The 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-the-way 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 start-up 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 brandborgwine.com.