Earl Jones’ taste for Tempranillo continues to bring international fame to Southern Oregon, but his predilection and genius show his Fault Line Vineyards at Abacela also are deliciously suited for other varieties from Spain and Portugal.
The latest proof came during Wine Press Northwest’s 2012 Platinum Judging, an invitation-only competition of wines that won a gold medal in the United States or beyond during the calendar year.
Abacela entered three wines from grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula, and each one from winemaker Andrew Wenzl attained Platinum — the 2011 Albariñ:o, 2011 Grenache Rosé and 2009 Port. That winning trifecta made Abacela the clear choice as Wine Press Northwest’s 2013 Oregon Winery of the Year.
“I consider the good news to be the most significant recognition we have received since the Spanish awarded us a gold medallion for Tempranillo,” Jones said.
Next year, Jones will celebrate the 20th anniversary of transplanting his wife, Hilda, and two young daughters from the Gulf Coast into the Umpqua Valley. The retired research dermatologist collaborated with his son, Greg, now a climatologist of national renown, to determine the ideal location to produce Tempranillo in the U.S.
“Of course, we didn’t know it was going to work,” Jones said. “We were expecting to plant 6 acres that first year, but one nursery made a mistake, and we ended up planting 12 acres.”
Now, Wenzl has more than 20 varieties throughout 70 acres to work with. And 10 acres are devoted to Albariño, which typically produce about 1,300 cases of the laser-focused, food-friendly white wine each year. And it might be the darling of both the innovative owner and his winemaker.
“It’s just a very consistent grape,” he continued. “In great vintages, I make amazing wine with it. Even in difficult vintages, you make a really good wine. Look at 2010 and 2011. We entered it in international competitions, and it got best of class — and two years in a row we got Platinum awards for it.
During the past two years, Jones, 73, his family and staff have developed their 4,000- square-foot Vine and Wine Center, a beautiful and tasteful setting to present Wenzl’s work and Abacela’s growing list of awards. Special events feature the Spanish oven to prepare the roasted pig and lamb because Tempranillo is best enjoyed with richly flavored fare.
“We were approaching 10,000 visitors a year in that tiny tasting room,” Jones said. “Our daughter Hanna designed the building. She worked the vineyards, knew the vines and had a sense of the place. We wanted her to incorporate that into the building, and she’s accomplished that quite well.”
Wenzl arrived in 2003 as cellarmaster, transitioned to enologist and took over as Abacela’s head winemaker just before the 2008 harvest.
“Having your own estate fruit allows you to choose the time to pick it and what parts to pick, but it also gives you a true sense of provence, a sense of place,” Wenzl said.
Their site just west of the Winston safari park also proved to a sweet spot for the traditional Port-style varieties Bastardo, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cão, Touriga Naçional and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).
Abacela hasn’t set trends in the Northwest with just Iberian varieties. As founding winemaker, Jones was among the first to bottle Malbec (1997). He’s also bottled Tannat for half a decade.
“Syrah is the easiest to grow, but good Syrahs don’t sell,” Jones said.
At this point, Abacela, one of Oregon’s first carbon-neutral wineries, targets about 10,000 cases annually with no plans to increase, so as his 76 acres of LIVE-certified, Salmon Safe vineyards reach maturity, Jones may consider selling some grapes.
But Tempranillo remains Abacela’s claim to fame. Jones’ most prized release remains his 2005 Paramour ($90), the country’s first Gran Reserva-style, but his research never ends. The vineyard includes nine clones of Tempranillo, and he continues to travel to the Ribera del Duero.
“We are on an international stage. We are not just Umpqua Valley,” Wenzl said. “People in Spain know us. People in California know us. We are the pioneers of fine Tempranillo in America. With that comes a lot of responsibility, so when I bring my crush staff in each fall, I reiterate that it’s very easy to forget how special Abacela is — how special Fault Line Vineyards is.”
12500 Lookingglass Rd.,
Roseburg, OR 97471