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E U G E N E W E E K LY ' S 2014 G U I D E TO WI N E










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Brandborg Blooms Building an out-of-the-way winery in Oregon’s newest American Viticultural Area BY SHANNON FINNELL he tiny town of Elkton, Ore., boasts just 200 people but six wineries. Its cooler climate, atypical of the Umpqua Valley, means that wine grapes that won’t grow in most Southern Oregon vineyards flourish in Elkton. Grape-growing regions are known as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. Based on climate and geography, AVAs tell winemakers and connoisseurs a little bit about what to expect from the wine. As of 2013, Elkton is Oregon’s 17th AVA, just an hour southwest of Eugene. As Elkton’s grown as an out-of-theway wine destination, Terry and Sue Brandborg’s Brandborg Winery has thrived. In 2001, they were hooked after their first visit to the town; two weeks later they were back. “This is after two years of throwing our camping gear in our car on Fridays, driving through different areas of California I was familiar with, meeting with Realtors, driving around and looking at properties and never seeing anything that we could afford or was attractive enough,” Terry Brandborg explains. “I turned around and said, ‘Sue, this is it.’” Today, the Brandborgs bottle about 8,500 cases of wine a year, specializing in the pinot noir, riesling and gewürztraminer that fare so well in Elkton. Their own home and vineyard are 4 miles west of town, while the winery is located on Hwy. 38, the first block encountered for those driving from Eugene. Brandborg jokes that the visible location helped them fit in easier with the town — people visiting the post office watched them work and could see the Brandborgs didn’t fit into a rich folks stereotype. “They could tell we weren’t some Wall Streeters with a wine fantasy because we work our asses off out here,” he says. Inside, the winery’s tasting room is airy and full of light. “I’ve always looked at space as volume, not necessarily square footage,” Brandborg says. The vaulted ceilings serve double duty, allowing stacks and stacks of winemaking equipment in the back and upstairs seating overlooking the tasting room and its stage. While Brandborg says Elkton is the perfect location for him, he also admits that being in Elkton presents some challenges. “The wineries in Roseburg are largely small-family operations and they depend mostly on traffic to their tasting rooms,” he says. “Here in Elkton, we don’t get enough traffic to sustain us that way, so we really have to distribute. We’re in about 18 markets nationally now.” That translates to a lot of travel. Brandborg says that when the couple isn’t producing, they’re selling. “We spend quite a bit of time working in those markets. We just got back Friday from 12 days in Vermont and New York, and we’re headed out to Colorado soon.” Brandborg Winery vintages are also available in Eugene at the Market of Choice, Sundance, The Broadway, Jiffy Mart, The Tap & Growler, The Bier Stein and several restaurants. In addition to selling locally and nationally, Brandborg says that



making custom wines for other labels has been key to their survival. He says they take as much pride and care in custom wines as they do in their own. “One, it’s good for the cash,” he says. “Two, we had more experience when we arrived here than some of the other startup businesses, and I knew I could do a good job for them. We’re of a feeling that a rising tide floats all boats, so we really want to see the quality of all the wines of the area go up.” And Elkton’s wine scene continues to grow. Brandborg knows of at least one more winery planned for the area, and he says growers from California and France have been buying grape-growing land in Oregon, partly due to climate change. The Brandborgs currently source most of their grapes from the northern Umpqua Valley, but they have 6 acres producing on their own land, with 4 more acres going in next year and the goal of producing 50 acres. “We’re very much believers that the property that we ended up is pretty exceptional,” he says. “It’s becoming evermore important because the landscape in Oregon is changing.” F Brandborg Winery is open 11 am to 5 pm daily at 345 1st St., Elkton, OR 97436. Learn more at





East SideWines Viticulture outside the Valley BY SHANNON FINNELL


alleys aren’t the only places for making wine. While most of Oregon’s 450-some wineries are located in cooler, more temperate climes, central and Eastern Oregon are in on enology culture, too. For a treat on your next road trip east, drop by one of these wineries to get a taste of Oregon’s east side.


930 N.W. Brooks St., Bend, OR 97701 • 541-390-8771 • Volcano Vineyards co-owner Scott Ratcliff says that his winery is the smallest in the U.S. when measured by bonded space — it’s just 226 square feet. “And I’ve got a big ass so I’m always moving stuff around,” he jokes. The winery specializes in merlot and syrah because Ratcliff loves the full-bodied varieties, and Volcano Vineyards is also working on a line of sangrias. Its wines are available in Eugene, too, at Growler Guys and the Tap & Growler. WATERMILL WINERY

235 E. Broadway, Milton-Freewater, OR 97862 • 541-938-5575 • Watermill Winery, located in the southern tip of the Walla Walla Valley, is a diverse operation. It started not with wine and grapes but with apples, and it also produces a hard apple cider. The winery produces a variety of red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and tempranillo, but it doesn’t ignore the whites — it also makes viognier and a dry gewürztraminer. Co-owner Nancy Brown says it was the apple orchards that got the business involved with sustainability, and that spread to the winery. “It has to do with water conservation,” she says. “We’re also considered salmon-safe. We don’t use as much water so we’re able to give back to the Walla Walla River so that the salmon can go back up and spawn.” MARAGAS WINERY

15523 S.E. Hwy. 97, Culver, OR 97734 • 541-546-5464 • Jefferson County’s founding vineyard and winery, Maragas Winery, is a boutique operation that sells a variety of reds and whites made in small batches aged in barrels for long stretches. The winery hosts events like farm-to-table dinners, tastings and private parties. The Maragas family’s winemaking roots started in Crete, but they’ve been making wine in the U.S. since 1941. SNO ROAD WINERY

210 W. Main St., Echo, OR 97826 • 541-376-0421 • Located in tiny Echo, Ore., in Umatilla County, Sno Road Winery always has something happening, whether it’s music, a jewelry-making class in the tasting room or the fantastic nature updates that co-owner Lloyd Piercy includes on the Facebook page. Even better, there’s a mountain bike trail that’s part of the Echo Hills Vineyard Trail System, and it’s host of the annual Red to Red Mountain Bike Race Extravaganza. DAVID HAMILTON WINERY

150 N. Mountain Blvd., Mt. Vernon, OR 97865 • 541-932-4567 • The David Hamilton Winery specializes in homemade fruit wines with no added sulfites. Varieties include huckleberry, blackberry, blueberry, apple, chokecherry, elderberry and more. F WWW.EUGENEWEEKLY.COM






A Wine for Every Equation

Eugene’s first urban winery, Eugene Wine Cellars, ages to perfection in the Whiteaker BY SARAH HAGY ruce Biehl, the owner of Eugene Wine Cellars (EWC), once dreamed of being a cowboy. He became a winemaker instead. With a soft spot for European wine culture, influenced both by his travels and a brother who makes wine in southern France, Biehl brought the first “urban winery” to Eugene in 1999. It was a family effort, with Biehl siblings Beverly and Brad, which made EWC the first licensed winery within city limits. Biehl decided to close the winery tasting room for a few years in the late aughts, but in May 2013, EWC reopened the tasting room at their winery in the Whiteaker, making it possible to process and serve their wine under the same roof. Wednesday through Saturday evenings from 4 to 8 pm, Eugeneans visit for a chilled glass accompanied by a familiar where-everybody-knows-your-name kind of ambience. From time to time a music group performs in the back warehouse and the customers can wander, glass in hand, among the barrels and equipment. EWC sources its fruit from 23 different growers in the Willamette Valley, including a family-owned vineyard. They process about 6,000 cases a year of the EWC=b²+Recess brand. The b² label represents the two Biehl brothers, while Recess pays tribute to their parents and sister’s work as schoolteachers. To simplify the



equation, “It’s inexpensive wine that’s good, that’s what it equals,” Biehl says. The sharp but sweet scent of wine is everywhere, saturating the senses so that you can imagine the taste as it slides over the tongue and leaves a pleasant warming sensation rising in the throat and lingering on the palate. If you’re new to the wine scene, Biehl recommends a pinot gris, a simple white wine that’s easy to drink and enjoy. Or if you’re having a meal, he suggests one of their Recess label’s red or white blends. “You don’t have to sit there and think about it; it’s just a part of your meal or your conversation or your day,” Biehl says. However, if you ask what he’s drinking, it will most likely be his favorite — the pinot noir. “I liked the pinot noir from the very beginning, but I did not realize that it was a love-hate relationship,” Biehl says. “It is a grape that is very frustrating to grow, it’s a wine that is very difficult to make and when you come out with something nice — you are very rewarded. So I compare pinot noir to a woman,” he laughs. As a young adult, Biehl worked on his grandparents’ ranch in central Montana. When he returned to Oregon and told his parents he wanted to be a cowboy, they simply said no. Two months later Biehl became a grape grower. “On a nice summer day, early fall, you can’t go wrong with starting with a pinot gris and vegetables and fruit, some cheese, then open a red wine with some barbecue and fish,” Biehl says. In 1978, at just 20 years old, he was already smitten with the wine industry. While the Whiteaker location was not a deciding factor for this urban winery, Biehl likes the neighborhood, especially how it has grown over the past 10 years with the “fermentation district” emerging, drawing both tourists and locals alike. “I would say Eugene is a liberal arts city that likes to drink beer and watch football,” he says, “but there’s a wine culture here as well and it’s vibrant.” F Visit Eugene Wine Cellars at the Tasting Room, 255 Madison St. in the Whiteaker, The B² Wine Bar, 2794 Shadow View Dr. in Crescent Village, or the B² Coffee Haus, 1986 NW Pettygrove St. in Portland.





Weather T & Wine

hanks to its cool, moist climate, the Willamette Valley is renowned for its wines. But climate isn’t the only atmospheric condition that affects grapes grown for wine — weather, or atmospheric conditions in the shorter term, also changes grapes. For example, rain can dilute the sugar levels and flavors that accumulate during ripening. Weather also encourages or tamps down prospects for various pests and diseases. Greg Jones, a research climatologist at Southern Oregon University, provides us with weather conditions of a few notable growing seasons and the effect that weather had — or is having — on Oregon wines that season. — Shannon Finnell

How Weather Affects Wine The Year Was


The Weather Was

one of the warmest years in the past 20-30 years

The Wine Is

full, fruit-forward, boldstyled wines


Each year differences in weather affect the delicate wine grapes of Oregon. Here is a list of some recent — and current — years, their weather patterns and what to expect from these vintages.




moderate in terms of climate, ideal timing in terms of overall development

relatively cool in Oregon

very warm year followed by a big rain from typhoon remnants in September

very cold weather in early December ’13 and a dry year overall

highest-rated pinot noir in the past 15 years

many wines on the lighter side, with a more elegant, crisp, light-style wine

good white wines expected; good reds harvested before rainfall

smaller crop expected; potential for a good vintage


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Bad Chemistry Cork disease can taint wines BY LANCE SPARKS very once in a while, a bottle of wine — even a very good wine, from a reputable producer — breaks bad. Excuses abound, but reasons are harder to find. Bad chemistry. The sequence is predictable: We buy a decent wine, treat it well until we pull the cork. We pour the wine, bring it to our lips. First, we’re assaulted by nasty aromas: moldy, musty, damp basement, mildewed stacks of old newspapers … Descriptors vary. Flavors, too, remind us of soggy basements. If the condition is advanced, the wine is undrinkable. That condition is known by various names: cork disease, cork taint, “corked.” Researchers have pinned a chemical name on this, the ugly backside of wine; they call the problem 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or just TCA. Researchers have found that TCA results from a reaction between certain fungi and bacteria and the chlorine agents usually used to sterilize cork. Looking back. Let’s stop for a brief history. Wine, we now believe, has been made and consumed for more than 3,000 years, and over those millennia winemakers have sought and used various systems for containing their wines and closing the containers in order to prevent spillage, first, and exposure of the juice to oxygen in the air (which ages the wine and promotes its evolution into vinegar, great on salads, not so good by the glassful). Without going into extensive detail, let’s just note that ceramic containers have been used, some stuffed with straw, some closed with melted wax, even ground glass. The advent of the glass bottle as a container for wine evolved over centuries, from too fragile to thicker and stronger (better for transportation of wine), and it found a closure match in the mid-1600s. The answer was a piece of bark — cork, that is, from the bark of cork trees that grow mainly in Portugal and parts of Spain. Sadly, cork presented its own problems, especially as wine production increased so dramatically over the past 100 years or so. To prevent bacterial and fungal infections transmitted from the cork to the wine, cork had to be sterilized. Forms of chlorine were often used. All too often, TCA resulted. In the 1980s, TCA was being found in about 8 percent of wines; that’s about one bottle per 12-bottle case, much too high. Vintners scrambled for alternatives: synthetics, composites, glass tops, screw caps. Cork growers/producers also raced for solutions, trying to save their burgeoning business; at this time, they claim to have virtually eliminated TCA, mainly by changing sterilization agents. Today, TCA is rare. Still, buyers occasionally encounter TCA — and don’t like it. Some wine producers have completely abandoned cork closures; for example, most producers in Australia and New Zealand have committed to screw caps. But that has created some other problems, mainly having to do with marketing, that lingering image thing, nagging because the Aussie and Kiwi wines are often top quality. Wine producers have spent millions of dollars promoting wine as a product with panache, a drink consumed by people with some prestige and sophistication.


Even proper pulling of a cork required some special tools and skills in their use. Producers and their marketers created the illusory link: High-quality (i.e., expensive) wine got corks; cheapo vino got screw caps. Mystique got wrapped — and trapped — in a mistake. Especially in posh restaurants, guests expect certain rites in the ordering and opening of a bottle: maybe a bit of yakking about vintage and producer, often with a sommelier, maybe some sniffing of the cork (silly, unless sniffing the side of the cork, where sniffers might detect TCA early — or not), then the ritual tasting, pouring (or not — some diners get a buzz out of sending a bottle back, even if the wine is quite drinkable). [Note: Just because there are some cork fragments floating in your bottle or glass does not mean the wine is “corked” (TCA-affected); same is true if you find crystals on the bottom of the cork — they’re harmless, and blameless when it comes to TCA. Legally, if you order a bottle of wine and the cork has been pulled, you bought it, unless it’s demonstrably “bad.” Of course, in a fine restaurant, a server or sommelier will simply take the bottle back and invite you to order another; if the wine is bad, they’ll simply stick the cork back in the bottle and return it to their distributor for a refund or replacement, no questions asked.] None of the ritual makes sense if the bottle is closed with a screw cap: Unscrew the cap, pour the wine, drink. There’s no TCA involved. Enjoy your wine. Embrace the screw cap.

If you encounter cork taint at home, you can try this: Wad up some plastic wrap, put it in a bowl, pour the wine over the wad, let it sit briefly.


There’s still some argument about whether wines closed by screw caps might not age as gracefully as wines finished with a natural cork. Research continues on this question. But consumer habits might have some bearing here: Before the advent of cork closures, almost all wines were consumed during the year of the vintage; the wines didn’t keep well and certainly didn’t age well. The corkand-bottle combination opened wine drinkers to a new experience, particularly the subtle changes in flavors and textures of matured wines. Recent research, however, shows that very few wine-buyers expect to “cellar” their wine, keeping it for (sometimes) years before opening and drinking. In fact, data indicate that some 90-plus percent of a vintage will be consumed within a year of its release. In response to these market facts, some top-shelf producers insist on continued use of natural cork as their bottle closure; producers of lower-priced, ‘everyday’ wines are, more and more, choosing to make the change to screw caps, saving money, eliminating the TCA problem and encouraging consumers to drink up — and buy another bottle. Home solution to taint. If you encounter cork taint at home, you can try this: Wad up some plastic wrap, put it in a bowl, pour the wine over the wad, let it sit briefly. Chemists say the nasty chlorine will adhere to chemicals in the plastic, eliminating nastiness. Or simply re-cork it and return it to seller, assuming you saved the receipt — and bought from a reliable wine shop. Last option, if others fail: Cuss, open a new bottle, enjoy. F





Some Like It Cold Modern advice for serving temperatures BY LANCE SPARKS

he origins of wine are shrouded in the thick mists of pre-history. Still, largely due to the mystique of wine, historians, anthropologists and other scholars continue to delve into the mystery. Lately, they’ve been joined by geneticists exploring grape DNA. All fun stuff, but, for now, suffice it to say that once upon a time, long ago (probably some 3,000-plus years), in a land far away (probably Persia, aka Iran), someone (probably a woman, since almost all good aspects of civilization seem to have originated with women) discovered that wildpicked grapes, left alone, would release their juice, then ferment, and fermented grape juice tastes pretty good. Since that insight, winemaking has been wrapped in all sorts of interesting myths. One of those involves the best temperatures at which we should serve and drink various wines, summarized in a ragged adage: “Serve white wines chilled; serve red wines at ‘room temperature.’” Pretty much nonsense: Some very interesting science relative to the experience of wine has emerged lately from experiments conducted by psychologists studying human sensory perception. Basically, we now know that temperature plays a role in tasting; in fact, there seems to be a temperature threshold (around 45 degrees F) below which we don’t taste very much. So that old adage, developed long before refrigerators (which keep our foods at around 35 degrees F), if applied with modern equipment, means that we’d drink our white wines way too cold to actually taste them — which is fine if what we want is a cold, wet, largely flavorless drink. That hoary adage also goes off for red wines. The “room temperature” part comes down to us from the time when most rooms, lacking central heating, might hit mid50s F, not close, really, to common room temp of 68 to 72 degrees, kinda warm for most red wines (but not all, it turns out). We’re not here to review all the scientific yadda-yadda with a lot of tiresome citations (all available online of course) but to clarify and correct an old rule and, ultimately, enhance your experience of fermented INFOGRAPHIC BY SARAH DECKER grape juice. In brief, see the infographic on this page (with the caveat that wine professionals argue about details and degrees). Talented winemaker Jim Seufert (Seufert Winery, Dayton) simplifies the chart: “45 degrees for sparkling, 55 for whites, 65 for reds.” Nice, clean. Research shows that Barolos, the “big” reds of the Piedmont region of Italy, yield their fullest flavors when served a bit warmer, closer to 72 degrees. Folks argue this point (and all others) and also make the case that “big” white wines (e.g., white Burgundies or “heavier” chardonnays) should be served a little warmer, closer to the 55-degrees mark. But wait — you don’t need to buy a special thermometer for your wine. Common sense works here: If you’ve kept your wine in the fridge and it’s way cold, take it out an hour or so before serving, let it warm up. Open the bottle, taste the juice. Getting good flavors? OK. Same with reds. Too, all this chatter goes by the board when it comes to individual preference: Essentially, serve/drink your wines at the temperature you enjoy them. Want to quaff your Aussie shiraz right out of the fridge ’cause that’s how you like it? Do it, and damn the wine-yakkers. F



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