Douglas County’s Umpqua Valley Grape and Wine Industry

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

June 19, 2017

As Douglas County’s businesses struggled during the Great Recession (2007-2009) and the years that followed, the county’s Umpqua Valley grape and wine industry flourished. In 2007, there were 50 vineyards and 24 wineries in the county; by 2009, that number had grown to 58 vineyards and 29 wineries. This growth has accelerated during the post-recessionary period, and by 2015, there were 69 vineyards and 40 Umpqua Valley wineries.

A Growing Industry with Increasing Capacity

Perhaps more revealing is the increase in acres planted – a measure of potential production capacity. In 2005, the county had just over 600 acres planted in wine grapes. By 2015, that number had more than quadrupled to nearly 2,700 acres. Already Oregon’s fastest growing region, this dramatic increase in vines-in-the-ground serves to position this small region for future development. This 10-year expansion has supported a 122-percent increase in wineries. Given the small, family-owned nature of these businesses and the scenic vistas of Douglas County, local businesses have reported an uptick in tourism associated with wine tours.
Turning Grapes into Wine – From the Field to the Bottle

In 2015, the Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report, produced by the Southern Oregon Research Center (SOURCE), reported there were 69 vineyards across the Umpqua Valley. The Oregon Employment Department (OED) records counted nine firms. The discrepancy between the SOURCE and OED data is primarily due to the large number of vineyards that are not covered by the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, usually because they are too small to meet required payroll thresholds; use mostly contracted farm labor; or almost exclusively employ family members. For those nine reporting vineyards, OED records showed an annual average employment of roughly 50 workers with an annual average wage of just over $27,000. It should be noted that given the seasonal nature of growing, tending, and harvesting wine grapes, growers often employ contract and migratory workers, who are not reported under the UI system. Thus, actual vineyard employment is likely much higher.
Wineries differ from vineyards in that their primary function is the manufacture of wine. As with vineyard employment data, OED records reflect only those enterprises participating in the UI program. In 2015, OED reported 13 wineries; the annual average employment was about 120 and the annual average wage was nearly $25,000. The overall trend in vineyard and winery employment shows striking seasonal characteristics, corresponding with October harvest activities, and pronounced growth over time.

Into the Stream of Commerce

In addition to direct employment in Douglas County’s Umpqua Valley vineyards and wineries, other businesses are engaged in getting wine grapes from the field and into the bottle. A 2015 report from Full Glass Research discusses the employment and wages in these other (indirect) industries: grapevine nurseries, farm equipment and suppliers, vineyard and winery chemical and pesticide suppliers, stainless steel tank producers, cooperage and barrel-related services, bottling and filtration services, glass producers, wine label designers and printers, and wine-testing laboratories, to name but a few.

Other allied industries include those in the distribution chain (wholesalers, brokers, and importers); retail sales; trucking, transportation, and warehousing; banking, consulting, accounting, and insurance; and tourism-related.

Wine-related tourism includes travel agents, tour operators, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses in the area. Umpqua Valley barrel tours, which combine winery site-visits with samples of local cuisine, have grown in popularity. Individual wineries host summertime events, such as music festivals, picnics, as well as wine competitions.

Growing the Future

As with Oregon’s vineyard and wine grape industry, Douglas County’s Umpqua Valley vineyards and wineries have steadily grown over the years. Additionally, the recent increase in acres planted in wine grapes positions this area for notable future development. The Southern Oregon Wine Institute, established at Umpqua Community College in 2008, is a state-of-the-art facility for education and entrepreneurial support.

In 30 years, Douglas County’s grape and wine industry has gone from 24 vineyards to 69, added over 2,400 acres planted in wine grapes, and seen the addition of more than 30 new wineries. This growing industry is leaving an ever-expanding footprint across the hills, valleys, and marketplaces of not only the county but also the state and beyond.

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