WINSTON, Ore. — Dr. Earl Jones enjoys research. His professional career included studying and teaching medicine.
And then his urge to do research and his enjoyment of wine led him to study the wine industry. He discovered that Tempranillo grapes were not being commercially grown for wine in the U.S.
“I visited Europe a lot as a medical researcher and I drank wine there,” he explained. “Nobody had an answer as to why no Tempranillo was being produced in America. That raised the question in me, ‘Why doesn’t somebody figure out the mystery behind it and grow it?’”
Jones studied the issue and discovered the climate in Spain where Tempranillo thrives can’t be matched in California where numerous grape varieties are grown. Jones found Tempranillo vines need a hot growing season between mid-April and October, cool nights and little rain before being harvested in late October before the first frost.
His research found a match for Spain’s climate in southwestern Oregon. In 1992, Jones and his wife, Hilda, purchased property just outside Winston, Ore. They planted 12 acres, four of them with Tempranillo.
They named their vineyard Abacela. It means “he/she/they plant a vine.”
Over the next 15 years, the vineyard was expanded four times and now totals 76 acres. Tempranillo vines cover 25 acres and other varieties such as Albarino, Grenache, Malbec, Syrah and a few others are grown on fewer acres.
Earl Jones was the winemaker in the early years. The vineyard’s grapes produced 3,000 cases of wine in 2003. As the vines have grown, so has production, with about 12,000 cases being made in 2018.
Abacela’s Tempranillo was an immediate success. It was the first Tempranillo in the U.S. to win a national competition.
“It confirmed our thought about climate being a key factor,” said Jones, adding that about 100 vineyards in Oregon now grow Tempranillo.
After 27 years of being involved in the daily operation of the vineyard and winery, Jones is slowly turning responsibilities over to others. Gavin Joll was named the general manager 18 months ago and then in July, Greg Jones, Earl and Hilda’s son, took over as Abacela’s CEO.
Greg Jones is an atmospheric scientist and viticultural climatologist. He has done research and taught at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., and at Linfield University in McMinnville, Ore. His research has connected climate change to biological changes in grapevines.
“This transition fulfills a long-term objective of family succession,” Earl Jones said in a statement. “Greg is a dynamic leader with creative energy who understands the local, regional and global wine industries which makes him uniquely suited to carry on our family business.”
Andrew Wenzl has been Abacela’s head winemaker for the past 13 years.
“It’s an age-old quote, but you need good grapes to make good wines,” he said. “We have several different soil types that provide premium ripeness levels. That why we’re able to make good wines here.”
The Abacela wines have won numerous awards over the years. Nine of its wines have scored between 90 and 93 out of 100 in different judgings.
“We’re absolutely a team here,” Wenzl explained. “There are those who work in the vineyard to grow great grapes, but it’s not enough just to make a great wine. You have to sell it so kudos to the tasting staff.”
Abacela sells most of its 15 varieties of wine to its wine club members and through Oregon outlets, but it also works through a distributor and sells wine in California, Idaho, Washington, New Jersey and New York.
“We’ve been able to market our wine well,” Jones said. “We’re trying to take those fine grapes that we grow and make the very best wine we can. We learned early to only grow grapes that fit our climate here. We’re trying to keep up with world standards.”