My general advice to small, startup wineries is to focus. Make something your calling card. Don’t try to make 30 different wines until you’ve figured out how to do three or four well.
Abacela, located in southern Oregon, is a fine example of a winery that started with a specific focus, built on it and now offers a breathtakingly large lineup of estate-grown blends and varietals, including some never before seen in the Northwest.
Owners Earl and Hilda Jones set out to find the optimal growing conditions for a single grape: tempranillo. Using a strict scientific, climate- and soil-driven approach, they settled (to their surprise, as much as anyone’s) on the Umpqua Valley.
The region, they contend, “has the most beneficial climate structure for growing grapes in the state … the longest growing season, the lowest risk of both spring and fall frosts, and low-ripening period rainfall and temperature extremes. The region is warmer than the Willamette Valley to the north, but cooler than the Rogue Valley to the south.”
On a hilltop site just outside of Roseberg, Ore., surrounded by three mountain ranges, with a massive fault line running through the heart of the property, they planted.
The Fault Line vineyards, Earl Jones explains, fall into “two distinct provinces. To the south lie boulder-strewn loamy soils derived from ancient Cretaceous to Jurassic bedrock, while on the north are sandy cobbled soils derived from comparatively youthful seafloor sediments.
“Some geologists have speculated that the soils of these steep cobbled hills were created by uplift about 25,000 years ago – just before Mount Mazama erupted to form Crater Lake. It is truly remarkable to think that the age of soils found feet apart on the north and south of a line could differ by as much as 224,975,000 years.”
Abacela’s vineyards were first planted in 1995 and the tempranillos were good from the start. Over the past 15 years the vines have matured, and there are now multiple versions bottled, including a reserve, and even some single vineyard wines from neighboring growers.
Along with tempranillo, Abacela has introduced a whole range of Iberian varietal wines, and co-founded an organization called T.A.P.A.S. – Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society ( www.tapasociety.org).
T.A.P.A.S. has its own Facebook page and sponsors an annual tasting (coming up June 5 in San Francisco) of Spanish and Portuguese varietals from Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
Abacela alone makes albariño, garnacha (grenache), five different tempranillos and a Port-style dessert wine blended from authentic Portuguese varietals, all estate-grown.
In addition there are southern French and Italian varietal wines – cabernet franc, Dolcetto, malbec, merlot, petit verdot, several syrahs and a viognier – and a number of blends, including an excellent claret.
Too many choices? Well, for most wineries this would be a stretch, but Abacela keeps the quality high, the prices reasonable and the uniqueness factor in play. Among the current releases, here are some highlights:
Abacela 2009 Albariño ($18) – Captures the racy minerality of the Spanish grape, while amping it up to New World fruit standards. You get fruit-powered richness, with citrus and peach, along with lively acidity and a steely core.
Abacela 2009 Viognier ($20) – A dense, mineral-driven style, layered with citrus skins and fruits, notably grapefruit and pineapple. There’s even a finishing lick of honey, though the wine is quite dry.
Abacela 2009 Grenache Rosé ($14) – Quite dry, with lovely fruit character that brings an impression of fruit sweetness. Fresh and tangy, with a mix of cranberry and cherry flavors, it’s a perfect summer sipper.
Abacela 2008 Garnacha ($22) – The blend includes tempranillo, malbec and a splash of syrah. Cranberry fruit and lemony acidity, with some firm tannins.
Abacela 2007 Malbec ($22) – Its exotic scents immediately fascinate, weaving together incense, smoke, wild berry, baking spices and plum jam. The wine retains a delicacy and lightness, and showcases the fruit rather than barrels.
Abacela 2006 Estate Syrah ($30) – Packed with blue and black fruits, flavors of smoked meat and fresh herb, it’s substantial but not overbearing. Give it some extra breathing time.
Abacela 2006 Estate Tempranillo ($35) – The 10th release, a multiple gold medal winner, savory and scented with cured meats. This is a spicy red that marries black currant fruit to pepper and more exotic spices: curry, cumin and five spice.
Abacela 2009 Blanco Dulce Viognier ($30/375ml) – This late harvest Viognier is so dense, so lush with aromas, that it almost defies description. Flowers, candied fruits, caramel, vanilla, English breakfast tea, even a bit of tobacco – this is one of those wines that just keeps on going. Fascinating, rich, yet vibrant with excellent acidity, this is a wine that any dessert wine lover should experience.