While many might classify Oregon wines as light Pinot Noirs and weighty Chardonnays, the expressions of Tempranillo found here are fashioning a new chapter for the Pacific Northwest wine region. Southern Oregon is taking advantage of the fact that it falls on the same latitude and has similar weather patterns to those in the Rioja region in order to carve out a new niche for the Tempranillo grape.
As the first to plant Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest back in 1995, Abacela Winery is largely considered to be the pioneer. ‘Most of the early plantings [of Tempranillo] in Oregon were done with cuttings from our vineyard,’ says the winery’s CEO, Greg Jones. ‘The entire reason my father planted Tempranillo here was that it had the closest climatic match to Ribera del Duero and Rioja in Spain,’ he adds, listing factors that include an absence of extreme winter temperatures, dry summers with hot days but cool nights, and a ripening period in the fading warmth of summer and early-autumn.
Abacela’s founders Hilda and Earl Jones first met in the medical research field and were able to successfully launch the Spanish black grape in The Beaver State following six years of oenological research that included visits to Tempranillo’s favoured Spanish regions, interviews with storied winemakers, and extended investigations around the growing seasons. They documented the similarities in daily temperatures, including extreme diurnal swings, before planting their 4.8 hectares of Tempranillo in the Umpqua Valley – one of Oregon’s 23 AVAs. According to Jones, Abacela has since harnessed Tempranillo’s potential across a range of styles, from fresh and fruity to layered wines that integrate oak and have the potential to age.
From big, bold, traditional Rioja-style wines to young, fresh, fruity Beaujolais-style wines, there is a Rogue Valley Tempranillo out there for everyone
While their styles run the gamut, other wineries in the Southern Oregon region – in particular, those clustered in the Rogue Valley AVA further south of Abacela – are now focusing on more specific expressions of the grape, explains Carrie Wynkoop, owner of Oregon Wine Club Cellar 503. It’s what she loves about the contemporary Rogue Valley Tempranillo movement. ‘From big, bold, traditional Rioja-style wines produced by Red Lily Vineyards to young, fresh, fruity Beaujolais-style wines like those made at Upper Five Vineyard, there is a style out there for everyone,’ she says.
This individualistic approach is something that Kiley Evans, winemaker at 2Hawk Vineyard & Winery, has noticed emerging – even more so in the last several years, with a greater knowledge of and focus on the local terroir. ‘That understanding of site expression has pushed both overall quality and stylistic diversity higher,’ he says.
So, while Abacela might have paved the way in the Umpqua Valley, here are five Rogue Valley wineries working with Tempranillo and continuing to help make it a signature wine for Southern Oregon.
Five Rogue Valley wineries producing top Tempranillo
Red Lily Vineyards
This Jacksonville estate began making Tempranillo in 2003. Though she credits the Jones family for the groundwork they laid, owner Rachael Martin has added to the momentum of the rise in Tempranillo throughout Southern Oregon through wine education seminars and by producing a robust style of Tempranillo, which customers can try when visiting Red Lily’s tasting room. In addition to creating Rioja-style Tempranillo with bold, black fruit and the potential to age, Red Lily also produces Cava and rosé for lighter, refreshing sips from the grape – ‘It can be both a beast and fragile like a China cup,’ says Martin. ‘I love that about working with the grape.’
Upper Five Vineyard
Borrowing its name from the five acres of the historic Bagley pear orchard that was transformed to plant Tempranillo, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc grapes in 2003, Upper Five was the first vineyard in Southern Oregon to achieve organic certification, which was awarded two years later. The vineyard has since added Grenache to its plantings, and in 2018, became Demeter-certified Biodynamic. Its Tempranillo is produced in the Old World style, spending more time in neutral oak than new barrels, to emphasise the fruit’s natural expression: in this case, dark cherry and red plum notes, with balanced acidity.
About 20 miles northeast of the Rogue River, Kriselle Cellars fashions a Tempranillo that’s aged 22 months in oak barrels, which delivers a sumptuous textured wine with smooth tannins and hints of mocha against blackberries. Kriselle utilises the round river rock and alluvial silt found in the vineyard to its advantage, as the rocky soils stress the vines and lead to fruit with pronounced concentration and exaggerated character once in the glass.
2Hawk Vineyard & Winery
Winemaker Kiley Evans says that, when it comes to Tempranillo at 2Hawk, it’s less about overt power and more about refinement and subtlety. He decided this after a blind tasting of wines from California, Spain and Oregon, within which the Oregon bottlings showed more fruitiness than those from Spain, yet the Spanish wines were ‘deeper and more compelling’. 2Hawk’s Padigan and Darow Series Tempranillos are both site-specific wines that undergo extended maceration and barrel ageing for up to 30 months.
Produced in traditional style, RoxyAnn Tempranillo is dense and concentrated with an emphasis of dark fruit and signature leather on the nose that opens to ripe blueberries on the palate and is accented by a vanilla finish. The variety is something of an anomaly among the 70 acres predominately dedicated to Bordeaux- and Rhône-style grapes – however, it’s one that’s garnered the winery recognition across the valley in recent years.