Celebrating Oregon tempranillo growers and wines

Two weekends ago, The Oregon Wine Alliance held its second Oregon Tempranillo Celebration at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites, and I was lucky enough to attend. The mission of the Alliance is to promote the growing and sale of tempranillo grapes and wine, and is made up of 36 Oregon tempranillo growers and producers.

Southern Oregon is an ideal place to grow tempranillo in the U.S., because our climate is virtually identical to the climate in the Ribera de Duero and Rioja regions of Spain, the birthplaces of the tempranillo grape. This happy coincidence is increasingly being recognized by growers and producers. In 2015, Southern Oregon produced 988 tons of tempranillo grapes, representing about five percent of the total grape production for the region.

Oregon tempranillo producers submitted nearly 70 entries prior to the celebration for judging by a panel of three nationally recognized wine judges and critics. The results of their judging will be released at a later date.

The first day of the event was a wine geek’s heaven, consisting of panel discussions on vineyard, winemaking and cellaring practices, and blending. Phrases such as brix, racking, severe leaf pulling, and vigor were bandied about. In between, we sampled some wine, just to wet the whistle.

Lunch included a blind tasting of seven Oregon tempranillos, led by Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University. The challenge for the group was to correctly assess (or in my case, guess) the AVA of origin for each wine. Even in a group of roughly 50 experienced tasters, most guessed only two of seven correctly (I was one for seven).

After lunch, more wine tasting culminated with a blind blending tasting led by Andrew Wenzl, Abacela’s winemaker. In Oregon, to be called “tempranillo,” the wine must consist of at least 75 percent of the named varietal, and may be blended with up to 25 percent of other varieties. For the blind tasting, the group was presented with six samples of tempranillo, each with a 10 percent addition of a blending variety. The goal was to correctly identify the addition and to decide which created the best blend. It is surprising how much difference a 10 percent blend can make.

After a long day of lectures and 22 wines, it was time for a palate cleanser. I chose bourbon.

The following afternoon was the sold-out Consumer and Trade Tasting. Most of the previous day’s attendees were present to pour their tempranillo, which was paired with tapas prepared by Ashland Hills Hotel. With a good night’s sleep and fresh palate, this was an ideal opportunity to explore the many different expressions of the grape and to experience the sense of place and hand of the winemaker in the wine.

Southern Oregon's tempranillo was the darling of the San Francisco Chronicle's Wine Competition, with eight wineries earning gold or silver medals.  At the top of the heap was Pebblestone Cellars 2012 Ellis Vineyards Tempranillo, with a Double Gold, and Folin Cellars, Jaxon and Serra Vineyards each earning Gold.

— Kevin Breck is a Jacksonville freelance writer and winemaker in training. Reach him at rogue.enofiles@gmail.com.

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