It's time for Tempranillo.
"Future interest in Tempranillo as a premium wine should increase for all areas, although lack of marketing and consumer awareness may limit its overall importance."--Paul S. Verdegaal, Wine Grape Varieties in California, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 3419, 2003.
The Tempranillo grape is hardly new in California. The variety, mostly responsible for the great red wines of the Rioja region of Spain, has been grown in the state since the late 19th century, but until recently, it was known as Valdepenas. In 1996 the BATF decided that Tempranillo was a synonym for Valdepenas.
Tempranillo often travels under different names. In Spain, where it is grown in virtually every region, it has perhaps a dozen different names, including Tinto de Toro, Tinto Madrid, Cencibel, Tinto Fino and Ojo de Liebre. In Portugal, it is called Tinta Roriz and Aragonez. It is unclear where Tempranillo originated. Some believe its original home was southern France, as a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
Whatever its origin and name, it was at one time a staple in Central Valley jug wines. According to California wine historian Charles L. Sullivan, Fredrick Bioletti, an early California viticulturist, said it was "always satisfactory" for the valley. However, later UC Davis enologists "blacklisted the grape, twice since Repeal," Sullivan wrote in A Companion to California Wine.
The recent surge of interest in Tempranillo is not market driven but more likely a result of curiosity to see how it will work in premium growing areas. Several dozen wineries in California, Oregon and Washington are now producing Tempranillo.
As far as I can determine, Clos du Bois was the first California winery to produce a varietal Tempranillo. It was made from a few rows planted by then-vineyard manager Steve Smit in 1990. The first bottling in 1992 was nonvintage because there weren't enough grapes to make a single vintage wine. The first Clos du Bois vintage-dated Tempranillo was the 1998.
Margaret Davenport, who was the winemaker at the time, said she thought it made an interesting wine with good color and smooth blueberry fruit. She added that it was easy to work with in the cellar, with good color extraction and very intense fruit. "It was a kind of quick turnover wine, almost like a Zinfandel," she said. Davenport, who is now the winemaker at Passalacqua in Sonoma, said it worked especially well with a little Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc blended in to boost the acidity.
Eric Olsen, the current winemaker at Clos du Bois, said plantings have been increased to a total of about 4 acres. "We are putting in some new clones to learn a little more about it," he said. (Clones FPS 02 and 03 are available from UC Davis, as well as Valdepenas FPS 03 and Tinta Roriz 01, brought in from Portugal by Harold Olmo.)
In the cellar, Olsen keeps press wines separate and does not do extended maceration. The barrel mix includes about 45% new French oak, which Olsen feels adds balance to Tempranillo's tannins, which can be gritty. "Our most successful was the 2002, when we blended some Cabernet Sauvignon to soften it. And that's surprising--to think of Cabernet Sauvignon as softening a wine," Olsen said.
In the vineyard, Olsen said, the vines can be vigorous. He hedges to try to cut back production. "We are still in a learning process with Tempranillo, but I think it has good potential for us."
Clos du Bois has been making about 1,000 cases per year, which always sell out. Olsen said with the new plantings the winery will increase production to 2,000 cases.
Tony Truchard planted Tempranillo in his estate vineyards in 1998, getting the budwood from R.H. Phillips in Yolo County, where several acres are planted. Joanne Truchard said the vines perform "incredibly well." Like others, Truchard has taken steps to limit production. "We like the vines to get very stressed. We almost dry farm it," she said. The 2-acre vineyard is planted on a south-facing slope in Carneros, on volcanic soils.
The fruit is fermented in open top tanks, including about 20% whole berries, and aged for about 10 months in a mix of French and American oak, including 25% new wood. (Samples of the wine showed a fairly complex nose, with cherry highlights and a lingering finish very reminiscent of a Rioja.)
Truchard said the wine has been well received. "But it really takes some education. People don't know what to expect, but there is definitely some interest," she said. "It certainly is not as easy to sell as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay," she added.
Steve Ventrello, owner and wine-maker at Parador Cellars in Yountville, comes from a sales background. "I've been in the wine business for 25 years, much of that spent on sales and marketing. When it came time to make wine, I wanted to make it in Napa, but not just another Napa wine. I was influenced by the wines at Vega Sicilia," he said. (Vega Sicilia is in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, where Tempranillo is called Tinta del Pais. Vega Sicilia also blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot into some of its wines. Some consider Tinta del Pais to be a different clone of Tempranillo than that found in nearby Rioja.)
Ventrello was not impressed with sources for Tempranillo, so he brought in cuttings from Bodega Pesquera in the Ribera del Duero in 1998. Ventrello's vineyard is in Wooden Valley at an elevation of about 1,000 feet. The vineyard came into limited production in 2001.
His first vintages were made from fruit bought from Gundlach Bundschu Rhinefarm ranch. He has made wine from his 1-acre vineyard since 2002. He makes a 100% Tempranillo and a blend. "At first the blend was Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. In 2003 I dropped the Sangiovese," he said. He also makes a reserve Tempranillo, which gets an extra year in barrel.
"Overall, I think Napa has similar qualities to Ribera del Duero. The wines have good color extraction and structure," he said. At present, production is about 700 cases. "It's selling very well, with good placement in restaurants," Ventrello said.
Towle Merritt, director of vineyard operations at Gundlach Bundschu, said a 4-plus-acre block of Tempranillo was planted in 1993 in the Rhinefarm estate vineyard. Some of the earlier plantings were on Spanish cuttings, but these are being pulled out. "Primarily, we are on UC Davis Clone 2," he said. Merritt said they are still in a learning pattern with Tempranillo.
"It is similar to Syrah in a lot of ways. It can be tricky. For example the leaves can look like they are crying out for moisture, but if you take a pressure bomb reading they are OK," he said.
As the name indicates, Tempranillo is an early grape. At Gundlach Bundschu it is harvested about the same time as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, well before other red varieties. In 2004, for example, Tempranillo was harvested on Aug. 31. Merritt said Tempranillo will over-crop if left on its own. "We shoot for about 4 to 4.5 tons per acre." Merritt added that Tempranillo is at risk for Eutypa at about the same level as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemaker Linda Trotta said she treats it more gently than the Bordeaux varieties in the cellar. "A cold soak helps. After fermentation, it goes into mostly American oak, a combination of Missouri and Minnesota wood and just a touch of French. Then we leave it alone, just topping it up as needed. We keep it in barrel about 14 months. It seems to do just fine left alone." Gundlach Bundschu makes about 1,200 cases.
Spencer Roloson has been producing a distinctly Ribera del Duero-style of Tempranillo since 2001. Partners Sam Spencer and Wendy Roloson planted 5 acres of Tempranillo from Duero cuttings at Madder Lake Vineyard, in Lake County's Mayacamas Mountains, southeast of Mt. Konocti.
Spencer, who founded the late, lamented Hayes & Vine wine bar in San Francisco and first became interested in Tempranillo during his time there, said the vineyard is a massive rhyolitic boulder pile, held together with tufa or red volcanic ash. It is planted between 1,700 and 1,850 feet with a generally northwest exposure on an average 30% slope. "It is showing itself to be ideal for Tempranillo, as well as other Mediterranean varieties," he said.
In order to control Tempranillo's tendency to over-crop, some 1,500 vines per acre were planted on devigorating rootstock, including 420A and 101-14. Spencer said the density gives them fewer linear feet of cordon per vine, with fewer shoots and clusters. "The combination of the root selection, thin, rocky soils and elevation contribute to create small clusters and thick black-skinned berries. Judicious leafing is employed only on the A.M. side of the vines. I closely manage the yields via pruning, aggressive shoot thinning, green harvest and finally a post-veraison pass to micro-adjust the crop. So far they have not exceeded 3 pounds per vine. Typically, we pick in late September with sugars of 25-27[degrees] Brix. Meticulous attention to the farming has given us a good base of information to work with, but every year gives us new challenges," Spencer said via e-mail.
In the cellar, grapes are gently destemmed without crusher rollers, and between 10% and 20% whole clusters are retained. Fermentation is in open-top fermenters, and free-run and press juice are kept separate. The wine is aged in all French oak, 40-50% new, for 22 months. "We use several coopers who are working with us to refine a Californian Tempranillo benchmark barrel," Spencer said.
He added that the wines are performing very well in the market. The 2002 Madder Lake Vineyard bottling sold out within three weeks of release. The 2003 is coming on market this fall.
In the end, the growing and making of Tempranillo seems to be a passion, similar in some ways to the position of Pinot Noir in the U.S. more than 20 years ago. Growers and winemakers are taking up Tempranillo because they love it, not to conquer the market. For example, Earl Jones, owner of Abacela Cellars near Roseberg, Ore. in the Umpqua Valley, (see story on page 74) fell in love with Tempranillo when he was a student in San Francisco in the 1960s.
"I couldn't afford Napa wines, even though they were selling for only $3 or $4 a bottle. But I found Tempranillo at under a dollar a bottle and was impressed. I became a Tempranillo fanatic."
After a career of medical research and university teaching, Jones began looking for the perfect site to grow the grape. "We looked all over the western U.S. I wanted a climate similar to the Ribera del Duero. We found this area of Oregon has a heat summation pattern almost identical with Ribera del Duero. But even more critical is the ripening period. We didn't want the warm harvest period that is typical in California. We wanted a cool, late harvest so the grapes would hold acidity."
Jones, who also produces Albarino, another varietal associated with Spain, said the biggest problem he has is the lack of good clonal selection. He has five clones planted, clones 1, 2 and 3 and the Tinta Ruiz clone from UC Davis and an uncertified "Ribera del Duero" clone. "I understand that some new clones from Ribera del Duero will soon be available," he said.
Jones has 20 acres of Tempranillo planted and aims for about 3 tons per acre. The vineyard was planted in 1995, and the first wine was the 1997 vintage. He expects production to level off at about 2,000 cases.
Any problems selling the wine?
"I've sold out every year," he said.
That consumer awareness Paul Verdegaal mentioned seems to be coming around for Tempranillo.
RELATED ARTICLE: HIGHLIGHTS
* Once a staple in Central Valley jug wines, Tempranillo is now produced as a varietal in premium growing areas of California, Oregon and Washington.
* Clos du Bois winemaker Eric Olsen has found that blending Tempranillo with Cabernet Sauvignon softens the wine.
* Tempranillo is an early ripening grape, and has a tendency to overproduce if left alone. To control it, Lake County's Madder Lake Vineyard planed 1,500 vines per acre on devigorating rootstock.
* Although it's not as easy to sell as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, most producers sell out each year, and consumer interest is growing.
RELATED ARTICLE: Dare To Make Tempranillo
Delia Viader, owner of Viader Cellars in Napa, has released a 2003 Tempranillo under the DARE label. Viader, best known for her critically acclaimed red wines based on Bordeaux varieties, which sell for $100-plus per bottle, said, "It started with the idea of having a second level or label of my wines ... as the name implies, I like to explore 'daring' things, or 'dare' to present unusual varietals in a different way. So was born our DARE Tempranillo." (Viader is pronounced "Via-Dare.")
The wine contains 20% Cabernet Franc from the Viader estate with the Tempranillo coming from a small 2-acre plot at the Daniel Lynch Ranch in St. Helena. There is also a 100% Cabernet Franc DARE.
"We also have a DARE Petite Sirah in the works and are looking for other valleys, other hillside areas with great exposure to explore and dare to tempt and broaden the palates of the curious wine consumer," Viader said.
Viader produced about 500 cases of the Tempranillo, which retails at $40.
RELATED ARTICLE: Magazines Say Santa Margherita Still Hot
First named a "hot brand" in 2000, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, imported from Italy by Paterno Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill., was again recognized as one of 2005's "Hot Brands" by Impact magazine. Santa Margherita was also ranked the No. 1 imported wine sold in U.S. restaurants for the 11th consecutive year by Wine & Spirits magazine.
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|Title Annotation:||producing Tempranillo|
|Publication:||Wines & Vines|
|Date:||May 1, 2006|
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