Of all the wines they’ve made for themselves and others, the 2012 Ferris Wheel Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir best tells the story of Terry and Sue Brandborg.
“When someone comes into the tasting room in Elkton, Ore. and says, ‘If I’m going to taste just one wine, which wine should it be?’I tell them that one,“ Terry said. “This is the reason why we are here.”
On the other hand, that Pinot Noir from the recently established Elkton, Oregon American Viticultural Area is just one reason why Brandborg Vineyard and Winery has been named Wine Press Northwest’s Oregon Winery of the Year.
Last year, their prized Pinot Noir ($38) earned a Platinum in Wine Press Northwest’s year-end peer judging of gold medal wines, as did the 2013 Gewürztraminer ($18). Both earned their invite by merit of their gold medal at the World of Wine Competition in Southern Oregon.
His skill with cool-climate grapes grown in the Elkton AVA also showed earlier this winter with a gold medal for his 2011 Riesling at the Judgment of Geyserville, an annual conference of North American wine critics who meet in Sonoma County to judge many of the continent’s top examples of a specific variety.
Global climate change and more heat units do have the Brandborgs a bit concerned. “We had 1,866 growing-degree days in 2012,” Terry said. “In 2013, it was the first time we were over 2,000, when was it 2,087. And in 2014, we got totally flabbergasted when we finished with 2,442."
Brandborg has moved the needle globally for Elkton with Gewürztraminer. Eric Asimov, acclaimed wine critic for The New York Times, raved in a 2010 column about Brandborg’s 2007 Gewürz, which topped Asimov’s East Coast tasting of North American producers. And last year marked the second straight time Brandborg has received a Platinum with Gewürztraminer — and his third in the Platinum competition.
“I worked with Gewürz from the Anderson Valley when I was a home winemaker in the early ’70s, and I continued to work with that fruit up until we moved to Oregon,” he said. “It’s still a bit of a hand-sell, but we get nice placements in restaurants and had some visitors to the tasting room who came in especially for Gewürz after tasting it at Le Pigeon in Portland."
At one point, Terry was making a large percentage of the wine produced in the valley at his vinification facility along Highway 38 in Elkton (pop. 170), as much as 15,000 cases for nine brands, but most of those folks have taken their production in-house. Last year, they processed about 10,000 cases. About 10 percent of that was Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for a client in Yamhill-Carlton.
“The Umpqua Valley saw huge growth from 2002 to 2007 when Sue and I moved here,” he said. “We were the eighth winery, and now we’ve gotten up to 24."
And Brandborg now is a second-generation winery. Sue’s daughter Kelsey Scarlett joined the business in 2010 after working at such places as Adelsheim Vineyard and Benzinger. A couple of years later, Kelsey and Chris Pace of nearby Anindor Vineyards, who met while studying at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, presented Terry and Sue with a granddaughter, Tilly.
“Now, maybe the only thing we miss about San Francisco is the diversity,” Sue said. “I remember our first year of working in the vineyard when it stays light to almost 10 p.m., and we were hungry but Tomaselli’s across the street closes at 8.
“There are more cultural opportunities here now,” she said. “We have tickets to the Umpqua Actors Community Theatre in Roseburg, which we go to as much as we can, and we host live music at the winery.”
Terry does miss working with Charbono, a French variety he earned a national reputation for during the days he also made Pinot Noir in a gritty neighborhood in Richmond, Calif.
With all the continued success and acclaim for the Brandborgs in 2014, the year also will be remembered for the sudden passing of longtime friend and grower John Bradley.
“There’s still a hole,” Terry said after pausing for a moment. “John was such a unique individual and involved in everything in the community.”
But Bradley’s spirit lives on with grapes that contribute to the Brandborgs' award-winning wines, most of them grown in and around the town of Elkton — less than 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
“We came to Elkton because we saw an opportunity,” Terry said. “I was first invited to attend the Steamboat Conference in 1994, and I really liked the vibe of the Oregon wine industry, and when we found out that Elkton was growing what we were seeking, it was an easy transition.”