. Founded by Earl and Hilda Jones in 1995, Abacela is a family-owned and operated winery that specializes in Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo and Albariño.
Abacela’s wines quickly gained recognition from critics and experts all around the world, and the winery became one of the first in the region to establish an international reputation. I will be sharing more about Hillcrest and Abacela in part two of this Umpqua Valley Wine Region series.
Passionate about their community and about grape growing early Umpqua industry pioneers established the first Oregon wine trade organization in 1969 which went on to become the statewide Oregon Winegrowers Association. The Umpqua Valley AVA was later established in 1984.
Here are some key facts and figures about this exciting wine region:
The Umpqua River Bridge just outside of Elkton gives a fantastic vantage point of the Umpqua River and surrounding Valley.
Before my Media Wine Tour of the Umpqua Valley began, I arrived a few days early to explore some of the ‘Off the Beaten Path’ areas of the valley and to spend some time in the Elkton, Oregon area which is it’s own AVA nestled inside the Northern section of the Umpqua Valley AVA. In this article I wanted to focusing on a couple of the wineries found within the Elkton AVA and the AVA itself.
The Elkton AVA was established in 2013 and is located in and around the town of Elkton, Oregon. Within the AVA the Umpqua River weaves through the middle of the region, offering a cool afternoon breeze during the growing season.
One of the distinguishing features of the Elkton AVA is it’s cooler, but milder climate which allows for a longer growing season than the rest of the Umpqua Valley. This coolest AVA of the southern Oregon wine producing regions with it’s maritime climate receives much more rain annually than other parts of the Umpqua Valley, about 50 inches per year. A climate similar to the Willamette Valley is produced in this region by the moisture laden cool winds from the Pacific Ocean that travel up the Umpqua River Gorge.
The Elkton AVA in Oregon is characterized by a variety of soils, including residual clay, silt loam, alluvial deposits, and river terraces, which are situated around the winding Umpqua River. The predominant clay soils in the region have a high water retention capacity, which reduces the need for irrigation and results in lower yields.
The first wine grapes were planted in this area in 1972 by Ken Thompson and today there are about 305 acres of vineyards there. Within the AVA there several wineries that can now use the Elkton AVA on their labels including, Rivers Edge Winery, Brandborg Vineyard and Winery, Bradley Vineyards, as well as Lexème.
Located in Elkton, Oregon, Lexème Winery and Vineyards is a testament to the passion, dedication, and hard work of its founders, Monja Hudson-Desmeules and Christopher Hudson. Monja’s journey in winemaking started in 2002 when she began acquiring winemaking and viticulture experience in the French side of Switzerland, where she grew up. Her passion for winemaking stemmed from her childhood memories of visiting wineries in Burgundy and practicing blind tastings of French and Swiss wines with her family. She eventually graduated with an Enology and Viticulture Engineering degree from the University of Applied Sciences of Changins, Switzerland, which brought her to study and experience winemaking and vineyard practices around Europe.
Christopher, on the other hand, grew up in Redmond, Central Oregon, and has always been fascinated by wine. He decided to diverge from his studies in Chemical Engineering to pursue winemaking, eventually graduating from OSU in fermentation sciences in 2006. He also had an internship at King Estate winery, where he met Monja, who was also an intern at the time. They soon realized their shared passion for high-quality, straight-forward, and truthful wines and their path led them to spend the rest of their lives together, building their dream of a high-quality grape-producing vineyard and winery.
It took the couple many years to find the land of their dreams and when they did, they partnered up with Christopher’s parents, Allan and Yvette Hudson, for the development of the Hudson family vineyard, located south of Elkton. The vineyard features south-facing rolling hills that overlook the main Umpqua River, providing the ideal terroir for producing premium wines.
In 2012 they started the planting some of the acreage in Pinot Noir and Gamay and while they waited for their own vines to mature and their grapes to grow, they began making their Lexème brand of wines with purchased grapes in 2015.
In 2018, they decided to expand the vineyard by adding Viognier and Chasselas, the main grape varietal grown in Switzerland, in a gobelet style. With extremely tight spacing of the vines at three feet by three feet, all cultivation is done by hand as tractors cannot fit in the block. The gobelet style of cultivation is renowned for bringing incredible depth to wines, with a high concentration of aromas, balanced acidity, and incomparable finesse.
In addition to these varietals, they also planted a small block of Malbec in the spring of 2018 as a trial. After a few years, Monja and Christopher discovered that there are enough warm days to get Malbec ripe on their site.
What’s in a Name….
Lexème (which means “root of a word” in french) opened it’s tasting room in Elkton in the fall of 2017 and since then has become a valuable addition to the growing Elkton wine region. The winery’s name, Lexème, is a nod to the couple’s passion for linguistics and their belief that every wine has its own unique story to tell.
River’s Edge Winery is a local gem and a pioneer in Elkton, Oregon’s wine scene. Established in 2000 on the banks of the Umpqua River, the winery is known for its commitment to environmentally sustainable wine production from grapes sourced exclusively from the Elkton AVA. What sets River’s Edge Winery apart is their dedication to sustainable farming practices and sustainable winemaking, which has helped the winery earn a reputation as a leader in responsible winemaking.
The winery’s story began in 1996 when Mike and Vonnie Landt purchased two vineyards, Black Oak Vineyard and Elkton Vineyard, from Ken and Mary Thomason. The Thomasons had planted the vineyards in 1972, making them some of the oldest in the area. The Landts had a vision to produce exceptional wines from the local grapes that were grown sustainably, and River’s Edge Winery was born. In 2000, the winery was built on the western edge of Elkton, just three miles from the vineyards and a stone’s throw from the Umpqua River.
Today, River’s Edge Winery offers a range of unique and high-quality wines, with a focus on Pinot Noir. Their commitment to sustainable farming practices means that they prioritize the health of their vineyards and the environment, ensuring that they can continue producing exceptional wines for years to come. Visitors to the winery can enjoy tastings in the tasting room or on the outdoor patio, with stunning views of the Umpqua River.
Bradley Vineyards is a family-owned winery that was founded by brothers John and Richard Bradley in 1983. With the help of family and friends, they planted over 20 acres of Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling grapes in the South and West-facing hills of Elkton. John honed his viticultural skills for 17 years, selling his crop to various wineries around Oregon before teaming up with friends Mike and Vonnie Landt, who founded River’s Edge Winery in Elkton.
John started producing a small amount of wine under the Bradley Vineyards label with the help of the Landts, and in the early 2000s, he expanded the vineyard by planting a small block of Baco Noir grapes and grafting Baco Noir onto a portion of mature Gewürztraminer vines. John also introduced a small block of Pommard, a clone of Pinot Noir. By 2013, Elkton’s wine industry had grown to include eight vineyards and five wineries, and Elkton was designated its own AVA. This marked a historical moment for John and the entire Elkton viticulture community, as Elkton was previously included in the much warmer Umpqua Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA).
Bradley Vineyards is a top producer of premium wines in Elkton, with a focus on Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. The winery’s commitment to sustainable farming practices and low-impact viticulture has helped it earn a reputation as a leader in responsible winemaking.
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery was founded by Terry and Sue Brandborg, who are both self-taught winemakers, but despite being self-taught, they have garnered numerous awards and accolades for their wine. Their passion for winemaking led them to search for a cool, coastal climate terroir that would produce harmonious, distinct wines, which they found in Elkton, located 36 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
Starting with only five acres of Pinot Noir, the Brandborgs now own 50 acres of vines, with their property rising to 1100 feet, offering a direct sightline to the Umpqua River and the Oregon coast range. Their vineyards take full advantage of the regions extended, frost-free growing season.
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery is dedicated to producing distinct, elegant Pinot Noir and Alsace-inspired white wines that exhibit pure varietal expression. With their commitment to producing high-quality wines that reflect the unique terroir of Elkton, Brandborg Vineyard & Winery is a must-visit destination for wine lovers looking to complete their Umpqua Valley experience.
When embarking on a wine-tasting trip, finding the right restaurant can make the getaway truly memorable, especially when the food and wine is perfectly paired to create an unforgettable sensory experience. By selecting a restaurant with a carefully curated wine list and knowledgeable staff, you can discover new wines and gain a deeper appreciation of the local wine region. A good restaurant can also provide insight into the local culture and cuisine, making it an ideal regional experience. I was delighted when I discovered all of these elements when dining at True Kitchen +Bar.
True Kitchen and Bar is a must-visit restaurant for food enthusiasts visiting the Umpqua Valley in Oregon. Located in the town of Roseburg, True Kitchen and Bar offers a unique and delicious dining experience that is centered around local, seasonal ingredients. The menu features a wide variety of dishes, from hearty comfort food to light and refreshing salads, all made with the freshest and highest-quality ingredients.
One of the highlights of the menu is the delicious local seafood dishes, which are caught fresh from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The restaurant also offers a great selection of vegetarian and vegan options, which are made with the same care and attention as the meat dishes.
When you visit True Kitchen + Bar if scallops are on the menu I recommend you order them. Everyone at our table who ordered this dish of pan seared scallops with bacon jam and risotto could not stop talking about how good it was.
The atmosphere at True Kitchen and Bar is cozy and casual, making it the perfect spot for a casual dinner with friends or a romantic date. The restaurant also boasts a well-curated wine list featuring local Oregon wines that are paired perfectly with the dishes on the menu.
If you’re looking for a true taste of the Umpqua Valley, True Kitchen and Bar is the perfect place to visit, just be sure to make a reservation as the restaurant is often busy due to its high popularity.
I hope that you enjoyed reading about Oregon’s picturesque Umpqua Valley and Elkton AVA. There’s more information still to come about my travels in this region of Southern Oregon, highlighting this must-visit scenic wine travel destination.
In Oregon’s Umpqua Valley Wine Region Part Two, I will be featuring more wineries in the region and followed by an Umpqua Valley-Off the Beaten Path article in which I share easy driving day trips and other noteworthy attractions found in the area.
As always, thanks for reading. Cheers!
All images and content © copyrighted by Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
Milan attracts numerous tourists annually who come to see Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned masterpiece, the Last Supper, but few are aware of another remarkable gem left by the artist, located only a few steps away from his famous painting. Nestled amidst the verdant gardens of an exquisite residential property, the Casa degli Atellani, lies Leonardo’s Vineyard, or in Italian ‘La Vigna di Leonardo’. This tranquil small plot of land and vineyard offers a unique opportunity to add to your exploration of the Renaissance while in Milan.
Despite its small size, La Vigna di Leonardo offers visitors a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Milan’s city center.
Leonardo da Vinci, born in Vinci, Tuscany in 1452, was a multifaceted genius of the Renaissance era. His abilities spanned beyond the realms of science and art, encompassing astronomy, engineering, cartography, geology, and botany. After mastering his skills in Florence, he moved to Milan in 1482, where he served under Ludovico Sforza, the forward-thinking Duke of Milan and one of his significant benefactors. For over two decades, Leonardo worked on several projects for the Duke, including designing the city’s canal district and producing thousands of sketches preserved in his Codex Atlanticus notebook.
During his time in Milan, he painted The Last Supper (1495-1498), situated in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. As a token of appreciation, Ludovico Sforza presented Leonardo with a small vineyard which the artist cared for while he worked on The Last Supper.
The Milan vineyard that Leonardo da Vinci received from the Duke of Milan, was given to him in 1498. Having been planted in the 15th century it is one of the oldest in Milan. Leonardo was fascinated by the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine. He spent a great deal of time studying and experimenting with various techniques in the vineyard.
However, French troops invaded the Duchy of Milan in 1499, causing Leonardo to leave Milan. After he departed, the vineyard was leased by the father of Leonardo’s former apprentice, Salai, and later confiscated by the French. In 1507, the vineyard was returned to Leonardo, thanks to the intervention of Charles II of Amboise, the French king’s lieutenant in Italy.
Leonardo left Milan for good in the early 16th century and died in 1519. Leonardo was especially attached to the vineyard and included it in his will at the end of his life. In his will, he left equal shares of the Milan vineyards to his apprentice, Salai, and to one of his most loyal servants, Giovanbattista Villani. After changing hands multiple times, the vineyard was virtually abandoned, along with the Casa degli Atellani, the dignified home adjacent to the vineyard. Sadly, the vineyard disappeared after fire and poor city planning took their toll in the 1920s. During World War II, the Casa degli Atellani, its gardens, and the vineyard suffered more damage during Allied bombing campaigns.
However, in the 1920s, Ettore Conti, an engineer and magnate of the Italian electricity industry, purchased the property and commissioned the famed Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi to restore the buildings. Despite the restoration, the remnants of Leonardo’s vineyard lay forgotten for years until the Expo Milan in 2015 prompted a cultural revival in the city. Portaluppi’s grandchildren, who currently own the Atellani House, decided to recreate Leonardo’s vineyard.
“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.”LEONARDO DA VINCI
A year prior to the Expo in 2014, fragments of the original vineyard roots were located, allowing scientists to analyze them in a laboratory setting. With the help of an oenologist named Luca Maroni and the University of Agricultural Sciences in Milan, they studied the original grape variety, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, and replanted the vineyard, maintaining the same pattern of vines that were present in the 15th century.
Fun Fact: The grape, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, is believed to have originated on the island of Crete.
Today, the vineyard produces a limited amount of high-quality wine made using traditional methods.
Currently, the vineyard is operated by the “Fondazione Cenacolo Vinciano”, an organization that is dedicated to preserving the vineyard and promoting the cultural heritage of the area.
Leonardo’s vineyard is also an important cultural and educational resource for the city of Milan. It is a popular destination for school groups and educational programs, as it provides a unique opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the city.
The vineyard also hosts events such as wine tastings, wine-making workshops, and cultural events throughout the year.
Visitors can stroll through the vineyard and admire the beautiful gardens that Leonardo himself may have tended to centuries ago.
The garden is a beautiful place to explore, with its ruined columns, weathered statues and ornate ironwork, you could spend hours there absorbing all of the historic and eye-catching details.
“To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another; and not only among the plants, but among the boughs, the leaves and the fruits, you will not find one which is exactly similar to another.” -Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo’s Vineyard in Milan saw its first-ever harvest in 2018, thanks to a scientific project by the University of Milan. The grapes were harvested on September 12th and underwent fermentation in an underground earthenware jar, using the ancient Greek-Roman method. The resulting product, La Malvasia di Candia Aromatica – Anno I, was bottled in a unique 330 Decanter that draws inspiration from a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci in the Windsor Code.
These exclusive Decanters are produced by Alberto Alessi at his winery, Cascina Eugenia, and are progressively numbered and sealed with a guarantee stamp and wax lacquer. The first of the 330 Decanters will be showcased at the museum beneath the stunning ceiling painted by Bernardino Luini, serving as a symbol of the timeless bond between Leonardo and the city of Milan.
La Dama di Milano, the wine comes from the same and valuable grape, malvasia di candia aromatica – Leonardo’s Vineyard, still grow for us by the Castello di Luzzano. The wine is characterized by bright straw yellow color; intense aroma, with floral notes of acacia, cypress and mint; typically aromatic, balanced and soft flavor.
The Lady with an Ermine, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is the portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, poetress and young mistress of Ludovico il Moro. You can find La Dama di Milano at the museum.
Looking for wines produced with the Malvasia Candia Aromatica grape? Here are a few producers: Ermacora in Friuli, Malvasia Istriana in Friuli (generally better quality, but not as perfumed and floral), La Tosa and Medici Ermete in Emilia Romagna, and Lunaria in Abruzzo. In the Lazio region, Malvasia Puntinata grape is used to produce wines similar to Leonardo’s, but less perfumed. Look for wines from Casale Marchese, Merumalia, Cantine Silvestri, Casale Vallechiesa, Poggio Le Volpe, and Tenuta Le Quinte. In the Colli Piacentini wine region, Malvasia is the most common DOC wine produced with the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape variety, with a characteristic aroma and a range of dry to sweet tastes. While it’s not easy to purchase wines from Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard, you can try Tasto Atellano wine produced at the Luzzano Castle, previously owned by the Atellani family and closely tied to Leonardo’s vineyard.
Leonardo’s Vineyard is a fascinating and unique place to visit in the city of Milan and it still retains the atmosphere that the artist loved.
If you’re planning a trip to Milan and love wine, don’t miss the opportunity to visit La Vigna di Leonardo. To purchase tickets for the vineyard and Casa degli Atellani, please visit the Museo Vigna di Leonardo website to check the opening hours and make a reservation. If you’re also interested in seeing The Last Supper, be sure to secure your tickets months in advance through the official ticket website or consider purchasing them as part of a private tour. the Museo Vigna di Leonardo website
There have been many books written about Leonardo da Vinci but one of my favorites is “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson is a remarkable biography that beautifully captures the life and legacy of one of the greatest minds in history. Isaacson provides a comprehensive look at Leonardo’s life, from his upbringing in the Tuscan town of Vinci to his years working for the Duke of Milan and his later career in France. The book delves deep into Leonardo’s many talents, including his artistic genius, scientific discoveries, and engineering innovations. Isaacson paints a vivid portrait of a man who was curious, driven, and endlessly creative. The writing is engaging and accessible, making it a great read for both casual readers and those with a deeper interest in Leonardo’s life and work.
I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse of Leonardo’s Vineyard in Milan, I will be sharing more from my last trip to Italy soon. Until then thanks for reading and if you have found any other hidden gems in Milan, I would love to hear about them. Just leave me a comment. Cheers Everyone.
All images and content © copyrighted by Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.