Ready, set, tempranillo!
When a meal calls for a big, bold red wine, most people reach for a bottle of merlot or cabernet sauvignon. But tempranillo, made with grapes of Spanish origin, is increasingly accessible to even those who like to stick to Oregon wines.
Tempranillo is the most-planted grape variety in Spain. It produces rich, darkly colored wines that are renowned the world over. Some of the best ones come from cool-climate growing regions where nighttime temperatures are dramatically lower than those in the daytime. Those conditions help the wine develop greater acidity, which adds balance and structure.
That familiar-sounding growing requirement is what got Earl Jones, owner and general manager of Roseburg’s Abacela, thinking about growing the grape in Oregon in the 1990s. Before he became a leading producer of American tempranillo, he was a research scientist who had developed a deep fondness for Spanish wines during his extensive travels in Europe. He couldn’t understand why no one in California had made a significant investment in them. Many French grapes had easily made the transition to a new country. Why couldn’t Spanish varieties do the same?
Climate and site critical
When Jones started looking into that question, he got his answer relatively quickly.
“In Spain they grow tempranillo in a different climate than exists in most parts of California,” he says. The growing season in many of California’s prolific wine regions is nine months, not the six and a half months needed for quick-ripening tempranillo. “The other aspect of climate that’s important is that even though it’s really hot here in Southern Oregon in the day, at night it will cool back down into the fifties.” That also was necessary for producing age-worthy, award-winning wines.
Jones put his research skills to work investigating what part of the country would be best suited for growing tempranillo and other Spanish grapes. He and his family decided to try their luck in Oregon.
But not just any site would do. Within one region or even a single vineyard, different sections can have vastly different microclimates, soils and sun exposure. All of those things affect what types of grapes will express themselves best. Jones and his wife, Hilda, knew they needed a place with well-drained soils, good sun exposure and close proximity to a valley to pull down colder air and minimize the risk of hard frosts. The perfect site was on the outskirts of Roseburg in a spot they called Fault Line Vineyards.
They planted their first vines in 1995. Two years later, their tempranillo won its first international award — and the American version had made its first notable appearance on the world stage.
Since that time, Jones has inspired growers all over the country to follow in his footsteps. He estimates there are 100 tempranillo producers in Oregon and as many as 200 more in Washington, California, Texas, Virginia and New Mexico. Around 70 percent of the plantings in Oregon are in the southern part of the state. Scattered vineyards in the Willamette Valley and Columbia River Gorge also are dabbling with the grape. The 2017 Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report puts the total harvested acreage of tempranillo at 319 and the value at more than $2 million.
By Sophia McDonald Bennett For The Register-Guard
Posted Nov 21, 2018