Abacela Vineyards, Spanish Tempranillo in Southern Oregon

Hilda and Earl Jones, Abacela Vineyards

Originally published in miamigoelvino.com 03/10/2016.

Sometimes you find so fascinating stories about wine. As happens in life, people involved in wine also go through really passionate and interesting stories. And this winery located in Oregon in the United States is definitely one of them.

Earl Jones is a native Kentuckian who started loving wine during his college days. He married Hilda and while doing a trip to Europe, they arrived in Spain and fell in love with the Tempranillo varietal used in Rioja wines. Both had successful careers in the medical field, and through their trips to Europe their wine collection and knowledge about wine increased. They started thinking about moving from their medical career to a winemaking career. In love as they were with the Tempranillo, they noticed that it wasn’t produced in USA, so they started doing a thorough research about Tempranillo and the best climatic conditions for the grape to grow safe. They did a lot of research analyzing weather patterns in Rioja, Ribera Del Duero and USA to find a place where Tempranillo would grow in similar conditions to those found in Spain. Finally, they found the right spot, in the Southern area of Oregon. Decision time arrived, and they decided to cross the country with their kids and their belongings and they aimed their van to the Pacific Northwest. The banner in their van said it loud and clear: Oregon…. Or bust!

In 1994 they arrived in the Umpqua Valley and faced 500 acres of empty land. Such a challenge ahead. And in that moment, Abacela Vineyards (@abacela) was born.

In 1995, after preparing the soil they planted 10.000 vines, one third of them Tempranillo and the rest varietals not well known in the States. In 1996 they had their first harvest and they were able to produce 36 cases of Cabernet Franc. It was in 1997 when their first Tempranillo wine saw the light, with 243 cases out of a total of 974 cases of wine.

In the next few years Hilda and Earl presented their Tempranillo to different wine competitions, earning many prizes and even beating 19 wineries of Spain and another one from USA in a Tempranillo competition in 2001 with their 1998 vintage.

Over the years, they tested different varietals. Some did well, some others didn’t, some of them never were planted before in Oregon. Now, after 21 years since Abacela was established, they have produced single varietal wines with the following grapes: Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Malbec, Grenache, Sangiovese, Albariño, Tannat, Tinta Amarela and Touriga Nacional.

In 2013 they were chosen the Oregon Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest and in 2015 Wine Enthusiast Magazine nominated Abacela for American Winery of the Year. That same year Earl and Hilda also received the Oregon Wine Industry’s Life Time Achievement Award, which had only been given ten times previously.

And why the name Abacela? Earl was doing research in a library in Bilbao, Spain, when he came across the Spanish word “Abacelar.” This means “to plant a grape vine.” Its third-person conjugation “abacela” means “he/she plants a vine”. The Joneses named their vineyard and winery “Abacela.”

Nowadays they produce single-varietal red wines made with Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Grenache, Graciano, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Tannat, Tinta Amarela and Touriga Nacional. The white wines are produced with Albariño, Muscat and Viognier. They produce a Rosé with Grenache and also two dessert wines.

Paramour is their flagship Tempranillo wine.

It is truly a remarkable story seeing how the passion of a family for growing a particular wine varietal took them conducting this thorough research and to cross their country to start a new life from scratch.

Soon we will speak with Andrew Wenzl, Abacela’s winemaker manager, about their work with the Spanish Tempranillo grape.

Photos © by Abacela Vineyards