Unlike Willamette Valley to the north, Southern Oregon’s warmer and drier Rogue River and Umpqua Valleys do not have a “signature” grape. Over 20 different wine grapes grow in the region. That provides an unique wine tasting experience — something for everyone at one winery. As I tasted wine from a variety of wineries in the Rogue River Valley, I found myself getting more excited for the end of the tasting, when Tempranillo would make an appearance.
89% of Tempranillo grown in the world is grown in Spain. Tempranillo is most closely associated with Roija, Penedes, and Ribera del Duero, and can also be found in significant acres in Portugal, Argentina, and Italy (under the name Malvasia Nera). While some have tried to grow it in California, the Mediterranean climate means it can become overly ripe and jammy, and lose it’s beautiful structure.
Southern Oregon, however, seems to be well suited for the grape. During my excursion to Rogue River Valley as part of the 2021 Wine Media Conference, I found Tempranillos to be a stand out for their structure and power. Tempranillo is thin-skinned, late ripening, and is characterized as “sappy, vegetal and fresh,” according to Jancis Robinson. Dried fruits, fresh tobacco leaf, leather and a certain earthy “dustiness” are also classic characteristics. It is also known for its powerful structure and ageability. Southern Oregon is ideally situated with a short growing season, cool nights, warm, sunny days, and high elevation. The Oregon Tempranillo Alliance has done extensive research highlighting the similarities between Southern Oregon’s climate and soil and Spain’s benchmark regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Must-try Tempranillos from Southern Oregon:
2017 Weisinger Estate Tempranillo is a combination of two Tempranillo clones and is aged for 18 months in 30% new American oak barrels. The Weisinger Family Winery is located in Southern Rogue Valley (part of Rogue Valley AVA), just four miles south of the charming town of Ashland. Eric Weisinger’s family had been making wine since 1988. The wines are estate grown at an elevation of 2200 feet. Beautiful layers of blackberry, earthy mocha and leather notes.
2Hawk Vineyard and Winery’s 2016 Darow Series Tempranillo. The estate vineyard is in the Bear Creek sub-basin, which has distinctive river rocks and colluvial sandy deposits, some of the oldest soils in the valley. They are well-draining, making them ideal for Tempranillo. This Tempranillo is round and robust, with dried fig, black cherry and dusty pencil lead. It has great aging potential, with beautiful tannins, that will only get better with age.
In 1989, two scientists set out to make Tempranillo in the United States. After extensive research on site selection, they planted their vineyard in Southern Oregon in the Umpqua Valley in 1995. Abacela Winery by Earl and Hilda Jones was born, producing arguably the best Tempranillo outside of Spain. The 2005 Tempranillo from Abacela is an earthy wine with notes of black plum, warm spice, coffee, and cocoa. The tannins are present and have a silky smooth integration. Perfection.