For the past 20-some years, our Thanksgiving weekend traditions have involved a day of wine tasting. Early on, we spent a lot of time in the Willamette Valley, especially the lower and mid-valley wineries, but we’ve ventured as far north as Dundee. Lately, though, with the current popularity of Thanksgiving weekend wine tasting, we have been heading south to the Umpqua Valley where the vibe is more relaxed and the wine varieties have a broader range.
This year, our wine tour was sparked by a tweet from Delfino Winery on International Tempranillo Day (November 13). Intrigued with this winery that we hadn’t yet visited, and spurred by our own love for Tempranillo (which needs warmer growing conditions), we built our tour around Delfino.
You’ll notice that with the wineries I’ve described below, I purposefully do not describe or rate the wines. Wine tasting, for me, is about enjoying the experience at the winery and having a pleasant outing. I leave the rating and wine-talk to others.
We started our day at Paul O’Brien winery, a new urban winery located in downtown Roseburg. I admit, I was a little skeptical about the words “urban” and “Roseburg” being used together, but after visiting the tasting room, I can totally attest to the urban vibe at Paul O’Brien. Located in an old car dealership (the historic Hansen Chevrolet building), the winery is beautiful and the owners have some ambitious and interesting plans for the space which I hope come to fruition.
We enjoyed talking with our wine server who was familiar with Cottage Grove — our home town — and our local wineries. We also had the opportunity to meet one of the owners, Scott. The winery itself is easily accessible from the freeway as well as downtown Roseburg.
After Paul O’Brien, we headed to Abacela, located just south of Roseburg. Abacela is a long-time favorite of ours, and last year it was named the “2013 Oregon Winery of the Year” by Wine Press Northwest. Abacela is the winery which introduced us to Tempranillo, however they have a broad range of wines and it is hard for me to find a wine there that I don’t like. On the big weekends — Memorial Day and Thanksgiving — Abacela puts on a huge spread with food designed to complement the wines. We planned our trip there to coincide with the lunch hour, and then took our time sipping and snacking. If you go on Memorial Day weekend, you might get a tour out into the vineyard. Whenever you go, be sure to take the stairs up to the deck area on top of the tasting room for views out over the vineyard (and into the neighboring Wildlife Safari), and to take a stroll through their gardens with signs about the terroir of this area.
After Abacela, we took the back roads north with Delfino, our inspiration for this wine tour. For me, Delfino Winery feels like a classic Umpqua Valley winery, in that it is positioned up a long gravel driveway amongst the hills of an oak savanna with a tasting room that is modest and cozy.
The Delfino wine-making style includes a natural yeast fermentation process. I am not a wine maker or a scientist but I can tell you that the natural yeast fermentation creates a wine where you can really “taste the place” (as the Delfino brochure says). These distinctive wines were a pleasure to sample.
Delfino was supposed to be our last stop on the tour, but as we were leaving we struck up a conversation in the parking lot with a group who was just arriving. From them we learned about some new wineries that were not yet on the Umpqua Valley wine tour map. These new wineries were close by, so we sought them out, stopping at Moonlite (the other, Cooper Ridge, we’ll have to visit in the future).
Moonlite Winery is located behind a vintage house in the midst of the Garden Valley wineries. While the tasting room just opened this summer, the owners, Ed and Amy have been growing grapes and making wine in this region since 2008.
I am so glad we expanded our itinerary with a stop at Moonlite as it reminded me of our early years wine tasting. The parking lot was being attended by the wine-maker’s sister-in-law, and pourers included the wine-maker’s son and niece as well as the wine-makers themselves. I love supporting small wineries such as this and talking with multiple members of a family as we sample the wines.
Wine tasting pointers
If you are new to wine tasting, be prepared to pay a tasting fee, especially on the big weekends when wineries tend to put out food and sometimes let you keep your glass. Some places wave or reimburse the fee if you buy a bottle of wine. (By the way, it is my opinion that the polite thing to do after spending time in a winery is to buy a bottle of wine, but I know that not everyone does that.) If there is a big spread (like at Abacela) or if you get to keep your glass, often the fee is not reimbursed.
Also, please have a designated driver and make a plan for sober driving. We take our time amongst the food and scenery and sip “gently.” If we can, we also like to combine wine tasting with other activities. We really enjoyed the approach in Elkton that we experienced last year where local artists opened up their studios during Thanksgiving weekend allowing us to sample wines and art, while enjoying our drive along the back roads around Elkton.