TAPAS by the Bay

Earl Jones (center), founder of Abacela, and Jeff Stai (left), founder of Twisted Oak Winery in Calaveras County, Calif., lead a discussion during the “Aged and New Tempranillo” seminar at the 2014 TA PAS Grand Tasting. Photo by Eddie Hernandez

Umpqua Valley shines at national Tempranillo tasting

By Nancy Rodriguez

It is April 27, the day of the seventh annual TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society) Grand Tasting of Spanish and Portuguese varietals in the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco. Forty wineries have gathered to celebrate their wine and regions of the West Coast.

From the windows of the Golden Gate Club, I witness Opening Day on the Bay, a celebration of the return of sailing season — a tradition dating back to 1917. As the boats gather, so do the wineries, setting up their tables of Tempranillo and more, ranging from Albariño to Verdejo, and from regions from Santa Ynez Valley up to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.

Representing the Umpqua were three wineries, including Triple Oak Vineyard, a micro-vineyard of a thousand vines, first planted in 2000 by Paul and Betty Tamm, who brought their vision of growing winegrapes from Oakland, Calif., to Oakland Ore.

The Tamms’ first vintage of Pinot Noir was in 2005. In 2007, they met Earl Jones who would become their friend. He provided them with scions of Tempranillo vines from the Abacela Vineyard, which they grafted onto to half of their vines. In 2009, Triple Oak produced its first full harvest of Tempranillo followed by two award-winning vintages of 2010 — the Tempranillo received a gold medal at the Greatest of the Grape in 2013 — and the 2011 Tempranillo, which received the platinum medal in 2014. Both wines, including the 2012, were brought to the TAPAS tasting.

Being the first year that Triple Oak has participated in the TAPAS event, Betty Tamm noted the spirit of camaraderie she found with the wineries, transcending regions and creating community. In bringing together the wine community of the Umpqua, she has a tasting room, the Triple Oak Wine Vault in Historic Oakland, gateway to the region. Since the passing of Paul Tamm last year, Betty has been at the helm of Triple Oak Vineyard and the tasting room, Triple Oak Wine Vault in Oregon’s Oakland. With great strength — like a grand old oak — she now carries on the winery’s legacy.

The old French proverb, “In water, one sees one's own face; But in wine, one beholds the heart of another,” sums up the passion for HillCrest Vineyard & Winery’s Dyson DeMara. Co-owner and winemaker of Oregon’s first post-Prohibition winery, DeMara represented Oregon well with his 2008 Cadiz Umpqua Valley Tempranillo, 2009 Umpqua Ribera, a Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and a non-vintage blend of Carignan and Pinot Noir he calls “On the Lamb.”

DeMara describes how the grape is a canvas for the winemaker to create and bring together all the elements, making a rich, complex wine of elegance. Sharing these wines at the TAPAS Grand Tasting definitely aided in marketing the Umpqua Valley and its incredible potential in Tempranillo.

And finally, it would not be a Tempranillo celebration without the presence of Abacela’s Earl Jones and his award-winning wines. In fact, Jones is a founding member of TAPAS and pioneering winemaker who first planted Tempranillo in the Umpqua.

On a recent morning, I spoke with him about the genesis of his idea to grow the grapes of Rioja and the creation of TAPAS to promote Tempranillo.  Looking out across the Abacela Vineyard — the rows of vines in perfect order, seemingly endless, basking under the sun — I spoke with Jones about his journey to find this place and his idea that climate was the common factor linking Rioja to Roseburg.

In 1995, he planted 12 acres — four of those in Tempranillo — and by 1998, his Rioja-style red was garnering serious attention; the ’98 Tempranillo won a double-gold award for the Best of Spanish Tempranillo at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Eventually, this led to collaboration with other Tempranillo growers and winemakers, establishing TAPAS in 2006.

TAPAS is a nonprofit trade association of more than a hundred wineries and growers, whose mission is to promote Tempranillo and other varietals native to the Iberian Peninsula, and wines produced from them in North America.

In reflecting upon the concept of “when does anything begin, an idea, a vision,” Jones likens it to the voyage of Columbus. There had been others before him, most likely if not he, someone would have made the journey of discovery, but in history, it marks the beginning of finding the future. The Santa Maria was the flagship for Columbus and TAPAS is the flagship for Tempranillo.

The meaning of the word “tapas” is lid, coming from the slices of bread used by the Andalusians to place over the wine glass to keep the flies out, eventually evolving into the small bites of food on top of the bread.

The beginning of a great idea. 

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