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Umpqua Valley wineries are worth exploring

As denizens of the Rogue and Applegate valleys, we are blessed with a cornucopia of vineyards and wineries.

However, there are other areas close to home that are worthy of exploration. So, it’s time for a road trip to the Umpqua Valley.

Just a short 1.5-hour drive up Interstate 5, the Umpqua is home to more than 25 wineries and vineyards. Before we get to the wine, let’s consider for a moment the scenery. For you Southern Oregon lifers, I expect this stretch of I-5 may have lost some of its charm. As a former Midwesterner, however, the rumpled nature of the many passes and valleys is still stunning to me (OK, less stunning when stuck behind a long line of semis, but still).

The area’s winemaking chops recently received national recognition when the SOMM (short for sommelier) Journal hosted its 2017 SOMM Camp in the Umpqua. During this four-day event, 15 sommeliers from California, Washington, Colorado and Portland sipped and supped local wines and delicacies, and learned about Southern Oregon’s terroir and wines from a cross-section of the Umpqua’s winemaking community. Major participants included the so-called “Big Three” wineries: Abacela, Brandborg Vineyard and Winery, and Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards.

Abacela, owned by Earl and Hilda Jones, is home to Southern Oregon’s first tempranillo. Abacela also makes some of the best port-style wine around. Brandborg, founded by Terry and Sue Brandborg, specializes in pinot noirs. Reustle, which was founded by Stephen and Gloria Reustle, makes award-winning syrahs. One vintage was named best syrah in the New World.

Other favorites include the tasting room at Southern Oregon Wine Institute at Umpqua Community College. Perched atop a knoll, the tasting room’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide stunning views west and south along the valley. The wines served at SOWI are made in the teaching winery by the program’s enology students, including yours truly.

There's also Cooper Ridge Vineyard, the self-described new kid on the block. Cooper Ridge’s tasting room offers delectable wines along with views of the North Umpqua River.

For me, good wine requires good food. For breakfast or lunch, I love Lighthouse Center Bakery & Cafe, 6461 Fort McKay Road, in Umpqua. Make sure to try the sour plum cheese danish (in season). To get there, I recommend taking Garden Valley Road from Roseburg. Once off the highway, the area’s valleys and vistas compress, and the road drops down to river level. For the bicycle-inclined, this is a great ride.

For drinks and dinner, True Kitchen + Bar, 629 SE Main St., in downtown Roseburg is the place. Completely unexpected in sleepy Roseburg, this place is hopping. Sit at the bar and try one of their tasty cocktails (because a person can drink only so much wine. Or so I’m told.), and the Crispy Pork Wings.

For more information about wineries and activities for your weekend Umpqua staycation, go to www.umpquavalleywineries.org.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Reach him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.