The one-step ethanolysis approach to upgrade lignin to monomeric aromatics using a CuMgAl mixed oxide catalyst is studied in detail. The influence of reaction temperature (200-420 degrees C) on the product distribution is investigated. At low temperature (200-250 degrees C), recondensation is dominant, while char-forming reactions become significant at high reaction temperature (>380 degrees C). At preferred intermediate temperatures (300-340 degrees C), char forming reactions are effectively suppressed by alkylation and Guerbet and esterification reactions. This shifts the reaction toward depolymerization, explaining high monomeric aromatics yield. Carbon-14 dating analysis of the lignin residue revealed that a substantial amount of the carbon in the lignin residue originates from reactions of lignin with ethanol. Recycling tests show that the activity of the regenerated catalyst was strongly decreased due to a loss of basic sites due to hydrolysis of the MgO function and a loss of surface area due to spinel oxide formation of the Cu and Al components. The utility of this one-step approach for upgrading woody biomass was also demonstrated. An important observation is that conversion of the native lignin contained in the lignocellulosic matrix is much easier than the conversion of technical lignin.