How To Brand a Wine Region: Oregon’s Umpqua Valley AVA


How does a wine region market itself? Individual wineries have the advantage of relying on scores and reviews and individual stories. But when marketing an entire region there’s a tougher challenge, because whatever approach is taken it must be inclusive, and let’s be honest – not all wineries are equally successful and not all wines are standouts.

There are three regional marketing strategies that are often tried with uncertain success:  developing a catchy slogan; promoting a small, nestled AVA; defining a regional signature grape. I’ve recently been in contact with representatives of two NW regions that are in the process of re-examining their marketing in the hopes of upping their profiles in this challenging wine market. I’m tasting through representative wines and will post up my thoughts and suggestions for both of them. To be clear, this is not a paid assignment. I’m not a hired consultant. I’ve made no promises other than to taste the wines and do some analysis as I do with every post on this Substack.

The Southern Oregon AVA covers most of Oregon wine country south of the Willamette Valley and west of the Cascades. You can study your Oregon maps looking for the Central Oregon AVA. You won’t find it, because it doesn’t exist. In its place between the southern end of the Willamette Valley and the northern border of the Rogue Valley is the Umpqua Valley AVA.

I suspect for many readers it’s a head scratcher. Where is it? What is it? What distinguishes it? Why should you care? If these questions ring a bell for you, you understand why it’s now searching for an identity.

This isn’t some new “where is it/what is it” AVA like any number of recent pop-ups in the Pacific Northwest. The Umpqua Valley AVA was established 40 years ago – the same time as the Willamette Valley.

The basic statistics are these (taken from the Oregon Wine Board website):

  • Established: 1984
  • Total Area: 683,300 acres (280,600 ha)
  • Planted Area: 3,605 acres (1,440 ha)
  • Predominant Varieties: Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, Albarino
  • Predominant Soils: Stream sediments, marine sedimentary bedrock, volcanic

If you’ve never visited this part of the state you should take the opportunity on your next drive through central Oregon. It’s a stunningly beautiful area, bordered by mountains on three sides. In terms of winemaking it boasts a rich history that includes the first modern era (1961) planting of Oregon Pinot Noir at Richard Sommer’s HillCrest Vineyard.

Nested within the Umpqua Valley’s borders are two sub-AVAs:  Elkton Oregon and Red Hill Douglas County. Elkton Oregon is home to Brandborg, River’s Edge and Bradley wineries. I’ve tasted many of their wines over multiple vintages. They offer some of the region’s most rich, ripe and toasty versions of Pinot Noir. A more recent addition to the region is Lexème, whose Swiss winemaker’s efforts lean toward Euro-style versions of Gamay, Malbec and assorted rosés. The Red Hill Douglas County AVA is a one-off with just a single vineyard and no wineries.

Within the borders of the entire AVA are such well-established wineries as Abacela, Paul O’Brien and Reustle, all of them doing groundbreaking work that should by now have put it on the global map among Oregon’s most important wine regions. But my impression is that it lags far behind the Willamette Valley and isn’t keeping up with the Rogue Valley in terms of consumer awareness and industry appreciation. Why is that?

It brings me back to an examination of the three marketing strategies named above. As far as a signature grape, there isn’t one (more on that later). The nested AVAs do not impact its overall visibility, and the Umpqua Valley itself may be a bit too big and broad and diverse to enable a clearcut identity to be defined. That brings me to the question of a marketing slogan.

What seems to be in current use is “Genuine. Rooted. Bountiful. Where Promise Meets Experience.” Which is about as generic as a slogan can be. Not terrible, but a bit of a word salad. For a truly awful slogan let me briefly remind you of “Say WA” – a Washington marketing slogan from about 20 years ago that was supposed to drum up tourism, specifically wine tourism. It lived a mercifully brief existence. Tied to its rollout was a poster of a woman stomping grapes with the tagline “This is the sound of taste buds dancing.” This was marketing on psychedelics.

I mention this because even with a substantial budget, endless focus groups and less to overcome it is all too easy for marketing mavens to completely blow it. So here is my own unsolicited, unpaid (and probably unwanted) suggestion for the Umpqua Valley… (drum roll please):  Umpquaffable!

It’s brief, catchy and to the point. It ties an unwieldy name (let’s be honest here – Umpqua doesn’t roll gracefully off of the tongue) to the region and to the concept that these are friendly, fun to drink, possibly every day wines. All true, and inclusive. So if you can design a poster with some beautiful scenics (not a hard challenge) and that single word as a headline, I think you’re on your way to making a genuine promise that can lead to a bountiful experience.

This past week I tasted through a number of wines submitted by the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers. By no means a comprehensive overview, but enough good material for me to make a few recommendations.

Bradley 2022 Flagship Pinot Noir – Estate-grown Pommard and Wadenswil fruit brings forward flavors of cherries accented with sweet barrel spices. Aromatically and down through the palate there’s a light leathery scent and flavor. I suspect this young wine is best enjoyed over the next two or three years. 72 cases; 14.1%; $32 (Elkton Oregon) 90/100

Bradley 2022 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir – The 50% new oak barrels amp up the instant appeal of this young wine, adding a firm streak of vanilla and a dusting of sandalwood to the otherwise light strawberry/rhubarb fruit. All estate-grown Pommard grapes, this is fresh, juicy and balanced, a wine to drink now and over the rest of the decade.  50 cases; 14.2%; $38 (Elkton Oregon) 91/100

Lexème 2021 Pinot Noir  – This is a lovely, elegant wine that brings surprising strength in the back end. Up front it’s all floral highlights and light raspberry flavors. The tannins are balanced and firm; the 20% new oak stands out with somewhat raw, toasty, lightly charred flavors. This should be a good match for grilled meats, ribs and burgers. 97 cases; 13%; $35 (Elkton Oregon) 90/100

Oregon Territory 2022 Pinot Noir – Made and bottled by Paul O’Brien winery, this new vintage is principally sourced from the Umpqua AVA and includes 24% Willamette Valley grapes. For an inexpensive Pinot it’s given gold star treatment, barrel aged in one quarter new French oak. Clean red berry fruits are in play, with herbal hints of thyme providing background. Sealed with a screwcap to ensure freshness. 3495 cases; 13.5%; $22 (Oregon) 90/100

Paul O’Brien 2021 Pinot Noir – Fermented with one quarter whole clusters, this has a spicy lift to the red fruits that populate the mid-palate. It was fermented in a mix of stainless and concrete, then aged in one quarter new French oak. Still young and chewy, it’s sure to improve with a few more years of bottle age. The Diam closure ensures that you won’t run into any cork issues. 1194 cases; 13.5%; $32 (Umpqua Valley) 92/100

Paul O’Brien 2018 Malbec – This supple, appealing wine is all Malbec, a deft mix of blue and purple berries, satiny tannins, and penetrating highlights of wintergreen. After two years in 40% new French oak, and further time aging in bottle, it has lost some rough edges and acquired a finishing smoothness. Drink now and over the next five years. 14.5%; $36 (Southern Oregon) 90/100

River’s Edge 2021 Elkton Cuvée Pinot Noir – Firm, well-fruited with deep black cherry flavors. Good concentration with a toasty edge from one third new oak barrels. 352 cases; 14.2%; $24 (Elkton Oregon) 90/100

River’s Edge 2021 Barrel Select Pinot Noir – The barrel select is sourced from several Elkton sites with old vine Wadenswil and Pommard and newer Dijon 115 and 777 clones. It gets half new oak behind medium weight strawberry and pomegranate fruit. There’s plenty of backing acid. Finishes with a hint of alcoholic heat. 202 cases; 14.1%; $28 (Elkton Oregon) 90/100

River’s Edge 2021 Black Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir – This estate vineyard dates back to the early 1970s. It’s all Wadenswil clone and brings the density, detail and elegance that old vines can often impart. The black cherry fruit is accented with touches of coffee grounds, underbrush and smoked wood. This unique wine is more powerful and oaky than most Pinots, but well made and flavorful. 45 cases; 14.6%; $32 (Elkton Oregon) 91/100

Without question the two leading wineries in the Umpqua Valley AVA as far as I’m concerned are Abacela and Reustle, though for completely different reasons. What they share in common is the commitment to 100% estate-grown wines, and a strong focus (among diverse portfolios) to a particular grape varietal. They each specialize in a particular grape, which they have pioneered. For Abacela it’s Tempranillo; for Reustle it’s Grüner Veltliner.

Subscribe to Paul Greggut’s Substack newsletter

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.