The SOMM Journal

April / May 2017

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 61 of 124

{ }  61 Proof in the Tasting I recently had the chance to catch up with Jones and his wife, Hilda, this time at a blind tasting coordinated by The Somm Journal, held at Portland's cozy Le Pigeon. A group of wine buyers, beverage direc - tors and somms gathered to see whether they could find the 90-plus-point European wine in each flight of four wines. The warm- and cool-climate varieties showcased by Umpqua Valley's top producers, collec - tively known as the Big Three—Abacela, Brandborg and Reustle–Prayer Rock Vineyards—perfectly illustrated the range of wine styles the Valley produces. The tasting commenced with an expressive, onion skin–colored flight of Gewurztraminer. (As in Alsace, the umlaut is generally omitted on this varietal name in the Umpqua Valley. —Ed.) Heavily laden with tropical notes of lychee, lemon drop, linden blossom, cinnamon and white pepper, Brandborg Vineyard & Winery's Gewurztraminers struck a chord with tasters, who for the most part had trouble differentiating them from an Alsatian con - tender, Domaine Ostertag. In terms of energy—that hard-to-define nervy pulse that courses through weighty, fruit-filled layers—the wines from Umpqua Valley were as poised and imbued with minerally élan as their European counterpart. Terry Brandborg's Pinot Noirs, tasted with a Gevrey-Chambertin from Louis Boillot hid - den in the flight, showed equally well. With a profile more red-fruited than black, offer- ing up tart pie cherries, raspberries, rhu- barb compote and baking spice, set against an earthy backdrop; they are as elegant as any of their northern counterparts from the Willamette Valley. PHOTO: ANNE BLODGETT Is it European or is it Umpqua? Umpqua Valley Old World varietals—such as the Brandborg Pinot Noir, Reustle–Prayer Rock Vineyard Syrah and Abacela Tempramillo— left many of our panelists stumped. American Tempranillo at Abacela On that cloudless mid-summer day, I found myself squinting into bright afternoon sun- light, listening to winemaker Earl Jones of Abacela Vineyards & Winery as he explained the significance of the Klamath-Coastal fault line that runs through his tidy south-facing vineyard blocks. Looking more like an archeologist than winegrower, clad in khakis and a weathered hat, Jones explained the rationale behind his risky decision to plant Spanish varieties in the Umpqua Valley. "The story was, only Rioja could grow great Tempranillo," recounts Jones. "In 1972 Alejandro Fernández, founder of Tinto Pesquera, proved everyone wrong by cultivating Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero. Prior to Pesquera, experts said fine Tempranillo could only be produced in Rioja because no one else had the soil, i.e. terroir. I concluded that Rioja's three soils and Pesquera's all being different couldn't explain their wines' excellence. But what could? Using readily available Spanish weather data, I noted the Rioja and Ribera climate to be nearly identical and concluded that climate was the ter - roir factor for Tempranillo. I soon set off to do the same in America. I wanted a hillside location. When we found this spot, I didn't know it was sitting on a fault line. Having a wide selection of soils was total luck." Jones also crafts bone dry Albariños with amped-up acidity that show complexity and restraint. The most recent vintage delivers lemon curd, dried pear, star fruit and white flowers—taught and lean with an arching acid spine and subtle minerality that reads as talc, wet stone and marjoram blossom. Dubbed the "Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua," Jones's property lies in the warmer southern end of the AVA. Evergreens give way to rolling oak savannah, and the site lies within a rain shadow created by the Oregon Coastal Range and portions of the Klamath Mountains, well shielded from the marine air that cools the AVA at its northernmost tip. The kind of complex faulting found in Umpqua Valley, and particularly in Abacela's vineyards, produces dramatic variations in soil types over small areas. Earl's vines dig deep into mixed clay, silt and cobble-sand soils; there are five distinct soil types in all, with heavier more clay-laden soils at lower elevations. Owners Earl and Hilda Jones of Abacela, at their property in Roseburg, Oregon. PHOTO: ANNE BLODGETT The Abacela Albariño— another Spanish varietal that the Umpqua Valley has had success with. PHOTO: ANNE BLODGETT

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The SOMM Journal - April / May 2017