ROSEBURG, Ore. — For centuries, settlers in Oregon took advantage of the wealth hidden in Douglas County’s soil. First, it was gold. Then crops.
“This is really a rural farming community and had its origins of grape-growing a long, long time ago,” UCC professor Chris Lake said.
Vines started coming in from the Midwest and Napa Valley in the 1880s, planted as a kind of experiment. But the wine industry fizzled out during Prohibition. That meant the modern era of Umpqua Valley wine wouldn’t really get started until about 50 years ago.
“You had Richard Somer who came in the 60s and started Hillcrest. You have Scott Henry who came back to the family farm and started growing grapes and really expanding,” Lake said.
Marc Girardet’s family settled in the Umpqua Valley and planted vines in 1971.
“It’s been crazy because I remember growing up in the 1980s and everything was kind of mom and pop,” he said.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, he’s labeling bottles in the production area of his family’s winery. When he was a kid, he helped his parents glue the labels on each bottle by hand. These days, machines all but do that for him.
With new technology like that making production easier, the industry was once again primed for another surge.
“In the ’90s, we saw a lot of money come into the area and then the growth really happened,” Girardet said.
“I’ve been in this job about 10 years,” said Roseburg Chamber of Commerce president Debbie Fromdahl. “I remember when we were talking about this budding industry 10 years ago and how many more wineries have come online in just the past 10 years.”
The growth isn’t just fueled by new wineries. Some of the older ones, like Abacela, are expanding. That expansion is being seen beyond the borders of their vineyards.
“We had probably the smallest tasting room in Oregon for years,” said Abacela owner Earl Jones. “It was 16-foot square.”
These days, customers can try out Abacela’s trademark tempranillo in its new Wine and Vine Center; it’s a state-of-the-art tasting room and production facility. Visitors can enjoy a glass of vino while enjoying the view or sample different vintages in the library — all while new vintages age upstairs. It’s a modern building to showcase what Jones hopes will be the industry of the future in the Umpqua Valley.
“There’s been a lot more grapes grown this valley. There’s a lot more wine made here. I think the outer world is hearing about us more.”